a landscape lover's blog

garden tales from a Brit abroad

The greenest city?

It seems appropriate that Singapore is the only country in the world with a hybrid as its national flower, the orchid Vanda ‘Miss Joaquim.’ This is such a manicured, efficient, tightly-managed country, that somehow a natural species wouldn’t seem quite right as its symbol.
Vanda 'Miss Joachim'

It’s also a country with many admirable policies on sustainability, some of which have been in place since the 1960s. The most obvious result is the sheer amount of green space that is crammed (neatly of course) into every spare inch of the island – on rooftops and roadsides, along walkways, in window boxes and tubs, sometimes vertically, sometimes hundreds of feet in the air.

The excellent botanical gardens are an interesting mix, with lawns, trees and traditionally labelled plants in borders, laid out around a dramatic remnant of Singapore’s tropical rainforest. Saving the remaining small portions of original jungle is admirable, and I liked the boardwalks that allowed visitors to stroll through the primeval vegetation. But it did feel rather as if Singapore can’t quite allow all that scale and lushness and primitive disorder to persist without it being surrounded and constrained by the neat classifications and control of the botanical displays.

Singapore 7

Almost as dramatic as the rainforest was a brand new public park built on the marina, called Gardens by the Bay. It’s hard not to be impressed by this vast construction, with its artificial supertrees, lakes, displays, gardens, and glass conservatories. Indeed it just won the World Building of the Year award, for its celebration of nature in such a dense urban environment, and its innovative, naturally-cooled glasshouses. Everything about it is big and confident – the dazzling view across the site as visitors arrive on an elevated walkway, the group of vast supertrees (described rather incongruously as a grove), the curvaceous glasshouses, and the external planting all colour co-ordinated with the maroon of the construction materials.

Singapore 8

Singapore 11 Singapore 10 Singapore 9Singapore 12

Inside the first of the glasshouses, called the Flower Dome, are carefully-arranged displays of plants from every continent, with explanations of their origin, uses and cultivation needs. These are supplemented by seasonal shows aimed particularly at kids. For us it was autumnal harvests; now it’s apparently Christmas scenes. The dome itself is rather beautiful, with its high-tech curved glass ceiling stretching out above the displays.

The second glasshouse is billed as a Cloud Forest, mimicking mists and mountains with a vast cascade (apparently the biggest indoor waterfall in the world), and masses of tropical vertical planting.

All a bit shipshape and tidy for me, certainly compared with scruffy, ancient, irrepressible India, but fascinating and deeply impressive all the same. For more examples of interesting garden initiatives in Singapore, see Noel Kingsbury’s recent post on the Gardening Gone Wild blog. If, like me, you’re fascinated by park signage, I’ve written about a few examples from this visit in Tell-tale signs. And in my next post, I’ll explore an award-winning neighbourhood park we saw while in Singapore.

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11 comments on “The greenest city?

  1. Diana of Elephant's Eye
    December 14, 2012

    All that green is admirable. The clamshells a glossy urban interpretation of Cornwall’s Eden Project. But somehow a little chilly?

  2. Catherine Stewart
    December 14, 2012

    Yes, I don’t think Singapore does anything that’s not controlled. I’m fascinated by that green roof in your photos, all tightly clipped into patterns. It’s such a labour intensive way to produce the same result as a more random planting. Is there a sense that Singapore loves greenery, but only on its terms?

    • landscapelover
      December 14, 2012

      Thanks to you both for the comments. It is somehow hard to feel affectionate towards Singapore.

      The glasshouses reminded me of the Eden project in Cornwall as well, although sadly it is years since I have visited. That clipped green roof was actually part of the view from our hotel window, and I spent some fruitless time trying to work out what the shapes were meant to represent.

  3. Lula - botanical photography
    December 15, 2012

    Fascinating visit, I am not sure I would like everything I see, but is definitely worth the visit to see another concept of architecture for a botanical garden, or the other gardens you visited, looks like you had real good time wondering around. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Donna@Gardens Eye View
    December 15, 2012

    A very different perspective in “green” and sustainability…I admire their idea to make everything green and quite unique.

  5. maggie
    December 15, 2012

    Thank you, thank you for posting your always skilled photographs. I’ve been on the lookout for more ground-level, or experiential, photos of this project in order to get a better sense of what it’s like for an individual visitor.
    That cascade is something else!

    • landscapelover
      December 17, 2012

      Thanks for the further comments. There is undoubtedly a lot of admirable work going on, to make Singapore both green and “green.”

      Maggie – the whole Gardens by the Bay site is deliberately dazzling. That cascade is right by the entrance to the glasshouse, so you can hardly escape saying “wow” as you walk in…

  6. Jean
    December 30, 2012

    Happy Holidays, Jill. This was a fascinating post. The plantings are beautiful; and the emphasis on order gave me new insight into the managerial style of my good friend and department chair who is from Singapore :-).

  7. Charlie
    February 9, 2013

    It was fascinating to see such a different perspective in bring green into the community and sustainability. I really liked the indoor waterfalls.

  8. Pingback: GRAPEVINE: Sniffing Plants, Green City, Torch Lily, Indoor Shrubbery, Micropropagation, Wild Senna, Sweet Salvia, Lawn v. Garden, Thuja v. Leyland, Lion’s Tail, Pruning Box, Portland 2013, Hidden Family « My Education of a Gardener

  9. Pingback: World landscape of the year | Landscape Lover's Blog

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