It’s no surprise that Singapore’s population density is in the top three countries in the world. Close to five and a half million people squeeze onto that little island. So what did surprise me is that Singapore has a tree cover canopy of 46%. (The City of Sydney has a tree canopy of just 16%). Singapore is literally green.
All those trees are part of a long-term government plan to make Singapore the City in a Garden, a place where people want to work and live – not leave. So, 15% of the island is guaranteed to remain a nature reserve; freeways are going underground, with gardens on top; street trees are cared for, and green walls are seen on leading shops and hotels. Here’s a favourite example – the Parkroyal on Pickering, which incorporates gardens holistically – green walls in the public spaces, hanging gardens on the walkways, and an incredible facade of ‘terraced’ gardens that hang from the side of the building.
The big-ticket item though is Gardens By the Bay, a massive project on reclaimed land at Marina Bay. The huge complex of gardens would take you a day to walk through and judging from my sweaty stroll it provides locals with plenty of pretty (shady) picnic spots. While the locals hang in the gardens, visitors are drawn to the two biodomes and the massive structures called supertrees. The supertrees are an attempt to balance the scale of the triple-towered Marina Bay Sands hotel, which looks a bit like a subway train took a wrong turn and ended up on top of the skyline. Twenty-five storeys high, the 18 supertrees are covered with a facade of green wall plantings while a high-tech interior delivers water to the plants and solar energy to power a light show at night.
This shot, with its little ant people, gives you a sense of the scale of the thing. I was up on the skywalk, a walkway that links two of the supertree structures and a great view. (The only better view of the gardens is from the Observation Deck of the Marina Bay Sands.) You see one of the two biodomes in the background here. One, called the Flower Dome, is kept at a balmy Mediterranean summer of 25 degrees, with comfortable levels of humidity. The conditions allow the gardeners to show off dry climate plants (like Australian natives) and have European-style flower gardens like this year-round.
The other dome is the Cloud Forest, which is cool and damp like tropical montaine forests. This place took my breath away – not just because the spray of water coming off the waterfall cascading down the mountain was kind of chilly – but for the monumental scale and horticultural ambition. The ‘mountain’ is planted up with appropriate species, and gardened by workers who abseil down its sheer sides. Gardening as extreme sport – who’d have thought it!
Orchids thrive in the moist air near the waterfall, and a huge hot pink medinilla tumbles over the doorway. Up the top of mountain is a garden of carnivorous plants,
a beautiful collection of vireya rhododendrons,
and a vertiginous view back down to the ground.
I’m returning for another look in August, leading a tour for Ross Garden Tours, which will also take in the biannual Singapore Garden Festival. This is the first year that the festival will be held at Gardens by the Bay, and the organisers have locked in two of Australia’s leading designers, Jim Fogarty and Brendan Moar to build show gardens on the site. Brendan told me his first reaction to seeing the Gardens, the supertrees, the biodomes, was one of overwhelm – how to match the scale and the detail, how to compete for air? But he says he is just focusing tight on his space and how to make that work. Can’t wait to see what he comes up with!