Supertrees planting
Other people's gardens

Dazzled by the Bay

Singapore’s population density is among the highest in the world, so how surprising is it that almost half the island is under a tree canopy. In comparison, the City of Sydney boasts a tree canopy of 16%.  Singapore is literally green, part of a government initiative to make it the ‘City in a Garden’. The aim is to make the island such a lovely place to live that its highly educated workforce wouldn’t think of leaving. As a result, freeways are going underground with parks planted on top, 15% of the island is preserved as nature reserve, street trees are lovingly nurtured and gardens are integrated with architecture, such as at the marvellous Parkroyal on Pickering, which features tiers of gardens on its facade, and this in the lobby:

Parkroyal on Pickering

When Sydney garden designer Brendan Moar visited Singapore he says he felt an instant affinity, not just for the extent of the gardens, but for their style. “Design-wise I’m aligned to it,” says Moar. “There’s a contemporary approach that’s a bit left of centre but still with a certain slickness.  What strikes you too is that it’s a small space with big ideas.”

Biggest of all is Gardens by the Bay, where in August Moar will show a garden as part of Singapore’s biennial Garden Festival. Gardens by the Bay is a massive project on reclaimed land at Marina Bay.

Garden by the Bay

As you can see there is a huge complex of gardens but the attention-grabbers are two biodomes that challenge modern engineering techniques in their scale, and a grove of giant ‘supertrees’. The supertrees are an effort to balance the three 55-storey towers of Marina Bay Sands Hotel that overlook the gardens. They are 25-storey, wasp-waisted constructions, partly covered with a facade of green wall plantings of incredible diversity. Nearby are the two glasshouses. The Flower Dome is kept in balmy Mediterranean spring conditions with humidity just right for growing dry climate plants (including Australian natives) and year-round European-style flower gardens, like this:

Gardens by the Bay Flower Dome

The Cloud Forest, in contrast, is cool and damp. The garden here is built as a mountain, with a waterfall cascading from its peak, the whole packed with plants nurtured by gardeners who abseil down its side.

Cloud forest gardening

The whole thing is dazzling. Moar, who won Best in Show for his garden at last year’s Australian Garden Show Sydney (AGSS) with his first-ever show garden, was both awe-struck and dismayed. “It’s beyond anything else. How do you impress with a show garden when they’ve seen everything, and on a huge scale, from the unbelievably gaudy to the very refined? It did my head in.” It wasn’t until he was on the plane home, away from the gravitational pull of Gardens by the Bay that Moar regained his faith in the garden he has designed for the show. The garden is “the Dolce & Gabbana brother of the AGSS garden; a refined exploration of that fine vertical line.”  Here’s the AGSS garden.

Brendan Moar garden

The Singapore garden will use four kilometres of fine chain along with plants, sourced from Singapore nurseries, that have striking verticality in either upright or hanging forms. The exploration of fine vertical lines creates a space with a rain-like quality.

Moar AGSS

As to competing with the scale of the background, Moar says “there’s an intimacy in show gardens. The magic is that in the moment you can imagine yourself living in it.” Moar’s intimate solution will be the dream of a private sanctuary in the green razzle dazzle of Singapore.

I can’t wait to see it! I’m leading a tour to Singapore for the Garden Festival in August. The Singapore Garden Festival is one of the world’s leading garden shows. There are 15 show gardens, by a line-up of international design stars from UK, US, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia. As well as Brendan, Jim Fogarty who just won Best in Show for the garden he designed for Melbourne Botanic Gardens at the Hampton Court Show, is also doing a garden. So we’ll see intriguing gardens, eat great food, and love being hot! Have a look at the itinerary here.

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2 thoughts on “Dazzled by the Bay

  1. Can I come too?
    What are the cats tail things Robin? Some sort of ornamental millet?
    And that opening shot… As a cool climate gardener, I’m frequently bemused at how badly-used bromeliads are in climates that favour them. They’re too often over-used (being either easy or addictive – haven’t figured which), and with nothing suitably contrasting to really show off that spectacular vase-shape. This is bromeliads at their best

  2. Robin Powell says:

    The cat’s tail thing? I assumed some kind of pennisetum but I didn’t jump the fence to check. This flower bed section is planted up to a theme and changed often. There are parts that are so kitsch they make your eyes water and other parts that are just dazzlingly good – so I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with the space for the big show.

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