Hedging Our Future On Green

No longer content to be a ‘Garden City’, Singapore is branding itself as ‘a City in a Garden’ where greenery and nature is an integral part of life. Challenge looks at how this transformation is taking place, through the Gardens by the Bay development which will open in 2012.
From broad green leaves traced with creamy yellow, deep red and purple rosettes to vivid blue buds, the incredible beauty and variety of bromeliads – a type of tropical flowering plant – symbolise the rich diversity that will be showcased at the new garden icon that will be Gardens by the Bay.
Development Manager Marziah Haji Omar (left) and Horticulturist Khin Maung Soe are part of the diverse team that is working to create Singapore's next green icon, the Gardens by the Bay.

For Ms Marziah Haji Omar, Development Manager (Gardens by the Bay), National Parks Board (NParks), learning how to care for an array of unique plants and use them in the design of the Gardens’ towering Supertrees and cooled conservatories has been an eye-opening experience.

“The Supertrees will showcase vertical planting on a scale never presented before in a garden. The bromeliads will add to that uniqueness as they are not often used in vertical planting,” she shared. “Many of the hybrids that we will be using are not commonly found in this region, and some have colourful leaves that add to the design element.”

As for the conservatories, which combine cultivation, design and climate engineering in an iconic shell-like design, Ms Marziah believes they “illustrate how garden design has evolved beyond just landscape and horticulture, to embrace other disciplines like architecture and green engineering.”

Learning about new plants from the Mediterranean and Tropical Montane (mountain forest) regions, working with horticultural experts and being part of this project is a highlight of her career and showcases the evolution of garden design.

Cities that top liveability indexes have good green credentials in environmental policies, green buildings and lots of nature and biodiversity accessible to citizens.

Like the plant life, the team working on the project reflect diversity in speciality and background, including specialist horticulturalists, landscapers, soil scientists, irrigation experts, architects, engineers and many other consultants from Singapore and the world.

Greening and Liveability

As they enhance Singapore’s new downtown, the Gardens will also mark a new trajectory for Singapore’s country brand. NParks CEO Poon Hong Yuen sees the Gardens representing the conceptual shift from ‘Garden City’ to ‘A City in a Garden’ – from having a garden in your house to having a house in your garden. “The idea is of greenery that is more pervasive,” he explained. “It is integrated in the city”.


This comes as public green spaces become a key definition of a liveable city, beyond good physical and social infrastructure in public transport, education and healthcare, good economic opportunities, stable political systems and a safe living environment. Cities that top liveability indexes time and again have good green credentials in environmental policies, green buildings and lots of nature and biodiversity accessible to citizens. Take, for example, Vancouver, with over 200 parks, and Vienna, one of Europe’s greenest cities.

According to the Centre for Liveable Cities in Singapore, urban green spaces impart aesthetic value, foster social interaction, increase physical and psychological health, improve air quality, reduce urban heat and create unique habitats. As urban theorist and architect William Lim says in Livable Urban Spaces in Singapore, integrating green spaces enhances an urban environment by ‘softening’ a hard grey cityscape of skyscrapers and roads.

Tracing the evolution of greening Singapore, Mr Poon noted that, in the early days, “well-tended plants and verdant spaces made Singapore an attractive green oasis and gave the impression of orderliness, cleanliness and efficient administration... [it made] Singapore attractive to investors.” A lush, well-maintained cityscape is still relevant today in imparting the idea of liveability, he said.

The ‘City in a Garden’ movement is an elevation of ideals envisioned by Singapore’s early leaders. “Today, we take the greening of Singapore to another level. It is part of our image as a liveable city with lots of nature, greenery and biodiversity that is well within reach, in an urban setting.”

He points to how green spaces have – literally – flourished; from streetscapes and roadside trees, to parks that have become recreational spaces, and to the iconic Botanic Gardens and Gardens by the Bay. NParks manages some 1.3 million roadside trees and more than 300 parks – including 60 large regional ones in Singapore. Park connectors, rooftop green spaces, a planned green corridor in Orchard Road to nurture a butterfly trail and more add to the “greenery is everywhere” concept.


A Living Brand

Making plants a ubiquitous part of the landscape has another advantage – biodiversity. Green spaces provide homes for all manner of birds, butterflies, insects and small mammals. “We’ve learnt that if we mix tall trees and shrubs along the street, it helps birds migrate better,” Mr Poon shared. Breeding efforts have also helped reintroduce the native hornbill – which disappeared from Singapore over 150 years ago. Today, these beautiful birds with distinctive beaks can be spied in Changi Village and the Botanic Gardens – there are even several ‘presidential’ hornbills at the Istana.

Also unique are majestic old trees. Mr Poon recalled taking visitors to Orchard Road and what struck them most was the sight of grand old rain trees behind Grange Road. “They literally stopped in their tracks and took out their cameras... These old trees located in a busy shopping stretch is something that is not easy to replicate.”

When the Gardens are completed, it will be a habitat where people, flora and fauna coexist in an urban setting. Going by the experience of the Botanic Gardens – Singapore’s original green jewel – and its standing as one of the best, most beautiful and diverse gardens in the world, Mr Poon is confident that Gardens by the Bay will similarly elevate Singapore’s standing as a truly unique and green global city, a key differentiating factor for Singapore’s brand.

    Jul 18, 2011
    Sheralyn Tay
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