Singapore is a bustling modern city with soaring skyscrapers and mega shopping malls midst a landscape that is lush and lovely and dotted with parks and gardens. We visited two very impressive gardens, Gardens by the Bay and the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bay opened about three years ago and is on reclaimed land near the marina—unmissable due to the very tall supertrees that dominate the flat terrain. We visited in the morning and toured both the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. These are indoor exhibits in dome-like structures and provide a welcome respite from Singapore’s heat and humidity.
The Flower Dome purports to represent “eternal spring” and throughout there are garden areas with plants native to different parts of the world. It is a wonderful riot of color and form made even more colorful by the addition of red and gold flowers, tassels, and balls in honor of Chinese New Year.
It is the Year of the Goat and there were several flower goats here and there in the beds.
I particularly enjoyed the special exhibit of all shapes and shades of dahlias.
The Cloud Forest is a swirl of mist and mystery. There is a dramatic waterfall at the entry point and then you work your way around and up first by elevator, then on a ramp that loops around this seemingly high altitude mountain ecosystem.
You are up high in this dome and it is damp and there are marvelous views out the glass of the supertrees and the Singapore skyline, but you have none of the ill effects of real altitute.
As you come back down, you follow the ramp and then several escalators to a crystal forest which is made of real crystallized rock formations from caves and caverns around the world.
At the bottom there is a secret garden of greenery, ferns and the like. As you might guess, it is pleasingly cool, almost cold, in this forest. I loved it, but my spouse was eager to be re-embraced by the heat.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
The botanic gardens were founded early in the 19th century and for many years had directors from England, often men associated with Kew Gardens. During WWII when the Japanese occupied this country, there was a Japanese director, but fortunately, the Japanese had a high enough regard for nature that the gardens were untouched and well managed. After the war and after Singaporean independence in 1965, the directors were no longer British, but Asian. It is a bit ironic that the current director, Nigel Taylor, is a Brit.
The garden has a small new building that was built to be as green as possible and it’s the site of special exhibits such as this one on flowers.
We were fortunate to have a guided tour of both the gardens as well as the library, the herbarium and the heritage museum. Orchids are a big deal in Singapore and while almost all of the extensive gardens are free, the National Orchid Garden does charge admission. We saw a display about the research underway here into orchids and the complex and time-consuming process it takes to develop orchids. The library has a public reading room with reference books and sample specimens for individuals who want to try and identify the species they find in their yards. And the library and herbarium have both been actively involved in digitizing collections. The herbarium has about 800,000 specimens from Singapore and other areas in Southeast Asia and about 7,000 type specimens. Researchers come from around the world to view their collection when the online record and image are not sufficient.
The gardens themselves are lovely and green with many historic and unusual trees and plants and a cadre of dedicated runners who come early in the morning to start off their day. We enjoyed our tour so much we returned early this morning to see the gingers, the bromeliads, and the orchids again in the early light.
After the gardens, we went downtown to see the Parliament buildings and the huge white Anglican cathedral and to survey Boat Quay, known for its lively restaurant row. We stopped in the Asian Civilization Museums to learn more about the history of Singapore, but it was an abbreviated stop since most of the museum is closed for renovation. On our way to lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant in the Arts House, we were swarmed by a bunch of middle school students. They were doing a class project and needed to interview tourists and we qualified. Half surrounded me and the other half my spouse as they asked where we were from, why we’d come to Singapore, what we liked, whether we wanted to return. To the last question, an emphatic yes! They asked to take my picture with them and then, it was time to enjoy what turned out to be a very tasty set lunch.