Travel time, readers from UK and USA – here’s interesting in South East Asia – a great piece from Jonathan Fothergill on Hort park, Singapore.
Anne Wareham, editor Singapore, famed for its cut orchids and its botanic garden, has a new kid on the garden block. Billed as a ‘One-stop gardening hub’ the HortPark is aimed at promoting all things growing to the totally urban population of the city-state. As a garden designer with an afternoon to spare, I decided this was definitely worth a look. The journey starts with a ‘Floral Walk’. This paved garden, with displays of contemporary tropical planting, takes the visitor from the expressway to the entrance proper. Helpful staff are on hand to provide maps of the gardens and to answer any questions.
A map is essential as signage is somewhat lacking. Exhibits in the visitors centre aim to show that even Singaporeans living in the highest of high-rise apartments have the scope to green their living space with real plants. Lifestyle Corner displays ways of displaying plants (terrestrial, epiphytic and aquatic) in creative ways. Coffee table terrariums, vertical gardens in picture frames, miniature orchids under cake domes. The rooftop showcases different green roof solutions suitable for the local environment. There is a landscaped balcony and (of course) an orchid garden.
Many of the displays might not appeal to our Western taste. An awful lot of what is on display would fall squarely in the category of kitsch, but isn’t that also true of many exhibits at some of our better-known flower shows? The HortPark is, in fact, not unlike a permanent flower show. It even has an area of 40 display gardens showcasing a range of landscaping ideas and products.
I imagine that the free entrance is subsidised by the small notices advising where the products used can be purchased from, but this is no bad thing. It is nice to see something done and to know where to get the bits to do it all yourself back home. Leaving the interior displays I was dazzled by the Silver Garden. A dark infinity pool frames the view across a terraced lawn with sinuous white curved steps. Silver-leaved palms dominate planting. The glossy tropical greens of the foliage and the white (often strongly scented) flowers shine against the dark green background of distant trees.
Maybe it was the shock of the new but I could not help but be impressed by this space. It works as a garden space, giving a sense of enclosure and creating a desire to see what lies beyond. It’s not something one could do back home (our silver leaves shrubs are not as jagged in outline or large of leaf) but so what? If only I had the time to go back and see it at night, which must surely look quite mysterious.
The park continues with a display of forty display gardens, some successful, others not so. Of course there is a general encouragement towards growing food at home. The Herb and Spice Garden could have done without the concrete statuettes of maidens looking as if they had just been goosed in the shrubbery. Odder still was the Garden of Seasons. Singapore doesn’t really have them you see. It’s always hot and rain is not uncommon.
Frustratingly the Butterfly Garden opens only for a couple of hours on the last Saturday of every month. The Recycling Garden underlines the importance of the 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Although much of the garden contains things that have obviously seen better days, it manages to do so in a beautiful way. Recycled materials should not forget to be beautiful, and an old trainer planted with Episcia actually was just that. Walls made from plastic bottles (for example), how ever well intentioned, are not really what I want to look at in a garden and thankfully such monstrosities were absent.
Tropical planting does have a knack of looking old fashioned. Maybe it’s the fact that many of the plants are familiar from the potted plant section at Marks and Spencer? Perhaps it is the preponderance of block planting and the general 70s colour scheme of many of the leaves and flowers? Perhaps the ‘Dutch Wave’ is yet to lap on these shores. However, an area had been planted in what could loosely be described as the Meadow Style. Grasses and herbaceous perennials galore, but with the odd Hibiscus hybrid and delicate Arundina graminifolia orchids just to show off.
The garden concludes with a series of glasshouses. It’s somewhat frustrating to only be able to view the contents through the large pictures windows. However, the surreal feeling of gazing in at the likes of apple trees and hybrid tea roses whilst standing outside surrounded by Vandas can not be under estimated. It was like someone turned Kew Gardens inside out.
The purpose of these glasshouses is to experiment with growing temperate and Mediterranean type plants for a new botanic garden that is under construction. Eden Project-style biomes are planned and should be ready for the World Orchid Conference later in 2011.