Yesterday’s visit to the Singapore Botanical Gardens was quite enjoyable. The gardens are beautiful, tied up with some interesting history and a nice break from the city. It was particularly interesting comparing it to the walking trek of the Southern Ridges that I completed on the weekend, and the Gardens by the Bay the week before that.
The Botanic Gardens is the oldest of the three garden walks that I have been on, with the garden having been established in 1859. The gardens played an important role in tweaking the process of extracting rubber for the British, which makes some of it’s history a little complex. It also served as a garden for members of the Singaporean Agri-horticulturist society that designed and maintained the garden. For a while, in the late 1800’s, the gardens included a zoo, which was closed by 1903. In the 1920’s, it became a site of experimentation for orchid growing and hybridisation. This orchid experimentation grew into Singapore becoming one of the worlds foremost exporter of the flowering plant. By the 1990’s, the park was going through a revitalisation process to feed into the cities Green City plan. In 2015 it became Singapore’s first World Heritage Site, on account of fulfilling Criterion 2 and 4 of the selection criteria.
Walking through the gardens today is quite interesting, with it seemingly embracing the colonial feeling of it’s past. There are Victorian style lamp posts, buildings that are from the colonial era and at one point we walked past a bandstand painted white. The garden beds and placement of plants feels quite European in style. It is undeniably beautiful and full of old world charm. I think the most fascinating part for me was the concept of Orchid Diplomacy - where official meetings for international leaders results in a new hybrid orchid being named for the person visiting.
Having visited the other two locations, it kind of made me wonder whether they are balancing points. Gardens by the Bay is spectacular in design. It’s hard to describe what it is the most beautiful natural and constructed green spaces confined within domes that are somewhere above. It’s nothing like walking into a quaint greenhouse. On the outside of the buildings, the Supertree Grove is nestled into the green space, challenging our perception of what is natural. I have no doubt, that only in Singapore, could I see anything like this. The Southern Reaches walk was also pretty incredible. Where the Gardens by the Bay and Botanical Gardens are constructed and designed natural spaces, the Southern Reaches invites people to walk in the tree tops of the rainforest below you. There is a sense of the wild beneath foot as you walk along the metal structure. There are constant warnings of wild monkeys and I saw a squirrel darting down a tree. In the moments of quiet, you could almost be a bird (or squirrel), watching over the forest below.
In essence, I felt like visiting the three completed a whole experience for me. Three sides of Singapore: Colonial beginnings and growth, Singaporean design and innovation, and the land that is woven in around that.
I think that makes me wonder about the World Heritage listing for the Botanic Gardens. It received it’s entry via selection criteria 2 and 4, which is interesting. World Heritage listings are often quite worthy of their status, however the process is wrapped up in a certain level of politics. I think that the garden does connect into a much large national narrative, and it is supremely interesting in it’s use for diplomacy. The garden is already somewhat secluded, which will help with maintaining lay it’s status, and it is popular for tourism. I’m not convinced that by itself, those two criteria works well for it. I feel like maybe the Gardens by the Bay could have been a better option for world heritage status, but it is quite new. I would be quite happy to be convinced otherwise.
I am so pleased that I was able to visit all three, and I’m feeling extraordinarily lucky to be on this trip with University of Canberra.
Side note: Squirrels seen during this trip now equals 2!
Museum working, game playing and dog loving geek. Tune in for musings about the GLAM sector, and generally geekiness.