For an entire week now, the whole of Singapore has been abuzzed with 4 words – Gardens by the Bay. These 4 words topped search engine keyword searches, filled Facebook feeds with pictures everyday from the latest man made wonder in Singapore, and certainly seemed to have captured the minds of ordinary Singaporeans (for now at least). These four words from the name of Singapore Npark’s latest project – Gardens by the Bay, a entire man made garden sitting on 54 hectares of prime real estate reclaimed from the sea, just minutes away from other attractions like the Singapore Flyer and Marina Bay Sands.
An integral part of Singapore’s “City in a Garden” vision, Gardens by the Bay spans a total of 101 hectares of prime land at the heart of Singapore’s new downtown – Marina Bay. Comprising three waterfront gardens – Bay South, Bay East and Bay Central – Gardens by the Bay will be a showcase of horticulture and garden artistry that will bring the world of plants to Singapore and present Singapore to the world. Bay South, the largest at 54 hectares, officially opened on 29 June 2012 and this is the garden that has captured the attention of Singaporeans and the one which I am going to write about here.
I was given a private tour of the garden, along with CK and Yuan Sheng by Ferne, the friendly Marcom / social media rep / print marketing / Internet marketing / do-it-all guide who greeted us with enthusiasm and a wealth of knowledge about the park.
Our first stop on this special tour is the distinctive Super Tree Garden, specifically the Golden Garden.
Ranging in height from 25 to 50 metres, the Supertrees serve as vertical gardens to showcase a variety of bromeliads, ferns and tropical flowering climbers, on a scale never before presented in a garden.
The 18 tree-like structures draw inspiration from the dominant trees in the rainforest. Marrying the form and function of mature trees, they not only support a living skin of plants but also mimic the ecological functions of trees through their environmentally sustainable features. Some have photovoltaic cells on their canopies to harvest solar energy for lighting up the Supertrees at night, while others are integrated with the cooled conservatories and serve as air exhaust receptacles.
During the day, the Supertrees’ canopies provide shade. At night, the vertical gardens come to life with lighting and projected media. An aerial walkway, the OCBC skywalk linking two of the Supertrees enable visitors to take in a different view of Bay South Garden.
Ferne took us all the way to the top of the trees, where we were able to traipse down the OCBC Skywalk, reveling in the breathtaking view of the Gardens.
Next, we head on down to the two distinctive domes – the two cooled conservatories. With a diverse range of plant life from every continent except Antarctica, these two landmark cooled conservatories are fashioned in the shape of distinctive domes destined to change the skyline of Singapore.
The cooled conservatories comprises of two glass biomes – ‘Cloud Forest’ (0.8 hectare) and ‘Flower Dome’ (1.2 hectares) – the conservatories replicate the cool-moist climate of the Tropical Montane region and the cool dry climate of the Mediterranean and semi-arid sub-tropical regions. These regions are among the most threatened habitats in the world, with many plant species facing the threat of climate change and habitat loss brought about by human activities.
When we entered the Flower Dome with Ferne, I knew this was going to be a whole new experience. Standing right there inside the vast expanse of the pillar-less dome, we were surrounded by every conceivable species of flowers and plants, and also by other species which I have never imagined or known. One of the most memorable event was coming face to face with the Wooly Cactus which originates from the Andes of Bolivia. This cactus has a succulent stem, golden spines, and a wooly cephalium which protects not just the flowers from desiccation but also pollinating bats from the spiny stems. A plant pollinated by bats – that just blew my admittedly limited knowledge of cactus off the charts.
Also in the Succulent Garden section of the dome, one can find the Tree Grape from Namibia and the Century Plant from Mexico and Central America.
I was also rather taken by the sight of the Baobab section of the dome – these ancient Baobab plants from dry arid regions of the world stand majestically and proudly. In fact, many of these plants, if taken out of the cooled conservatory, would have perished under the weather of Singapore. Inside the temperature and humidity-controlled environment of the Flower Dome, we are able to view them in all their original glory.
Here’s the tallest Baobab in the Flower dome….
And here’s what’s dubbed as the Drunken Tree, shaped like the human heart!
Of course, there are many other plants and flowers on display in the Flower Dome – in fact, the Flower Dome itself is divided into several regions besides the Baobabs and the Succulent Garden plants we just saw – the Australian Garden, the South African Garden, the South American Garden, the Olive Grove, the Mediterranean Garden and the Flower Field. I wish I could write about each and every plant I saw, but that would have made this post very very long!
The conservatories are also a statement in sustainable engineering and apply a suite of cutting-edge technologies that provide energy-efficient solutions in cooling. The cooled conservatories allow a whole new world of plants to be sustained in Singapore. In addition to the permanent display of interesting plant life and tree species, visitors can look forward to seasonal changing floral displays in the Flower Dome.
Exiting the Flower Dome, we entered the dome named the Cloud Forest, and were immediately greeted by the thunderous roar of raging water cascading down the 35m tall man made waterfall the Cloud Mountain that fronts the entrance to the Cloud Forest. This conservatory has a plantable area of 6,000 square metres including 3,800 square metres of vertical planting space on the Cloud Mountain.
The Cloud Forest replicates a cool-moist climate found in Tropical Montane regions between 1,000 to 3,500 metres above sea level, such as Mt Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia, and high elevation areas in South America. Walking into the dome, the entire place feels like a natural theme park, what with the high mountain looming above our heads and narrow aerial walkways inviting us to ascend to the top of the Cloud Mountain to view the variety of plants housed here and to experience the rage of the waterfall.
Ascending like angels up to the top of the mountain named the Lost World, (aka, taking the express lift all the way up ), we were treated to cloud forest vegetation typically found at around 2,000 metres above sea-level. Here I saw for the first time in my life, carnivorous plants such as the Pitcher plant and the infamous Venus Fly-catcher. (yes, we attempted to make it close the trap by tickling it with stones and twigs )
We began our descent down the mountain using the more conventional and more scenic Cloud Walk which brings us up-close to the epiphytic plant species that clad the side of the mountain.
From the Cloud Walk, we passed by the Cavern, an area of discovery within the mountain where one can gather a wealth of information about cloud forests and the plants within. We were also treated to a waterfall view and the Crystal Mountain, which is a unique classroom where visitors can learn about geology while surrounded by real examples of stalactites and stalagmites which are common in caves found inside mountains.
From here we proceed to the Tree Top walk, and on to Earth Check, a special lab where we were presented with facts and figures about the Earth, and problems we will face due to climate and weather changes. My favorite is +5 degrees, a special interactive voyage through time and space where with the use of 3D graphics and audio visual effects, we can experience the devastating effects of climate changes through small gradual increases in the temperatures around the world.
Lastly, to end off our tour, we came to the Secret Garden section at the foot of the mountain, a gentle ravine walk through a narrow gorge brings visitors close to plants that belong to families that were once abundant on earth, yet are increasingly rare today and are often restricted to obscure habitats in the highlands of different countries.
Our 3 hour tour of Gardens by the Bay had come to an end, but there’s so much that we’ve not walked – the outdoor sections of the Gardens features open outdoor gardens, event spaces, F&B outlets and of course, the Dragonfly lake and bridge, of which we have only just passed through.
This will be a place I will definitely come back, again and again. Thanks to Ferne from Gardens by the Bay for the special tour and for opening up my eyes to the wonders of nature!
For more information on Gardens by the Bay and pricing information (you only need to pay for entry into the domes and the OCBC skywalk – the rest of the areas are free of charge), visit Gardens by the Bay website for more info!