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Gardening in Singapore


Exotic specimens, peaceful oases, serene passersby: a visit to Singapore's Botanical Gardens leaves Phil McCann wanting more

At best you can be fined for dropping litter, chewing gum, swearing and jaywalking. At worse you could face a corrective work order - Singapore certainly sounded like a place worth visiting.

On entering the airport I was hit by the sheer blooming brilliance of its horticulture. Orchids draped themselves elegantly around the arrival hall, landscaped gardens embraced the airport terminals and the drive into the city was a journey through belts of lush tropical green. All tended to perfection, with I suspect fallen leaves and broken branches being swept away before they had the chance of creating any unease in visitors and residents minds.


All bridges across the main roads were clothed in bubbling bougainvillea, most in flower, but I was worried. Would the botanical gardens, the main reason to visit along with afternoon tea at Raffles Hotel, be gardened to the point of sterility? Could the showpiece gardens of Singapore, and indeed Asia, be too manicured and too clinical? I'm not saying that dropping my chewing gum wrapper on the lawn while swearing at a local jaywalker is my thing, but the occasional tree stump ripped out by tornados and monsoons would be interesting. I needed to be impressed.

And I was - Singapore Botanical Gardens is an absolute delight. Entering the gardens, free of charge, through the Tanglin Gate entrance, clumps of bamboo, 20 feet high, punctuated the vast areas of tightly cropped grass. Swan Lake was a peaceful oasis in what is a throbbing city, with the delicate and underrated Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum) looking serene in the early morning sunshine.


Schoolchildren actually took notes and looked as if they wanted to learn about the plants as they crocodiled through the orchid displays. Poets and artists sat and contemplated whatever poets and artists contemplate, lovers strolled hand-in-hand, and picnickers enjoyed the perfect surroundings, meticulously taking home every piece of litter. Amazing specimens like the Cannonball Tree (Couroupita guianensis) had me gasping in wonderment, flowers and fruit emerging from the massive, craggy trunks. And yet, with the hustle and bustle of the vibrant city all around, I felt that I was the only person in the place. Before long I was playing a vital part in this spectacle of nature. Singapore Botanical Gardens needs to be visited and admired, and leaving the main gates and visitor centre, on to Cluny Street, I vowed to return. It's that kind of place.

Oh yes, I nearly forgot, afternoon tea at Raffles is most agreeable.

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