Thursday, 18 September 2008


Of course there is more to Singapore than just the gardens..... there is the why and how and I was very lucky to have spent the day with people who not only answered all my questions but also who were and are responsible for Singapore having the green ambience that makes it probably the most beautiful city I have visited. Some people will be surprised that I felt this way because it is often seen as sterile and too perfect. However, once your eyes are opened by people such as Cheow Kheng and Mr. Raj I hope you will look at it differently.

First, some history....just a I am not good with regurgitating facts but rather prefer to take them in, digest them a while and then talk about the gist of it all and give an opinion or two.....

Singapore has only been an independent county for about 50 years. The first Prime Minister was Lee Kwan Yew who more or less saw it as an opportunity to create a nation united, peaceful, viable and above all else, a nation of happy people. He saw the squalor, the lack of hygiene, the dense living conditions and the stresses elsewhere in the world and understood that humans needed greenery, a feeling of space and, in the tropics, a lot of shade, amongst other things. So started the plan that continues today to ensure that every road is lined with trees that reach across to the centre, for shade; there is an understorey of hedges and flowering shrubs lining every street and that every development - housing, business or factory complex is completely surrounded by a wide expanse of green space filled with trees and beauty. The current leader of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, is the son of the original and shares this same vision.

image Cheow Kheng has been responsible for ensuring this happens over the last 20 years or so. And so, as I was being told about it direct from him, as he drove us around Singapore, I could feel the passion he has for choosing the right plants, planning the right landscaping and designing the right plantings. There are wonderful parks in Singapore and he has been responsible for creating many of them as well. He said he has never worked a day in his life.....because everyday he has been able to follow his dream, use his passion and create beauty.

For a city of 4.5 million, Singapore has relatively little air pollution because of the abundance of trees  and yesterday we could see the distant mountains of Malaysia very clearly from the peak of Mt, Faber. There is total water recycling.... not a drop is ever wasted. The roads are wide and the traffic flows well ..... mostly...also reducing pollution.  Under the trees, the temperature is much cooler and having the bitumen shaded must reduce the heat retained by the roads and so allow the city to cool at night. image

We drove past what Cheow Kheng called 'tree banks' where saplings are grown to a size for transplanting but, instead of being in pots above the ground and liable to drying out and being blown over, the roots are surrounded in a fabric and dug into the ground.

Cheow Kheng has recently moved to a new job.... the next stage of the greening process .... and that it to make Singaporeans aware of the uniqueness of their lifestyle and then to encourage the development of community gardens. This is where Wilson Wong comes into it because he has created one in the park around the group of apartments where he lives. Because space has been left, and trees planted, there is now the opportunity to get the residents involved in gardening and reconnect them with the earth. This pro-active approach by the Singapore government should be adopted world-wide. Singapore is leading, as a nation, because the leaders can see the benefits for its residents and happy residents bring prosperity and peace and economic success. It is a win:win situation.

image During the afternoon we visited Mr.Raj, the director of CUGE - Centre for Urban Greening and Ecology. We shook hands and he handed me a nice, smooth, green business card and smiling with a gorgeous grin said he preferred it to his dull, official one. I liked Mr. Raj immediately! I asked him about the word ecology in the title and he explained that there is more to greenery than just greenery.....and he used my favourite word.....we need biodiversity! Mr. Raj and I got on famously and I was so impressed with the Singapore government for taking yet another initiative and further increasing the benefits of a green environment to include am improvement for all life, with many native plants now being introduced between the original plantings to increase the biodiversity and make habitats.

So, why then were these men interested in taking the time to talk to me? It came up early in the day that Wilson had said I was in a seedsavers group and this idea of saving seeds is an avenue the Singapore government had never yet considered. It obviously was of immense interest to them and I felt quite inadequately equipped to do much other than tell them why people are saving seeds and how this all links to biodiversity of the planet as well as to enhancing an awareness of life, the earth and the universe! Actually I had a ball talking to these men who share with me a passion for plants and sustainability and biodiversity etc etc and was honoured when each said he would like to keep in touch and to learn more and perhaps be able to form some sort of alliance with people in Australia to promote seedsaving.....and I thought I was just there to visit Wilson's garden and that was exciting enough!image

Singapore is a wonderful place, full of initiative and innovation and thinking people and I would very much like to go again and learn more.... I just wish some of our Australian government ministers would take a leaf out of their book and start doing some forward thinking. Thankyou, Wilson for introducing me to your world!

(This photo is of Wilson only moments after we met at the hotel where I was staying..... we are excitedly exchanging seeds and gifts!)


Maggie said...

That's great Kate.
I think we shall all be heading to Singapore to see the gardens.
Now London, lets see what you get up to next.
Check out the phone book and check out some community gardens and allotments if you have time. 2 free days, not very long is it.
Cheers Maggie

Anonymous said...

Hi Kate,

It is my pleasure to be able to bring you around and show you what Singapore has to offer.

I am grateful to Cheow Kheng's involvement in this tour as his presence is absolutely vital to let you know how Singapore is now progressing into a new stage where its citizens can now be involved to be part of the greening process - community gardening.

Like you have said, the greening of Singapore is not about just planting and more planting. The great planting project we have here puts back what we have removed earlier during urbanisation. It is also important to preserve the biodiversity as well in the process. CUGE hence has an important mission to do just that.

We now have tree banks and your idea of seed-saving is something new but equally important for us to preserve the species of plants we have here. It is an initiative that we here in Singapore should also adopt.

To all gardening friends and Kate included - you are very much welcome to come to Singapore again. Let me know so that I can be your host!

Wilson Wong from Singapore