The Botanic Gardens
The steel drums were reaching a crescendo as the narrator described how the invading pirates stormed the beaches and stole one of our heroines as a bride. I was sat on a grassy hill in Singapore’s Botanic Gardens overlooking a canopied stage set nestled in the small valley and surrounded by lily pad filled waters. It was on this stage that a group of musicians were retelling a national folk-tale; the tale of the two sisters, which describes how the islands got their names.
It is this kind of scene which makes it easy to see why, in Trip Advisor’s list of things to do in Singapore, four of the top ten are gardens, including the top three. The Botanic Gardens provide the occupants of this fast paced city with a calm respite or a place to kick back. As I first walked through I was struck with how the gardens were not unlike Hyde Park in London, in that they are situated right in the heart of the city and are accustomed to picnickers and the occasional game of frisbee. Singapore’s Botanic Gardens however transcend this mere park like image as you venture further in. The vast grassy expanses giving way to dense and exotic undergrowth. Maze-like twists and turns and of course the beautiful collections of plants it houses, including a spectacular display of Bonsai trees.
Within this wonderful display of plant-life lies Trip Advisor’s number one attraction; the National Orchid Garden. Indeed most people I had spoken to before my trip cited this landmark as a highlight. Unlike the rest of the Botanic Garden, the Orchids required a ticket to enter, but the $5 entrance fee didn’t feel like a great deal for what had promised to be Singapore’s greatest attraction and I did not regret the decision to open my wallet. The garden is awash with the most incredible array of different kinds and coloured orchids all forming a thick and fertile grove of vegetation. The garden also contains several huge greenhouses in which the flowers drip from the humidity and seem to emit a lush exotic glow; the colours of deep pinks and purples vivid and rich. The whole garden cemented in my mind the idea of the orchid as the rarest and most elusive beauty. A flower which seems to symbolise the mysticism and other worldly qualities of distant and faraway lands.
My only small qualm with the garden came in the section entitled ‘VIP orchid garden’; something I found very funny until I realised it referred not to the orchids themselves but to the famous people they were named after. One of the first VIP orchids I came across was one named for Margaret Thatcher. It took a great deal of resistance not to stamp on it.
Gardens By The Bay
A little further on the train brought me to Singapore’s other grand horticultural enterprise; Gardens by The Bay. Situated in the shadow of the architecturally awe-inspiring Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Gardens by the Bay consists of two large Eden project style domes and a grove of ‘super-trees’. The website describes the 25-50m tall trees as having ‘large canopies that provide shade in the day and come alive with an exhilarating display of light and sound at night.’ Sadly the Cloud Forest dome was undergoing some sort of maintenance on the day I was there, however the huge flower dome gave plenty to look at.
The view on entering the dome is spectacular. I did not realise from the outside how large the dome was but with high ceilings and multi levelled gardens you step through the door into a vast and far reaching far reaching display of flowers. Entering on the top level, and with the glass walls and ceilings giving a view of the Singapore skyline beyond, you feel as though you are suddenly standing on the top of a mountain looking down, rather than being in the midst of it as is usually the way with a garden. This viewpoint allowed me to view the whole and startling affect of this array of flowers which have been pulled from all four corners of the globe. Or at least from those corners where flowers grow. It also allowed me to view the jarringly contrasting Christmas display set smack in the middle of this otherwise bright and humid greenhouse, ( I was visiting in early January). A huge Christmas tree surrounded by fake presents, elfs and other christmassy decorations including ‘snow’ protruded from the Mediterranean olive groves, Australian eucalyptus and desert cacti. To add to this juxtaposition, my sojourn around the dome was accompanied by the dulcet tones of the Michael Buble Christmas album, not once, but three times. It is quite something to be serenaded by Buble’s rendition of ‘All I want for Christmas’ surrounded by giant cacti and orchids.