THE tiny country of Singapore has an outstanding botanic garden, but when the city state's new Marina Bay precinct was created from land reclaimed from the sea, a second garden was seen as a must for the area.
The vision for this precinct was to extend Singapore's reputation as a garden city, and the Gardens by the Bay was conceived as a public garden that would showcase Singapore's biodiversity, as well as bringing plants from all over the world to the city for the purposes of study and education.
The Gardens by the Bay design was chosen through a competition that had 174 entries from landscape and architectural firms all over the world.
The UK-based Grant Associates was awarded the contract to design Bay South, the flagship area of the project. On a trip to South Africa, chief executive Dr Kiat Tan met horticulturist Chris Dalzell, at the time curator of the Durban Botanic Gardens.
Tan decided that Dalzell was an ideal candidate for the project. After a visit to Singapore to view the plans and be interviewed, Dalzell was offered a position as assistant director of gardens development.
"My initial response was to turn the job down, as my life and work was in Durban and South Africa," Dalzell says.
"I soon realised that this was going to be the most important horticultural project the world had ever known though, and promptly changed my mind."
Dalzell's job involved several aspects of the gardens' construction, the most exciting of which, he says, was travelling around the world collecting plant material for the gardens and ensuring that it was safely transported back to Singapore.
In Singapore, Dalzell worked with the builders, landscapers and other contractors on the design, layout, planting and implementation of the gardens and ensured that the correct soil was brought in, fumigated and treated and that each plant was planted correctly. He was also involved in the irrigation and temperature control plans in the conservatories and stayed on for five months after the gardens opened in November 2011, helping to develop a "Friends of the Gardens" organisation and volunteer programmes.
The Gardens by the Bay complex has two sets of iconic structures: the conservatories, and the giant "Supertrees".
"The two conservatories were built to house plants from countries where the climate is different from Singapore," explains Dalzell. "The Flower Dome has a cool, dry Mediterranean climate and extends over 1.2 hectares. The Cloud Forest was created to mimic the tropical rainforest conditions found in places like Borneo and Brazil. The Cloud Forest is 0.8 hectares but rises 68 metres into the sky. Inside, a mountain has been built to house plants such as orchids, bromeliads, anthuriums and ferns, and a waterfall plunges 35 metres down the mountainside."
The Supertrees stand between 25 metres and 50 metres tall, and have several functions in the gardens, both aesthetic and practical. The height of the structures helps to balance the tall buildings of the surrounding Marina Bay area and give scale and dimension to the gardens. The canopies of the trees provide shade during the day and are lit up at night.
"The Supertrees are actually vertical gardens," explains Dalzell, "with panels that support a variety of plants, including orchids and bromeliads. Solar panels mounted on the structures provide power and rainwater is captured and channelled into reservoirs, lakes and the moat which surrounds the garden. Several of the Supertrees are connected by walkways, which have breathtaking views, and there is a restaurant at the top of one of the 50-metre tall trees."
Sustainability is one of the main focuses of the Gardens by the Bay and the solar panels and water tanks of the Supertrees are enhanced by elevated beds that allow run-off to be channelled into reservoirs.
Water surrounds the gardens in the form of a moat, and the Dragonfly and Kingfisher lakes. A series of natural eco-filters cleanses the water and visitors are taught the importance of plants in cleaning water and removing toxins and heavy metals.
The aquatic plants attract dragonflies, butterflies and birds to the gardens, and the lakes teem with life too.
The outdoor areas of Gardens by the Bay extend over more than 50 hectares and boast several themed gardens, including the Heritage Gardens and World of Plants.
"The Heritage Gardens aim to tell the story of Singapore's history and the contribution made by the Indian, Chinese, Malay and colonial settlers through plants, while the World of Plants gardens allow visitors a closer look at flowers and fruits, trees, the rainforest and prehistoric plants, with many surprising and exciting discoveries to be made," says Dalzell.
"The Gardens by the Bay outdoor gardens are open seven days a week and entrance is free. Visitors do need to pay to enter the conservatories or the walkways between the Supertrees, but these are only elements of this incredible development."
"Access to the gardens is very easy, with buses passing regularly and an MRT station right outside. There is so much to see, but a morning's or afternoon's visit will allow you to walk around the whole outdoor garden and visit the conservatories."
Singapore has long been a popular tourist destination and there is no doubt that the myriad attractions of the spectacular Gardens on the Bay will enhance the city's reputation. © Home Weekly