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Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum




From Garden City to a City in a Garden

Singapore is a Garden City, thanks to decades of hard work by the National Parks Board. Hundreds of thousands of trees have been planted along roads with shrubs grown in between. Nearly all open spaces have been landscaped into mini parks or tree banks. Much effort had also been given to grow plants that attract birds, so much so that the urban bird population has flourished and it is common to encounter sunbirds, orioles, koels, even hornbills, in many suburban gardens. Following the success of the Garden City campaign, we are now moving on to turn Singapore into A City in a Garden.

At the same time the National Parks Board is trying hard to nurture a culture of gardening among its citizens.  Through its Community in Bloom programme that works in collaboration with various organisations, volunteers are being encouraged to become actively involved in gardening projects in schools, housing estates and even Government hospitals. Volunteers gather to care for their favourite plants, be they flowering ornamentals, herbs, spices, vegetables or even fruit trees.

The need to interact with plants is mostly felt by those who were once living in kampongs. Rapid development in the early 1990s made it necessary for them to be relocated into high-rise Housing Board apartments. But their love for plants did not disappear. They took to lining the corridors of their high-rise apartments with their favourite potted plants – flowering ornamentals, herbs or even vegetables. So high-rise gardening is now popular even with those fortunate enough to own private condominiums. And in some of these condominiums  it is not unusual to find rooftop gardens where retirees and housewives can volunteer to look after the plants.

For those who reside in landed properties, there is always more space to plant fruit trees and ornamentals. However, few families maintain elaborate landscaped gardens and these are generally cared for by the older members, people with more time in their hands to potter around. And of course there are always the hired hands to assist. Most households make do with a few fruit trees and flowering plants to liven up the area with colours.

Concrete Gardens

Of late, there is a new breed of so-called “concrete gardeners” who prefer to displaying potted plants around their concreted space surrounding their houses. They buy up landed properties, tear down the existing structures and erect larger and taller structures.  In the process space for the usual garden is kept to a minimum – a narrow strip around the sides and a nominal patch that serve as a front lawn. In some cases even these are concreted. Greenery comes in the form of potted plants that can be replaced once they become straggly with lack of care. The main priority here is living space. After all, who needs a private garden when there is a lovely garden courtesy of the government just outside one’s doorstep?

It is without doubt that concrete gardening causes the surrounding temperature to rise but with these noveau riches, they take refuge from the heat in their air-conditioned offices in the day to return home to their air-conditioned refuge.

Singapore Gardening Society

The Singapore Gardening Society that has its origin during the colonial days is alive and well. Its membership comprises the die-hard gardeners who are passionate in their love of plants and gardening. These include those residing in high-rise apartments as well as landed homes. They meet a few times a month for talks and home visits where they can pick up plants for a small donation. Overseas trips are regularly organised for members to visit regional and international gardening events, not to mention plant buying trips. These sojourns are always popular with members as they are constantly sourcing new species, especially plants with unique flowers, etc.


Holttum, R. E. & I. Enoch 1991. Gardening in the tropics. Times Editions, Singapore. 384pp.

Ng, Francis S. P. 2006. Tropical Horticulture and gardening. Clearwater Publications, Kuala Lumpur.  361pp.

Wee, Y.C. 1985. The greening of Singapore: past, present and future.  In: Proc. 3rd Symp. Our Environment  (eds. L.L. Koh & C.S. Hew), pp. 326-331. Faculty of Science, National University of Singapore.         

Wee, Y.C., 1985. Tropical ferns as garden and house plants.  In: Golden Gardening - Fifty Years of the Singapore Gardening Society (ed. A. Tofield), pp. 51-55. Singapore Gardening Society.

Wee, Y.C. 1988. The role of poisonous plants in the greening of Singapore. Toxicon 26:47.

Wee, Y.C. 1989. The Greening of Singapore: Conflicts in the Garden City.  ASEAN Seminar on Urban Forestry, Singapore.

Wee, Y.C., 2005. Ferns of the tropics. Times Editions-Marshall Cavendish, Singapore. 2nd ed. 190 pp.

Wee, Y.C. & R. Corlett, 1986. The city and the forest:  plant life in urban Singapore.  Singapore University Press. 186 pp.

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