Gardens By The Bay: Artificial can be Fun

I’ve heard some criticism of Gardens By The Bay, Singapore’s latest attraction, with people wondering why the government would create an artificial garden in one place while it destroys natural spaces elsewhere (see Bukit Brown Cemetery as one example). But, actually I liked Gardens By The Bay. It’s not a nature reserve and nor is it trying to be one, and its paid attractions are more expensive than the National Orchid Garden at Singapore Botanic Gardens. And yes, it’s very artificial. But Singapore does “artificial” rather well (see Sentosa Island for another example of this).

Gardens By The BayThe general Gardens By The Bay area is free to enter, so you can wander around and look at the different themed areas. There are gardens for ethnic groups which showcase plants and cultural elements of the group. You can also walk in Supertree Grove. These “fake trees” or vertical gardens, depending on how you look at them, are one of the main features of Gardens By The Bay. There are restaurants and shops, some fun fountains of the type that suddenly spurt water into the air, and it all feels kind of futuristic. It’s a pleasant space to enjoy a walk in a crowded city.

The main attractions at Gardens By The Bay do cost money, though they’re not hugely expensive. We had tickets for two of them: Cloud Forest and Flower Dome.

Cloud Forest

Walking into the Cloud Forest, one of the massive domes, I was hit by a blast of cold wind and rain… Wait a minute, I thought, this is just like being back in London. Ah ha, us Brits pay to feel the tropical heat of the Eden Project in Cornwall, while Singaporeans pay to feel cold and wet.

waterfallBut it turned out that my first impression was somewhat mistaken. The water came from the 30m high waterfall, one of the Cloud Forest’s main features, and we were not in a synthesized UK, but in an artificial cloud forest, at a relatively high altitude up a mountain. This made it all seem more fun.

We walked around the base of the mountain, and then went up in the lift (I told you it was futuristic), we could see the water gushing down below. As we walked up to the mountain peak the vegetation gradually changed. At the top of the mountain we found vegetation normally found at a high altitude, or so we were told. Fortunately, Cloud Forest is full of information for visitors, about the altitude simulated, the types of vegetation and the impact of the current environmental crisis of global warming. The information was written clearly and we felt we could learn something.

plants at the top of the mountainDescending into the belly of the mountain we came upon a hall full of stalactites and stalagmites and some information about their formation. Under the mountain we learnt about the effects of global warming and predictions for the Earth’s future.

The Cloud Forest environment was fun with its wind, rain and cloud simulations, and we learnt about some important environmental issues.

Flower Dome

We also had tickets for the other dome at Gardens By The Bay, Flower Dome, where a simulated cool, dry climate supports plants from the Mediterranean, parts of South and Central America, Australia and Africa.

inside Flower DomeWe saw many plants from these regions, which are not native to Southeast Asia, including baobab trees, olive trees, and some amazing cacti and succulents. The central area of the Flower Dome is used for a seasonal flower display, which while we were there was showing an autumnal array of oranges, yellows and reds, with rustic harvest time elements. Spectacular due to its size and the well-ordered flowerbeds, the view across the whole dome from the baobab garden was amazing.

A New Garden to Visit

The two domes are both worth a visit, especially if you’re living in tropical Southeast Asia and want to experience a different climate. I preferred the Cloud Forest due to its mountain environment and contrasting climate, but the flowers were more spectacular at Flower Dome.

Autumnal display at Flower Dome

Gardens By The Bay is a pleasant place to visit for a wander and makes an good alternative to Singapore Botanic Gardens.


The National Orchid Garden at Singapore Botanic Gardens

winding pathAfter several visits to the main section of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, I finally got round to seeing the National Orchid Garden, and I wish I had gone there earlier. Unlike the small orchid house at Bogor Botanical Gardens in Indonesia, the Singapore National Orchid Garden occupies a large outdoor space, with an indoor cool house housing particular specimens. You need time to walk around the whole garden, and it is well worth it to see every section. But with entry at only S$5 for adults and S$1 for students (children get in free), a repeat visit is also a possibility.

Following the map, we set off around the well landscaped gardens, stopping every few metres to admire the beautiful plants. The orchids are surrounded by other species of plants and trees so there is plenty to see.

yellow and orange orchidsSections of the Orchid Garden

Advertised as “the largest display of tropical orchids in the world”, a plethora of colours and patterns can be found. The gardens are divided into sections, clearly marked on the map. We saw the VIP Orchid Garden and the Celebrity Orchid Garden, both of which feature orchids that have been bred for a particular famous person. Everyone from kings, queens and presidents to film stars has an orchid named after them. Vanda Miss Joaquim, Singapore’s national flower, can also be seen in its own section of the gardens.

The Yuen-Peng McNeice Bromeliad Collection, which is the pineapple plant family, offered a brief break from orchids, before we hit the cool house. This displayed the most stunning orchids, in amazing patterns and colours. We noticed that as well as looking beautiful, many have appealing scents. Orchids can smell very different to each other, however, and some of the aromas were more attractive than others.

white pink orchid

A Flowery Path

As well as the designated sections, orchids were planted along beside the path throughout the garden, with small labels, so we could recognise which were cross-breeds of the others. And all ready for the eager tourist, special photo-spots have been marked along the path, offering the perfect spot for a photo with a spectacular flower backdrop.

The orchid garden was large than I expected, and with stunning flowers blooming on every corner it took over an hour to walk around it. There is plenty to see here, for a fraction of the price of some of Singapore’s other attractions.

orchid fountainIn the Main Botanic Gardens

The National Orchid Garden is just one part of Singapore Botanic Gardens. The rest of the gardens have free entry, but you need multiple visits to see everything. Highlights for me include the Healing Garden, the Ginger Garden and the Rainforest. It’s a pleasant way to spend a day in Singapore.