Singapore Botanic Gardens: ecotourism in the ‘Garden City’

You won’t truly grasp the extent of Singapore’s dedication to urban sustainability until you’ve visited the greenest of all attractions in Singapore, the Botanic Gardens.

The Garden City: An inspiring transformation

You wouldn’t know it now, but only sixty years ago Singapore was mucky; laced with polluted canals and stripped of forests and green spaces. Fast forward to today and the city-state can only be seen as the antithesis to such a bleak environment. Calling itself the ‘Garden City’, bright and vibrant Singapore certainly lives up to its name.

Singapore Botanic Gardens
Singapore Botanic Gardens – an oasis of green

This is all thanks to the greening movement in the 1960s which transformed Singapore into one of the greenest cities in the world. The shift was overseen by Lee Kuan Yew – the first Prime minister of Singapore and a man often referred to as ‘Chief Gardener’, for his belief in the power of plants and the importance of biodiversity in maintaining physical spaces and peoples’ well-being. The goal of a greening movement was simple: everywhere one looked, one should find greenery.

For thirty years, the city-state cleaned up polluted spaces, created specialised environmental agencies, started public awareness campaigns and introduced sustainable urban policies. When wandering through the city today, expect to witness the stunning results: plants crawling up skyscrapers, roads lined with trees and extensive networks of nature reserves, parks, rivers and ponds interspersed amid high-rises.

Singapore Botanic Gardens: A symbol of all things green

At the heart of the metropolis, Singapore Botanic Gardens is the epitome of the city’s dedication to all things green and a perfect place to spend a tranquil afternoon. It’s open from 5am until midnight and admission is free, so take a visit for sunrise as well as a late evening stroll. The gardens – maintained and sculpted to perfection – present visitors to Singapore and residents alike with the ultimate tropical escape from the bustling city which engulfs it.

Singapore Botanic Gardens is the mammoth, 82 hectare, green lung of the city and the most visited of any of its kind in the world. In 2015, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the only tropical botanic garden on the list. It is home to a plant collection of worldwide significance, housing an impressive 10,000 species of flora. You’ll also find a very famous, two century old Tembusu tree here, known for its appearance on the Singaporean five dollar note.

picnic in Singapore Botanic Gardens
Picnic in Singapore Botanic Gardens

A day amongst the palms

Forget about Gardens by the Bay (at least for now), as you’ll be spoiled for choice in terms of what to see and do here. If you’re not pushed for time choose to take it slow and soak up the scenery with all the senses, walking over rolling lawns and amongst towering trees. On your journey through nature, you might pass by Swan Lake – a major attraction in the Singapore Botanic Gardens – which, at one and a half hectares large, houses not only numerous species of plants and fishes but which is also home to Mute Swans, imported all the way from the Netherlands. You might also stumble upon Symphony Lake where, amongst giant lily-pads that you’d only expect to see in a fairy tale, you’ll discover an island stage positioned in front of a perfectly green, sloped lawn. If you’re visiting at the weekend, feel free to bring a picnic blanket and set yourself up for an evening of live music under the stars.

For those who need a little more structure to their visit, you might want to choose between a guided walk (on Saturdays by local volunteers) or one of many walking trails which you can download as a PDF file on your phone. The Ginger Garden would be a perfect choice for a walking trail; leading you behind a waterfall, beside pools covered in giant Amazon water lilies and amongst more than 250 species of Zingiberaceae (plants of the ginger order). On the way you will find edible ginger plants as well as those known for their spectacular ornamental flowers.

dedicated orchid garden Singapore
Orchid – Singapore’s National Flower

Alternatively, Singapore’s national flower, the Orchid, has it’s own dedicated garden where around 3000 types are displayed. The National Orchid Garden which represents the legacy of the orchid breeding program started in 1928, is creatively designed to show off its vibrant colours, flawlessly separated into four palettes to symbolise the four seasons. To escape the heat for a few moments, step into the refreshing mist of the Cool House, an environment that simulates Southeast Asian mountains blanketed in tropical forests. Hidden amongst the mountainous plants you’ll find carnivorous plants such as the Venus Flytrap.

Singapore Botanic Garden: A plethora of trees

If that isn’t enough to keep you busy, the largest expansion of the Garden’s 160 year history was opened in October 2019, including a ridge-top hiking trail which weaves in and out of lofty trees, providing yet another perspective on the impressive collection of flora and fauna. Throughout 2020, this eight hectare extension of the park will open even more attractions, one of which is a ‘living library of trees’, the first of its kind in Southeast Asia and home to a massive selection of giant forest trees which can grow to 80 metres tall.

Not only are these trees highly impressive to look at but they are also excellent at absorbing and storing carbon. According to the National Parks Board, two thousand of these trees in the arboretum at Singapore Botanical Gardens can store 80 million kilograms of carbon dioxide in their lifetimes. Placed in the heart of a big city with a large carbon footprint, nothing could be better (apart from planting even more!).

Environmental education

What makes Singapore Botanic Gardens particularly remarkable, is its commitment to educating visitors on the importance of sustainability, conservation and biodiversity. According to the National Parks Board (the government agency in charge of the gardens), the Singapore Botanic Gardens is deeply invested in ensuring future generations are to become advocates of environmental ideals, both in Singapore but also abroad.

Fittingly, if you are interested in getting more than a dose of nature out of your visit, there is also a museum that depicts the history and work of the gardens as well as a gallery with changing exhibitions. You might also be lucky enough to visit during an event, public talk or lecture on a great range of topics including: biodiversity, conservation, climate change, sustainability, horticulture and so on.

Check out the website to see what’s on during your stay. You might leave not only with a peaceful state of mind but with a little more environmental awareness and renewed motivation to protect all things green. 

Other sustainable Singapore ideas –

Jessica Beaumont
Noticing the footprints left behind by travellers in the countries she has lived in and loved, Jessica found her calling in the sustainable travel niche. Aside from writing, Jessica is found exploring the Adelaide Hills for good views and delectable wines, dancing, taking leisurely walks on the beach and trying to make friends with dogs.