The Singapore Botanic Gardens: A Place Where Memories Are Created and Cherished

What a year it has been for the Singapore Botanic Gardens! As 2016 beckons, there is no better time than now to look back at the bittersweet memories of the past year.

Goodbye Mr Lee
This year, we bade a tearful farewell to the nation’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. The Botany Centre in the Gardens was one of 18 community centres set up island-wide for Singaporeans to pay their final tribute to Mr Lee during the period of national mourning.

Fighting hard to hold back their tears, a multitude of visitors from different walks of life bowed their heads in silent respect, penned their condolences and laid their bouquets in memory of Mr Lee, the man known informally as the Chief Gardener and the architect behind the greening campaign that transformed the country into a lush, tropical Garden City.

“Singapore is what it is because of his vision so we try to tell the kids that everything (they see when) they look around is because there was a vision in a man who had a plan and determination. We were teaching him the Chinese words (to a proverb which means the present generation reaps the benefits of the hard work of one’s predecessors), which is what Lee Kuan Yew did for us.”

Silas Loh

A UNESCO World Heritage Site
In May, the Gardens received the recommendation from the International Council on Monuments and Sites to be inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This came eight months after a team of experts arrived to study the Gardens’ universal heritage value and its Site Management Plan, and reported it to be of Outstanding Universal Value.

On 4 July, two years after first putting in the bid, the nation celebrated as the Gardens was inscribed as Singapore’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Reeling from the excitement, visitors came forth to congratulate us while others shared why the 156 year-old Gardens continue to hold a special place in their hearts.

The influence parents can have on a child is indisputable, and 78-year-old Leaena Tambyah is no exception. Leaena has been coming to the Gardens since she was a child.
Like her mother, Leaena is an avid gardener. She also learned about the Gardens’ history from her father, who was familiar with former Gardens’ director Professor Eric Holttum, renowned for successfully applying the use of sterile culture to breed orchids and kick-starting the orchid breeding industry in Southeast Asia. Leaena’s husband, Dr John Tambyah loved the Gardens too. Their home in University Road is nearby, and for more than 40 years, Leaena had been taking walks with him in the Gardens, which they affectionately referred to as the ‘Botanics’.
On Sundays, in the more recent years, they would have dinner at Casa Verde after their walk. Every Thursday evening, he and his long-time friends would walk there too. A quiet person, Dr Tambyah enjoyed the tranquillity of the Gardens. Even on the day before he passed away in 2011, Leaena, their son and daughter-in-law took him in his wheelchair to enjoy the Gardens. She remembers his face lighting up as he recognised the familiar surroundings and the staff from Casa Verde who came out to chat with him.
In memory of Dr Tambyah, Leaena has dedicated a bench bearing his name.  It now stands near the Chopin statue overlooking Symphony Lake. The couple had from time to time enjoyed concerts just there. It is also a peaceful place for visitors to rest at after their walks in the Gardens.

Five years ago, Chan Ziqian and her husband, Tomasz Zuk, got married at the Symphony Lake in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Under a small pavilion, they said their vows in a simple ceremony.
Chan Ziqian and Tomasz Zuk at the Gardens on their wedding day.
The couple are nature lovers and have spent many hours in the Gardens, but one memory stands out for them. One weekend in 2009, while visiting the Gardens, they started photographing their two plush toys – a horse and a penguin – with the orchids in the Cool House. That, says Ziqian, now 32, was when “disaster” struck. The penguin slipped from Tomasz’s fingers and fell several metres below the walkway.
To make matters worse, the staff holding the access key was not working that day so a team of workers climbed down to search for the penguin but 1.5 hours later, it was still nowhere to be found. At that moment, another member of staff appeared, holding up something in his hand. He had found the penguin earlier and taken it to his office for safekeeping, and had brought it back when news of the search reached him.
Thanks to the Gardens’ staff, Ziqian’s penguin is safe and sound.
To express their thanks to the staff, the couple wanted to make a donation to the Gardens but only cheques were accepted then. This year, they got in touch again and made a donation through the Garden City Fund website, dedicating it to the Orchid Conservation Fund.

Celebration Time!
Following the successful inscription, the Gardens launched into celebration mode with ‘Botanical Inspirations’ an exhibition comprising two showcases. At the ‘Orchids of Singapore Botanic Gardens and their Heritage’ exhibition, visitors were treated to a grand display of heritage orchids at Botany Centre that can otherwise only be seen in the National Orchid Garden.

Visitors also enjoyed the ‘Tropical Splendour: Plant Portraits from the Shirley Sherwood Collection of Contemporary Botanical Art’ showcase in the CDL Green Gallery @ Singapore Botanic Gardens Heritage Museum. This is the first time the Gardens is showcasing botanical art pieces from various international artists. This exhibition will run till 1 November 2015.

More memories were etched when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong unveiled the UNESCO World Heritage Site plaque (which has since been affixed onto Tanglin Gate) and officially named the SG50 orchid – Papilionanthe Singapore Golden Jubilee – on 7 August. The crowd cheered when Prime Minister Lee spun around to take a panoramic picture of the 10,000-strong crowd from stage!

This kicked off a three-day celebration of the nation’s golden jubilee with a series of activities and performances that invoked the spirit of the ‘Aneka Ragam Ra’ayat’, a series of multicultural concerts launched by Mr Lee Kuan Yew in the Gardens in 1959. SG50 celebrations in the Gardens finally culminated with the ‘live’ telecast of the National Day Parade.

Certainly, 2015 has been a memorable year for all of us in the Gardens.

Looking to the future, the Singapore Botanic Gardens will continue to be a living heritage, a place for more memories to be created. So come visit the Gardens and create your own memories.

Text by Jasper Ku Wei and Wong Yeang Cherng
Photo of Ziqian and husband by Chan Ziqian
Photo of bench inscription by Leaena Tambyah

Total Comments: 2

Gregory Tully 1/15/2016 9:53:23 PM

My wife & I have been coming to Singapore since our honeymoon in 1973. It would be at least 60 times now and each time we visit the botanic gardens. We will keep coming from Perth as long as we can as we love Singapore and especially the botanic gardens. regards Greg Tully

gene sze 1/20/2016 1:40:57 PM

Thks for the memories NParks(u good people)!@:) Loved the pictorials-simply wonderful... do keep up the good work. Also thank you for sharing ..really appreciate it!

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