The Singapore Garden Festival has been on my bucket-list for the longest time. As a show garden designer, it’s one of those shows I absolutely had to do, at least once. When invited to be part of the event, for me it was a feeling 10 times that of waking up as an 8-year-old on Christmas morning.
This is a show where no expense is spared to entice the best designers to showcase their works to the public. The spectacle turns the huge piece of lawn at Gardens by the Bay into a green wonderland for the duration of the show. Preparing a design submission with Bayley, we sent in our concept sketch a year or so ago; it was ambitious and elaborate. As with everything in life it had to be toned down, not only to keep within budget but also to be achievable in the given time frame.
Let me start with an explanation of our design concept and brief. Titled ‘Back to Nature’ it involves a world in a constant tug-of-war between man’s endeavours to build and develop his environment to the detriment of nature.
The aim of our garden is to integrate man and the biosphere by utilising man-made elements, such as the pod seating area and steps, fitted into a natural landscape and pond.
The pod is nestled into a bank and is unified with the landscape by ‘living’ arms of grass embracing the structure, symbolizing a harmonious and symbiotic co-existence with nature that takes prominence in our built environment.
The pond alludes to man’s imprint on the planet, represented by the steel fingerprint sculpture nestled in the pond’s pebble bed. The sculpture, formed with the lines of a fingerprint pattern, begins in slightly murky water, signifying the pollution caused by man, then rises out of the water into a cleaner landscape, after a healthy co-existence with nature is achieved.
The man-made concrete path is being gently reclaimed by nature, and being slowly reshaped to nature’s uneven contours, drawing a parallel with how we too need to adapt to nature’s way.
The wire lights hanging scattered in the garden represent cocoons of new life, dependent on nature to flourish. This dependence is demonstrated by the ropes connected to the earth.
The large dying tree in the garden represents man’s devastation on our forests. The 2 younger trees embody hope for the future if man can only find a way back to nature.
Sourcing the plants; this is the most important part for me!
The plants had to be different. They had to be inviting, to love the sun and hot outdoor weather during the show, and they had to turn the passing heads. Oh, and they needed to also create a soft tropical meadow.
So in order to achieve this I flew to tropical east Africa to collect seed of 2 plants I have loved since I was a little boy running around in the dusty fields between thorny acacias.
The first one is the African foxglove (Ceratotheca triloba ‘Alba’), a fabulous annual that is easy to grow, gives a mass of flowers, and is airy and open for other plants to grow in between it without trouble.
The other is the spectacular African grass (Melinis nerviglumis), known as ‘African’ but does occur in other areas throughout the warmer parts of the world. This fast growing grass has the most amazing silver foliage, with the flowers emerging purple, turning a fluffy pink when mature and then ice-white when almost finished.
With the backbone of the garden decided, I would fill in the garden with a range of other tropical plants found locally in Singapore, such as some wild orchids and angelonia for a spot of colour. I also flew in some ‘Black Madras’ rice seeds for the pond, a superb plant for any perennial garden it is quick and easy and these days available in a range of colours.
We sourced the 3 Australian Leptospermum trees in Kuala Lumpur, and they were our biggest headache. Transporting the trees dried them out to the core and they started to shed leaves on an alarming rate; our brief allowed only one tree to be bare, not all of them!
One complication we didn’t plan for happened with the compost. Our compost delivery had most definitely not matured yet and was so hot inside I couldn’t put my hand in it. If we used it in that state the plants would have wilted and died in a night, so we mixed in loads of sand and water to cool it down. It was still warm in the end but at least not boiling.
Another hurdle was the humidity. If you need a crash diet, try building a garden in the tropics. I guarantee the kilos will roll off through sweat. During the middle of the day the heat forced us to stop work to avoid over-heating, continuing only when it cooled slightly later in the afternoon.
Lighting was an important part of the garden for us. With the show open to the public into the darkness of night, we wanted the garden to immerse onlookers into a completely altered set of emotions.
We handmade the outdoor garden chandeliers on site.
The 100sqm garden took 9 days to build and at times, as one always does at these shows, fears set in that we might not finish on time. Looking around us we were relieved to see the other designers were in exactly the same boat. And what a fantastic group of designers we had this year representing so many countries – Australia, USA, France, UK, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Italy, South Africa, China and New Zealand.
The range of different designs was staggering. The show has grown in leaps and bounds, this year covering a massive 10 hectares. It is the biggest tropical garden show on earth and the biggest flower show in Asia.
Thank you to the Singapore Garden Festival for awarding us with Gold and Best Outdoor Lighting at this year’s show.
Here’s a video that explains more detail about the garden: