SINGAPORE GARDEN FESTIVAL

Up close with unusual orchids

The Tulip Orchid (above) from South America has a lip that rocks back and forth like a cradle as well as lemon or golden yellow blooms. Singaporean garden landscape designer Alan Tan (left) with the "Sacred Forest" spiral structure at the Orchid Extr
Singaporean garden landscape designer Alan Tan (above) with the "Sacred Forest" spiral structure at the Orchid Extravaganza. PHOTO: DON WONG FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

This year's Orchid Extravaganza will feature blooms such as the Milmiltonia Sunset and Monkey Face Orchid

There is an air of whimsy and fantasy at this year's Orchid Extravaganza, with unusual blooms nestled among fruit-shaped houses and gnome-like creatures in an enchanted forest.

The fairy-tale world inside the Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay was created by Singaporean garden landscape designer Alan Tan. Over 12,000 orchids from more than 200 species and hybrids are on display in an 848 sq m installation.

The showcase, part of the Singapore Garden Festival, opened yesterday and runs till Aug 28. The festival opens to the public today and runs till July 31.

Mr Tan, 46, is the former creative director of the biennial festival - from 2006, when it first started, until its last edition in 2014. He started Living Decor, a landscaping and floral artistry company last year.

A highlight at the Orchid Extravaganza is the Sacred Trees Of Wisdom. Visitors walk through a tunnel-like area filled with epiphytes on gnarly branches as well as orchids and trees. The area mimics the feel of a real forest.


The Tulip Orchid (above) from South America has a lip that rocks back and forth like a cradle as well as lemon or golden yellow blooms. PHOTO: DON WONG FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

In the centre is the "Sacred Forest", where a 4m-tall spiral structure lined with 3,000 orchids seemingly "floats" above visitors. Decked out in sweet shades, some of the orchids on the spiral include the peach-coloured Phalaenopsis Ben Yu Orange and Phalaenopsis I-Hsin Cherry Bomb, which has dark maroon-red blooms.

Standing among the orchid display are Orchidians - eight gnome-like characters named after different genera in the orchid family. Mr Tan created the characters to personify the blooms and help visitors understand more about the different types of orchids.

For example, Papa, the chief Orchidian, is inspired by the majestic Tiger Orchid and sports a tiger- print cape and a blue staff; while the rosy-cheeked Vandie is named after the Vanda genus, known for having some of the showiest flowers in the orchid family.

Orchid lovers will also be able to spot unusual blooms such as the Milmiltonia Sunset, a yellow- petalled, pink-lipped flower.

Mr Tan is particularly excited about the Monkey Face Orchid, which he brought in from a grower in Ecuador. A good number of them have bloomed.

Mr Tan, who used to work for Singapore Botanic Gardens and has put on displays using orchids, says: "It's probably the first time such a large number of Monkey Face Orchids are going on show in Singapore. They like a cooler climate to grow in."

He began work on the installation work almost two weeks ago. Once the Flower Dome closed for the day, he worked through the night to put up the blooms, stopping only in the wee hours of the mornings.

He also put in orchids with unusual colours, instead of only the common pink and purple shades.

For instance, the Tulip Orchid from South America - its flower has a lip that rocks back and forth like a cradle - has lemon or golden yellow blooms; and the Vampire Orchid has large flowers with dark purple veins and a greenish sepal.

He designed the Orchid Extravaganza to bring the blooms up close to visitors. "I want visitors to get close with the orchids such that they can even smell their scents. That's how they will appreciate the orchids and get a more intimate experience."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2016, with the headline 'Up close with unusual orchids'. Print Edition | Subscribe