Botanic Gardens to keep on growing

Aerial view of the Singapore Botanic Gardens on May 29, 2015.
Aerial view of the Singapore Botanic Gardens on May 29, 2015. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH/MARK CHEONG

The country's only Unesco World Heritage Site is set to become bigger than ever, and it is not all about size.

The new 8ha being added to the Singapore Botanic Gardens will help preserve the country's colonial past, and provide a platform to showcase the park's ecological work.

There will also be a living laboratory of giant trees, along with a Natural History Art Gallery to display the Gardens' botanical art collection, the largest in Asia, and those of artists both local and foreign.

 All these will be ready by 2018, the National Parks Board (NParks) announced yesterday.

Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong stressed the need for the Gardens to not rest on its laurels after clinching the Unesco World Heritage status in July.

BREAKING NEW GROUND

We want it to break new grounds in horticultural research  .   it to be a place close to every Singaporean's heart, and we want to continue growing it for our future generations and for the entire world to enjoy. ''

MINISTER FOR NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT LAWRENCE WONG, on the need for the Singapore Botanic Gardens to keep improving and developing

''We want it to break new grounds in horticultural research and conservation,'' he said. ''We want it to be a place close to every Singaporean's heart, and we want to continue growing it for our future generations and for the entire world to enjoy.''

The 8ha, approximately the size of eight football fields, is being added to the Gardens' Learning Forest, a previous 10ha extension to enhance the Gardens' role as a place of learning. The Forest will now occupy 18ha and bring the total area of the Botanic Gardens from 74ha to 82ha, almost four times its original size in 1859.

The extension will include a Forest Conservation Interpretive Centre and the Natural History Art Gallery, which will be housed in colonial buildings more than a century old. The houses were designed by R.A.J. Bidwell, the architect behind Raffles Hotel.

The conservation centre will be at No. 5 Gallop Road - the earliest known black-and-white colonial bungalow in Singapore. Its neigh- bour at No. 7 will be refurbished as the gallery.

''Through these, we hope that future visitors will be inspired to participate in the Gardens' conservation work and citizen science projects,'' said Mr Wong.

There will also be a 4ha Gallop Arboretum, which will include 200 species of forest giants, scientifically known as Dipterocarps, which can grow up to 80m, the height of a 25-storey Housing Board block.

Dipterocarps are iconic to the Indo-Malayan rainforests, but have seen their population decrease over the years due to illegal logging and deforestation. The public will be able to explore the area on elevated platforms as well.

Mr Wong, together with more than 120 students, residents and community gardening group members, yesterday planted 100 trees at the site. They included the Meranti Tembaga tree, a vulnerable Dipterocarp species important to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

''These trees can't be conserved in a seed bank, so we actually have to plant living trees and keep them alive for these species to survive,'' said Botanic Gardens director Nigel Taylor. ''Today, we planted the beginning of this arboretum which will grow in size as the years go by.''

In the future, the public may even see these trees in Singapore's urban landscape.

Mr Wong said: ''Planting them in urban areas will conserve a wider genetic diversity of species, complementing the conservation of our forests. This is timely as regional forests are disappearing rapidly.''

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 22, 2015, with the headline ''. Print Edition | Subscribe