Visionary behind Garden City even decided what trees to plant

Mr Lee Kuan Yew did not just have a broad vision of transforming Singapore into a Garden City, but played a key role when it came to the detailed planning.

It was he, for instance, who ensured that flyovers had gaps to let light and rain through, allowing plants to grow underneath.

Singapore's first Prime Minister also gave the instruction to plant raintrees and Angsana trees as their huge crowns provide plenty of shade.

From the dozen occasions when he met Mr Lee over his eight years in office from 1974 to 1982, Mr Wong Yew Kwan, Singapore's first Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, said it was evident that Mr Lee knew precisely what he wanted.

And saying "no" was never an option.

"He said, 'If from the start, you say it cannot be done, I'll chop off your head. But if you try it three times and fail, I'll still give you a gold medal,'" recalled Mr Wong, who is now 82 years old.

"He wanted things to be tried out."

Mr Lee believed that turning Singapore into a Garden City would give it a competitive advantage over other cities.

He wrote in his 2000 memoir, From Third World To First: "After independence, I searched for some dramatic way to distinguish ourselves from other Third World countries. I settled for a clean and green Singapore.

"Greening is the most cost-effective project I have launched."

Mr Wong, who spoke to The Straits Times on Wednesday at the Botany Centre in the Botanic Gardens, said: "He had a vision that if you wanted people to come and stay in Singapore, you must have a place nice for them to live in."