A Malaysian horticulturist and an Italian landscape designer have clinched the top prizes at the biennial Singapore Garden Festival.
Mr Inch Lim, who is based in Kuala Lumpur and is participating for the second time, won the gold and best of show in the landscape gardens category for The Treasure Box. His garden of mainly rice plants is cocooned behind 5m-high walls, with a shallow stream running through it.
First-time participant Stefano Passerotti, 53, who lives in Florence, took home the gold and best of show in the fantasy gardens category for his artistic garden, Nature's Resolution. In his indoor garden, 366 clear boxes dangle above a pool of water.
The various winners were announced yesterday at Gardens by the Bay. The festival, in its sixth edition, opens today and runs until July 31.
This year's show - organised by the National Parks Board (NParks) and Gardens by the Bay - is the biggest so far, spanning 9.7ha of the Gardens, compared with 5ha in 2014.
Mr Lim, who also picked up the award for horticulture excellence, is thrilled to have snagged the top prize. At his last outing here in 2010, his garden won a silver award.
The 61-year-old, who has designed gardens for homes in Sentosa Cove, says: "I'm so happy because it's not every day that you get the best of show. I never expected anything - I just hope for the best.
"I love doing show gardens because they are challenging. In a limited time, you have to create the perfect garden."
These 80 sq m show gardens - there are nine in the landscape gardens category and six in the fantasy gardens category - are undeniably the festival's biggest draw.
This year, 15 professional landscape designers and teams - some worked in pairs - from around the world showed off their flair for creating stunning landscape and fantasy gardens. They hail from countries such as the United Kingdom, Japan and France. There were two Singapore entries this year.
The participants pulled out all the stops for their gardens - some built reflecting pools and tall dome- capped structures, while others were daring in their choice of plants.
All the gardens were awarded either gold, silver or bronze. Gardens which snagged the gold awards are then in the running for the best of show prize.
There are also awards for best construction, horticulture excellence and best outdoor or indoor lighting.
Visitors are allowed to walk inside some of the show gardens.
Besides the show gardens, there is much more to check out at this year's festival.
Festival director Dennis Lim, 43, says the show was expanded to accommodate visitors of different age groups as well as those with different interests.
He expects at least 300,000 visitors to turn up this year - matching the turnout at the last edition. Tickets range from $6 to $16 for Singapore residents - rates differ on weekdays and weekends - and $17 to $23 for non-residents.
Mr Lim says: "From the last edition, there was feedback that visitors wanted a bigger range of exhibits. A bigger show allows us to introduce more hybrids and plants. Aside from just taking photos, people can learn how to take care of and appreciate plants."
In addition to the show gardens, other competitive events include Floral Windows To The World, a display of cut-flower arrangements by Singapore and international designers; and Balcony Gardens, where five designers transform a 9 sq m space into a chic green haven in a mock home setting.
There are also non-competitive display gardens put up by NParks such as the Learning Garden, where children can learn about plants that are associated with their favourite Singapore food; and a Secret Garden filled with fairies, gnomes and orchids.
The terrarium, popular among space-starved folk, also gets its day in the sun. Hundreds of students, hobbyists and community gardeners have designed their own glass-encased miniature gardens for the World Of Terrariums exhibit.
Inspired visitors can also browse the Vibrant MarketPlace, which has more than 100 booths selling plants, gardening and landscape tools and products, arts and crafts, and food.
To draw younger folk, there is a special non-ticketed area where free nightly performances are held. Top Singapore acts such as Gentle Bones and 53A will perform at the Alfresco Stage in Bayfront Plaza.
Visitors can also venture out of the festival grounds. Ticket-holders get admission to the Flower Dome, where the Orchid Extravaganza is on show.
Hobbyist photographer Wong Wann Shing, 60, is looking forward to attending the festival with his wife, having missed the last two editions. He first went in 2010.
The retired human resource manager says: "I don't have to travel far or overseas to see interesting and unusual plants and flowers.
"I'm also looking forward to photographing beautiful flowers in different arrangements, while my wife enjoys the plants."
SEE Up close with unusual orchids
Treat for readers
Fifty Straits Times readers visited the Singapore Garden Festival before everyone else last night.
The direct subscribers of the newspaper each won a pair of invites, which gave them access to the festival's Awards Presentation Ceremony last night. The festival runs from today till July 31.
The readers and their guests were treated to a dinner reception after the awards show, which was held at Gardens by the Bay. They also caught a special preview of the festival's displays and blooms.
The Straits Times is the festival's official media partner. Last month, direct subscribers could download a voucher from the Singapore Press Holdings Rewards Portal to join a lucky draw. There were 654 readers who took part.
Housewife Khoo Yan Ling, 45, is one of the winners. She attended the preview with her husband - their first time at the festival. She says: "I like the ambience at Gardens by the Bay and it was a good opportunity for me to visit the festival as I didn't know about it before."
Another treat for Straits Times readers was a chance to attend an exclusive talk by horticulturist Wilson Wong, whose gardening column Root Awakening appears in the paper's Life section every Saturday except for the last Saturday of the month.
Thirty readers have been picked to attend his 45-minute talk, titled Success With Western Cooking Herbs In The Tropics, on July 31 at 4pm. He will share which herbs grow well in Singapore and give tips on how to grow and propagate them.
To win a place to attend the talk, readers took part in a contest that ran for a week in The Straits Times last month. They had to identify which section of the newspaper Dr Wong contributes to and send their answers in by SMS. The contest drew 472 entries.
Mr Tan Wei Jie, 24, a fan of Dr Wong's column, is looking forward to the talk. The freelance tutor says: "My family grows a lot of plants and I thought it would be good to listen to Dr Wong and get some tips about gardening."
Correction note: An earlier version of this story said that the Singapore Garden Festival covered 2.2ha in 2014. It has been corrected to 5ha.