Everything went seamlessly as our group all ascended on Singapore from various corners of the earth. The drive to the hotel immediately blew us away because of the scale of landscaping everywhere and the beautiful epiphyte smothered street trees. After booking in at our hotel some of us explored the immediate surroundings while others briefly caught their breath before we headed out for our visit to the Singapore Zoo. We were warmly received by the enthusiastic staff and were quickly astonished by the amazing gardens and surroundings of this wonderful zoo. We were also informed about some of the conservation and education efforts that were undertaken at this institution. We were taken behind the scenes where we had the opportunity to interact with various staff members and of course, some animals.
Our first impressions of Singapore were wonderful, not only because of the beauty of this urban paradise but also because of the extremely helpful and friendly people that we have met thus far. It already promises to be an unforgetful experience.
Even though Singapore can be very hot and humid the weather was cool enough for us to forget about our jet-lag and be immersed in the beauty of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Imagine vast breathtaking tropical gardens with enormous trees and extraordinary flowers, all without the need of any glasshouses or conservatories.
The SBG was established in 1859 as the very first garden in Singapore and was initially used in introducing various tropical crops to Southeast Asia. These days the SBG is conducting all the functions of a modern botanic garden. Amazingly, it is open to public from 5am to midnight daily and attracts more than 4 million visitors per year, making it one of the most publically used gardens of the world.
The Cool House for displaying orchids needing cooler conditions
After a brief meeting with the director, Dr. Nigel Taylor, and various heads of departments, we had a tour of the facilities and gardens. We ended our visit to the SBG with a Q&A session with the SBG staff. Our last activity of the day was a quick visit to Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology (CUGE). Assistant director, Chong Whye Keet, gave a quick presentation on CUGE that provided a greater insight into this unique department.
The past two days have been full to the brim with visits to many of Singapore’s beautiful parks and urban green spaces. Tuesday morning started at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore’s newest and largest garden project sitting on one-hundred and one hectares encircling Marina Bay. We were greeted by Chris Dalzell, a former Longwood international intern who recently moved from South Africa to act as the garden’s Assistant Director of Garden Operations. Chris and his colleagues toured us around the site, which will be completed for an official public opening in June of this year. Gardens by the Bay features two large conservatories – one that will create a cool-dry Mediterranean climate, and the other a cool-moist mountain climate.
We were able to tour the Flower Dome, freshly planted with remarkable specimens imported from around the world. Most notable were the enormous baobabs planted on a cantilevered overlook, and the gnarled one-thousand-year old olive trees just in from southern Spain. Another highlight of the gardens were the eighteen “super trees” gracefully arching overhead, clad with epiphytes and climbers. The “super trees” are one of the spectacularly clever aspects of the garden design, acting as a venting system for the glasshouses, water catchment mechanism, solar energy receptor, as well as an aesthetic wonder.
After a lunch of various local delights, we met with Dan Burcham (our host with the most and LGP alumn), and his colleagues at the National Parks Board (NParks) to tour four exceptional urban greening sites. As part of Singapore’s vision of “the city in a garden”, NParks offers financial assistance to green the exterior of existing buildings. Three of the sites we visited were vertical green walls each designed by a different firm with a unique system and design philosophy. The end of a long and most stimulating day of garden touring culminated in a trip to the top of Marina Bay Sands Sky Park to decompress and admire the city from above.
On Wednesday we traveled to HortPark, a display garden within the NParks system that features small-scale garden exhibits aimed to inspire Singaporean residents to include gardens and horticulture in their home life. HortPark partners with local landscape companies that rent small plots to display their design, acting as publicity for the company and inspiration for the visitors. As Abby says, “it is the perfect collaboration between government, industry, and community”.
HortPark sits within the Southern Ridges region, a chain of parks, gardens and natural areas linked with ‘park connectors’. Two knowledgeable NParks staff, Wilson and Eric, led us on an excursion through a few of the natural areas. This included a jungle accessed by a 9 km canopy bridge, home to a delinquent gang of macaque monkeys, as well as a most beautiful wooden bridge with views to the sea and the city.
The evening was capped with a barbeque accompanied by the senior staff of NParks at the Outwardbound Singapore headquarters. We ate satay and fresh fruit in the evening heat, feeling so grateful for the generosity of our Singaporean hosts and, the incredible opportunity we have as Longwood students to experience the ‘city in a garden’.
On our last full day in Singapore, we took a trip away from the many tall buildings of mainland Singapore to a smaller, largely uninhabited island on the northeast side of Singapore called Pulau Ubin.
In the morning we met with Dr. Robert Teo, assistant director of the park at Palau Ubin, who described some of the work National Parks has been doing on the island. The name Palua Ubin roughly translates “granite island” and several granite quarries once operated on the island. The quarry industry, along with the farming of various crops like rubber and coconuts, left the island badly damaged. In 1977 National Parks started to manage the island to protect and restore the biodiversity of this area. Since this time 254 new species of plants have been recorded in Singapore and 69 species once thought extinct in Singapore were rediscovered.
After our meeting, we were shown the butterfly garden, which attracts 80 different species of butterflies. We were also given a tour of the sensory trail where we had the opportunity to see, touch, smell, and taste many interesting plants. While on the tour we were very lucky to see a hornbill, a beautiful bird that had once been driven off the island due to the destruction of its natural habitat by the quarry and agricultural operations.
After lunch we visited Chek Jawa, a wetland park on the far eastern side of Pulau Ubin. Here we had a fantastic tour through the wetlands and were able to see a variety of ecosystems in this one area, including mangroves, sandy beach, rocky beach, seagrass lagoon, coral rubble, sand bar, and coastal forest. The whole area was teeming with life, and we were able to spot beautiful birds, crabs, and lots of funny looking mudskippers. In December of 2001, Check Jawa was saved from a planned reclamation project that would have destroyed this natural area. Volunteers conducted a biodiversity survey and convinced the government to suspend the project, at least temporarily. We were certainly lucky to have been able to experience this beautiful park and hope that Singapore will continue to preserve these unique habitats.
We made it to Bali on Friday evening accompanied by Wendy and Tom who joined us for the second leg of our trip. Bali is fresh and fragrant with bright flowers found everywhere from the Plumeria strands handed to us as we left the airport to the small colorful Hindu offerings set out each morning.
We started our first full day in Bali with a visit to the IDEP Foundation, an NGO that strives to “help people help themselves by cultivating resilient and sustainable communities.” IDEP uses permaculture education to help the community in a variety of ways. They offer workshops on natural disaster preparedness and recovery by teaching earthquake-resistant building techniques and educating communities on how to sustainably rebuild after a natural disaster.
They work with school groups to teach organic horticulture techniques and have an outreach program with prisons to teach prisoners how to grow vegetables and save seeds. The IDEP farm consists of a small demonstration garden featuring permaculture practices to help teach the community about organic gardening. They have sites all around Indonesia and a few neighboring islands. We were incredibly impressed with their work. More information on the IDEP Foundation can be found at www.idepfoundation.org.
We ended our first day in Bali with a trip to Taman Tirtagannga, the water temple. This beautiful temple was once a retreat for the royal family. Today it is a pubic oasis, tucked away among the rice fields in eastern Bali.
Approximately 1300 meters above sea level is one of Indonesia’s many wonderful treasures. Bali Botanic Garden, lives up to its slogan, “culture and conservation in harmony.” The garden’s diverse collection of medicinal, ceremonial, and conservation plants reflect the pride of Bali. The lush green landscape is lined with bishop’s wood echoed by tree ferns and an extensive palm collection. Other delightfully engaging features include collections of over 250 magnificent species of orchids, over 200 glorious species of begonias, and 2 hectares of trees ferns. These collections along with others include plants found in the wild of Indonesia as well as propagated species. Conservation efforts are desperately needed to preserve the tree ferns. Tree ferns are often cut for use as a medium to grow orchids.
Bali Botanic garden opened in 1959 but was devastated by a volcanic eruption in 1963. Today, about fifty centimeters of volcanic ash contributes to the rich soil mixture. The diverse population of plant life is thriving. 10% of the world’s orchid population grows in Indonesia.
Group shot in front of a giant statue depicting the Hindu legend of the epic battle between Kumbakarna Laga and a monkey army.
Our gracious guides, Dr. Adije and Mr. Wede, re-introduced us to familiar plants from an edible perspective, like eating the new leaves of athyriums. The most coveted sighting in the garden was the amorphophallus, the largest unbranched inflorescence. Certain species have edible bulbs. Our guides also highlighted plants that offer premium prices on the market like Ratan, which grows wild here in Bali!
The garden composts all possible natural materials and rubbish from the garden. Three months later, the outcome is healthy organic compost used in the onsite nursery as well as compost sold to local farmers and residents.
Overall our visit to beautiful Bali Botanic Garden was educational and inspiring. We recommend you visit Bali botanic garden too!
Today was a study in contrasts—between the stark reminders of the burgeoning Indonesian population (now 14 million strong in the Jakarta area), the steep slope deforestation for tea plantations, and the lush beauty and biodiversity of the sub-montane rainforest on the slopes of volcanic Mount Pangrango.
Our driver skillfully maneuvered us up the narrow, serpentine, lorry and motorbike-choked road from the city of Bogor, through a profusion of roadside vegetable and fruit stands (life is not complete without enjoying the sweet and sour nirvana of a fresh-picked mangosteen) and satay purveyors. We drove past the lower slopes of Mount Pangrango that are covered in thousands of hectares of tea plantations, orderly and lovely, but devoid of their virgin rainforest cover. As we approached the Cibodas Botanic Garden, our point of embarkation for our rainforest trek, both sides of the road were filled with small, local plant nurseries boasting healthy inventories of every tropical plant imaginable. We met Eka Iskandar, a researcher from Cibodas, who turned us over to our guide for the hike, Ken.
Gede Pangrango Park consists of a landscape dominated by twin volcanoes: Mt. Gede at 9,704 ft above sea level and Mt. Pangrango topping out at 9,904 ft. above sea level. The mountains’ slopes are very steep and are cut into by rapidly flowing streams that carve long ridges and deep valleys. To quote the official park guide, “Pangrango evokes esthetic feelings of what a graceful volcanic cone should look like and, reflecting its tranquil appearance, is classed as extinct. On the other hand, Gede is a very active volcano. Currently deceptively quiet, viewed over time Mt. Gede is one of the most active volcanoes on the island of Java.” Given the recent earthquake activity in Indonesia, we were glad that both were quiet this day!
Our hike took us on a steep, rocky trail through thick sub-montane rainforest to our destination of the Cibeureum waterfall. Not one, but three waterfalls are formed by the confluence of the Cibeureum, Cidendeng, and Cikundel rivers. At over 90 feet tall, the falls crash into the lush surroundings, thrusting a cool mist into the forest below.
The forest is full of plants competing for light. The large canopy trees host their own ecology of ferns, orchids, and climbing vines and provide a home to Ebony leaf monkeys, false cajoles lizards (pictured), and many spectacularly gilded butterflies. Plants of note included Rattan (Plectomia elongate), Arisaema filiforme, and numerous orchids.
Tree fern covered in moss and epiphytes
This level of biodiversity has not gone unnoticed. The park is one of seven World Biosphere Reserves in Indonesia, as designated by UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere program. Although just a remnant of the large rainforests that once dominated this part of the world, the Gede-Pandrango forest is impressive nonetheless.
How nice it has been for us to finally meet the people who we have been longing to meet while preparing for this trip. Eka was the one of those people that we have wanted to meet. Eka, who is in charge of research in Cibodas Botanical Garden, greeted us with a very genuine smile and happily guided us into the gardens. The Cibodas Botanical Garden is one of seven bioregions in Indonesia designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site as well as one of four national botanical gardens in Indonesia along with the Bogor, Bali, and Purwodadi botanical gardens. It’s located in Mount Pangrango adjacent to Mt. Gede-Pangrango National Park.
We met the staff of Cibodas and had a meeting that included a presentation from the director, Dr. Didik Widyatmoko who has worked in the field of horticulture for twenty-four years as an endemic plant expert and held many different positions among a diverse array of Indonesian organizations. There are twenty-two research staff members who have a wide variety of specialties including taxonomy, medicinal plants, rhododendrons, and plant breeding and almost 200 workers in the garden. The garden was established in 1852 and focuses mainly on conservation, research, environmental education, and tourism.
The eighty-five hectare garden is uniquely positioned because a natural preserved area surrounds it, which is important for their plant conservation. The garden has almost 500,000 visitors a year. Some of the research projects at the garden include carbon stock and biomass assessment, restoration and rehabilitation, bryophyte conservation, exploration and research of Sumatran montane forests, and ecological studies and forest dynamics. They also collaborate with BGCI on environmental education programs and teacher training.
After our meeting, we went out to explore the gardens. The most impressive garden was the bryophytes garden, which has 100 species growing very well under the perfect weather conditions for them. Beside the garden the Amorphophallus titanum plants, which have magnificent flowers every 4 years or so, each showed their single individual leaf that appeared as a big tree-like stem emerging from the ground. We were able to see the nursery where Indonesian plants that are collected on the yearly plant expeditions are held and the nurseries growing indigenous orchids and Nepenthes. There was also a cherry tree garden, rhododendron garden, begonia garden, medicinal plant garden, and cactus garden. The fern collection was well organized and included various tree ferns, the stems of which are sometimes used for orchid growing material. The Chinese also collect the scales of the fronds for medicinal purpose. After we saw the oldest tree in the garden planted in 1860, it started to rain. We kept touting to see the rest of Gardens and it looked even more special under the heavy tropical rain.
The next destination, Taman Bunga Nusantara was a totally different world. It had a water garden, French garden, rose garden, American garden, Balinese garden, and Japanese garden on the thirty-five hectare property managed by 150 gardeners. The garden was established in 1995 and shows relatively new and more stylish garden display. The Balinese garden and maze garden were the highlights of the trip since they were full of extraordinary plants that we have never seen before and made us feel like we were in a more exotic atmosphere.