Recently the Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong unveiled the Heritage Garden in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Overlooking Swan Lake, the Heritage Garden is located on the same lawn where Singapore’s first “Aneka Ragam Ra’ayat”, or People’s Variety Show, took place. The Heritage Garden highlights the social history of the Gardens, as well as its pivotal role in Singapore’s greening journey.
The Singapore Botanic Gardens has always been a part of Singapore’s social and cultural history. As Singapore moved towards independence, the Gardens became a venue for promoting racial cohesion and the development of a distinct national culture. On 2 August 1959, founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew officially opened the inaugural People’s Variety Show at the Gardens. It was a key historical milestone marking the first of a series of cultural concerts with a multiracial theme organised by Singapore’s then Ministry of Culture. In his opening speech, Mr Lee said to an audience of 22,000, “Here, under open skies, Malays, Chinese, Indians will, I hope, discover the materials for a national art and national culture.” Today, the Gardens continues to play an important role in fostering social cohesion by providing a common space for the community to bond through various public activities and performances.
The Gardens’ involvement in the greening of Singapore dates as far back as the 1880s, when Nathaniel Cantley – Superintendent of the Gardens at the time – assumed the role of propagating trees for planting in Singapore’s streets, parks and nature areas.
The Gardens trialled thousands of plants, such as the Rain Tree (Samanea saman), Yellow Flame (Peltophorum pterocarpum), Frangipani (Plumeria spp.) and Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spp.), before they were introduced to Singapore’s landscapes. When the country became independent, the Gardens played an integral role in the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s vision of turning Singapore into a Garden City by providing saplings through its nursery and setting up the first school of horticulture.
The new Heritage Garden showcases plantings that reflect the variety of species introduced to Singapore through its Garden City campaign, especially plants that were utilised for their colour and fragrance. More than 80 types of plants can be found in the garden, including species and cultivars of Bougainvillea, Brunfelsia and Gardenia. The Heritage Garden also features trees with distinctive bark such as the Yellow Cow Wood (Cratoxylum cochinchinense) and Shore Eugenia (Syzygium antisepticum), as well as low-growing, shade-tolerant plants like Flame Violet (Episcia cupreata) and Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia amoena).
Singapore Botanic Gardens Heritage Week – 28 May to 5 June
Reminiscent of the first “Aneka Ragam Ra’ayat” concert held in 1959, today’s People’s Variety Show featured a variety of multi-ethnic performances. Hosted by television personality Suhaimi Yusof, visitors were treated to tunes from popular local artistes and groups including Ramli Sarip, Roy Li Feihui, MICapella, Shabir, The Main Wayang Singers and Sebastian Tan. The concert, which was attended by about 6,000 people, kicked off the nine-day Singapore Botanic Gardens Heritage Week from 28 May to 5 June. More than 105,000 visitors are expected to attend Singapore Botanic Gardens Heritage Week.
Image and Text Credits | National Parks Board, Singapore