Monday, 7 June 2010


The strange photo was, indeed, a rambutan Nephelium lappaceum, on my last post. A bouquet of eOrchids to those who got it. I believe 'rambutan' means 'hairy' in Malay and the fruits, whose arils are deliciously succulent and sweet, do resemble lychees. But the shape, like small rugby balls, and the curly hairs - not to mention the reddish skin - can be a little off-putting!

Birds Nest Ferns, Asplenium nidus with other epiphytes, on a tree in Singapore.

'Ooooh, it's too 'ot,' said the chap delivering an order from Amazon the other day, at home. The temperature, then, must have been creeping up towards, ooh, about 20ºC. (68ºF.) Here in South East Asia, it's a whisker over 30ºC and so humid that my glasses steam up the minute I step out of a cooled car into the open air.

You learn to cope with such oppressive conditions, but at first, it feels as though the climate has assaulted you. On our first day, I felt rather as I did when I was nine, and a slightly sweaty Great Aunt hugged me to her bosom a little too enthusiastically. You enjoy the attention but wish it weren't quite so suffocating. That particular lady remained a spinster until she was 76 but then rediscovered romance, married and skipped off to New Zealand for a few blissful final years - but that's quite another story.

The first days of our visit here have been spent largely with staff from National Parks, looking at several of the projects that have made Singapore so green and so pleasant to be in. The government's approach to horticulture, and to sustaining the nation, as a genuine garden city - eat your hearts out, Welwyn and Stevenage! - stems from the original, founding policy. The plan to create a city in a garden - which goes back thirty years or more - has been backed up constantly, by substantial funding and by adhering to that founding policy.

But theres a great deal more, here. They've had pluck and daring, defying recessions, refusing to compromise on quality and constantly maintaining horticultural standards. Everyone, wherever they live, will be within a short walk of a restful green space. And in such a densely populated small island, that has taken cunning, determination and above all, combined will.

One project we visited was Hortparks. You can look up details here, rather than have me load you with inaccurate info. They were putting finishing touches to their new Silver Garden, when we visited. And that's typical Singapore - always trying something that probably won't work, and then making it work, regardless. The sparky Wilson Wong (you may remember him from Monty Don's TV programme Around the World in 80 Gardens) pointed out that there are very few silver-foliage plants which enjoy equatorial conditions. But here, silver Bismarckia palms and other plants look fantastic.

The bubbly Wilson Wong, sitting in the spice garden he designed for Hortpark.

Wilson is also involved with the growing Community Gardening organisation, here, and has been something of a leading light. But more of that later.

The Silver Garden at Singapore's HortPark.

You've nearly had enough eulogistic writing, but really, this place is so inspiring. One final point which shows how cunning use of plants can make things feel different: all major roads are required to have a 6 metre ribbon, on either side, which must be planted up with naturalising trees.

We met the amazingly enthusiastic Ganesan SK (his Tamil surname, he says, is too complicated, so we were to used his initials.) He trained at Edinburgh University and has an inexhaustible knowledge of tropical trees. He is responsible for the tree strips, among other things, and takes great pride in his work. He's also an erudite birder and keen naturalist. I wish we could have spent a week with him - gosh, what we'd have learnt!

Ganesan proudly shows us his 6 metre strip.

But think about it. If every A and B road in the UK had a 6 metre tree strip, how about that for wildlife corridors, for cooling the roads, for providing valuable habitat for so many species and for making the landscape beautiful. But what do we do? We cut the verges to within an inch of their lives, killing cowslips and other verge flowers, thereby helping to kill bees. What prats we are! And don't tell me land is too valuable in UK. What, compared with here???? Don't get me started!!!!

Let the epiphytes grow where they will - a wiser initiative for biodiversity.

A final point. The Singapureans, prissy though they can be, are also beginning to understand that tidiness can be a killer for biodiversity. Originally, epiphytes - plants that grow on trees but which do not parasatise them - were considered weeds and undesirable. They were regularly cleaned off. Now, however, they are left undisturbed. As a result, species counts are growing and to me, the trees look just as any tropical rainforest tree should look - rich, enticing, rustling with life of all kinds and wonderful to behold.

I was listening to Miles Davis, in a supermarket earlier. I think it was from the album 'Relaxin' and was certainly a surprise, among the rambutans, noodles and blocks of Chinese tea.

This time last year I haven't a clue what I was doing. But the next post will be from Melaka, Malaysia.

No films. Just reading Nicholas Nickleby instead. I refuse to watch films on flights. They just don't work, for me.

Hope June is flaming for you. Did someone volunteer to water my tomatoes???
Bye bye.


  1. I am enjoying your postcards from Singapore. You are right about the way we cut back verges. I was watching a very good Spring Watch special the other day which pointed out that whilst we have wildlife reserves dotted around the country, there arent really any ways for wildlife to move from one to another as the climate warms up. So road verges could provide excellent corridors just as canals and railways do

  2. I read a piece the other day which said the RSPB is switching the balance of its attentions from reserves to corridors, using abandoned industrial land and getting new industries to include bio-diverse-friendly areas in their building plans.

    I can't take heat. One of the worse afternoons of my life was being dragged up a spiral staircase in a Kew hot-house. Misery! There wasn't a single tropical tree which could make up for it.

    On the other hand, those Asplenium Nidus make me feel at home. How come we have masses in the woods near me in Dorset and yet they can take Singaporean heat too? Enjoy Malaysia.


    P.S. Today's flaming June has turned to very welcome steady drizzle.

  3. Cool blog!


  4. Lucy - the aspleniums you see in the woods in England are a different species - Asplenium scolopendrium, or more correctly these days, Phyllitis scolopendrium. They look similar but are way smaller and would not last five minutes in the heat over here.

    Great to hear about the RSPB -wildlife corridors are so important.

    And PatientG - I so agree. But joined-up nature reserves will only come about with joined-up thinking and planning.

    In Melaka, Malaysia today, Still sweltering, and covered with heat rash.

  5. Oh I could do with some of that 30 degree heat. I think I was born in the wrong country.

    I think Asplenium nidus is fab: the size they reach in those trees is amazing. You almost feel like curling up in there for a snooze yourself.

    Very cross that they're renaming Asplenium scolopendrium though. Just when you've learned how to spell something right, too. And I can't even get away with avoiding mentioning it as I put it in nearly every garden I go digging in.

    So looking forward to your despatches from Malaysia - you wouldn't be dropping by Borneo, by any chance...?

  6. Ganesan tells me I've got his surname wrong, even when reduced to two initials. How stupid can an old fool be. His real name, he reminds me, is Ganesan S K. I apologise for error and have edited this post accordingly.