Friday, September 21, 2012

HortPark in Singapore - a great idea to take after

Water garden at the entrance to the HortPark in Singapore. Over 600 000 visitors come here to learn about gardening and to see what over 40 local garden designers and 80 other related entrepreneurs can offer.

I just made a brief visit to the HortPark on Hyderabad Road in western Singapore, after having read about it in many sources from foreign articles to local gardening sites and magazines. Despite all the information, I didn't quite know what to expect, as I've never seen this kind of a "gardening hub" before. HortPark is part of the National Parks organisation here, but at the same time, it is a networking hub for local entrepreneurs working with things related to gardens and gardening, from designers to installation, maintenance and even retail.

Knowledge and creativity mingling with ideas for gardening and recycling - all of the designs and products above are available from private entrepreneurs who are participating in the HortPark. Hanging plants and terrarium making courses seem to be very popular for the moment, just as indoor green walls.

It was a hot midday when I popped by and the park was almost empty, besides some friendly employees and gardeners, and a couple of school classes strolling through the vegetable gardens with their heads protected from the stinging sun by large hats. In the stylish on-site restaurant fittingly called the Vineyard, young waiters dressed in black carried misty wineglasses to the patrons much more advanced in their years.

Many companies provide know-how and materials for green roofs and walls; here, green wall displays from eight different companies, and roofs by three others. Seminars and lessons are offered in the related technigues and on how to take care of them afterwards.

I hadn't booked neither a tour nor a guide, but I enjoyed much of what I saw. The design of both the park the buildings were refreshingly modern, with straight clean angels meeting elements composed of organic lines - not surprisingly, it has won several international architectural awards since its opening in 2008. State-of-the-art meeting venues mingled with quirky display gardens, retail displays selling everything from stylish pots to trendy terrariums and beyond.

Kitchen and community gardens are a big part of the HortPark; the National Parks Board wants to promote gardening as a hobby and a lifestyle choice. Believe it or not, vegetable gardening is very popular here and Community Clubs offer courses on kitchen gardening all around the busy island. Above left, beanpole tipis offer shade in the glaring sun, and right, a school class is learning about vegetable gardens.

Two designer gardens and two gardens planted by local community clubs - guess which are which.

While I visited, the whole place felt a bit empty, and some of designers seemed to be a bit too busy to keep up their display gardens. I still loved the whole idea of HortPark. It is rare to see this kind of happy combination of the governmental and the commercial, both co-habiting in the same park and feeding each other with ideas and probably even knowledge, and at the same time, offering the public an excellent opportunity to learn about gardening, be inspired by new ideas and even find who can provide the services or goods that are desired. Of course, Singapore's steady and tropical climate offers unique setting for year-around displays, which is difficult to replicate in colder climates. But still, I would love to see a similar project for example in Scandinavia, with the state stepping in with resources for the framework, and the garden designers and builders providing the fireworks with their creativity and knowledge. And as a customer, I would definitely love a well-designed park to stroll in and take in all the new ideas on offer. Ten points to Singapore's National Parks Board.


James Golden said...

What an extraordinary place. I've never heard of anything like this before. (I'm tempted to make a cynical remark about American politics, but will stop myself.)

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

James, I would love to know if there are other "gardening hubs' around there. As I wrote, I've never seen one, but enjoyed the multitude of designs and products on display, and the fact that the National Parks offered the stylish building with surroundings. As a designer, what an extraordinary way to show off your talents to so many potential customers, and as customer, browse "live" what is on offer. I would love to take this idea to Sweden or Finland, and see what could be done, despite the climate limitations there... (well, that's a challenge, creating a place of year-around interest in snow).