Speech by Minister Lawrence Wong at the Kick-Off Event for Singapore Botanic Garden’s 160th Anniversary and Unveiling of Plans for the Gallop Extension

Jan 9, 2019 13:00

Happy new year to one and all! 

2019 has just started and it will be an important year for Singapore. First of all, it is the 160th anniversary of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Second, it is also our Bicentennial Year – because it is 200 years since Sir Stamford Raffles landed in 1819. 

Over that period of 200 years we have gone through many ups and downs as a British colony, including periods of economic depression and war. There were many problems which the British could not handle – for example, we faced major housing issues which were only resolved decisively after we attained self-government, and set up HDB. 

But the arrival of the British did mark a key turning point in Singapore’s history because it set us on a different trajectory. We became a free port and progressively a modern city, especially after independence. The idea of a national garden also traced back to Raffles. He was a keen naturalist, and in 1819 when he came to Singapore, he was accompanied by a naturalist William Jack who extensively documented the rich flora of Singapore and the region. In fact, a collection of these specimens can be found in the Herbarium of the Kew Garden today. Raffles also set up the first garden in Singapore at Fort Canning. Then later in 1859 the British helped set up this Botanic Gardens at this very Tanglin site.  The Gardens played a significant role in changing the course of South East Asian history –  this was the place where rubber seeds were planted and tested out, and contributed to rubber industry in the region. 

Following Singapore’s independence, we made the Botanic Gardens a People’s Garden. We held the first performance of Aneka Ragam Rakyat or People’s Variety Show here, featuring songs and dances by different ethnic groups. The Botanic Gardens supported our movement to make Singapore a Garden City. It provided horticultural know-how for the tree-planting programme, and trained our public officers in maintaining parks and gardens that we were developing all across Singapore.

Today, the Gardens is well-loved by all Singaporeans and it is also our first UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a beautiful jewel in the heart of our city, for us to enjoy and treasure, and to develop and improve. Just last year alone, it attracted more than 5 million visitors from Singapore and around the world.

We are committed to build on the work of previous generations, and continue to enhance the Gardens. That is why we planned for the Garden’s Learning Forest many years ago. We opened the Learning Forest in 2017 – this 10 ha extension enables people to learn about forest ecology by experiencing it first-hand. I am sure many of you have gone to visit the Learning Forest. The Gallop extension to the Learning Forest will add another 8 ha to the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Altogether we are expanding the Botanic Gardens from 74 to 82 hectares, which is nearly four times its original size in 1859.

We’ve already started work on the Gallop extension of the Gardens. In fact, some of you might have joined me in planting some Dipterocarps in the Gallop extension some years back. And I’ve shared with you some of our plans. We are planting Dipterocarps in the Gallop Arboretum. These are giant trees that can grow up to 80m in height – almost as tall as a 25 storey building. They are trees that can only be found in tropical regions, and in fact, are the iconic species of South East Asia. Sadly, many of them are threatened by climate change and extensive deforestation. The Arboretum will contain at least half of the world’s known species of Dipterocarps, and will aid in their conservation. In fact, the Gallop Arboretum will be home to the collection of rare and endangered species from around the world. This will be something special in the Botanic Gardens.

We are also conserving two colonial houses in the area and convert them into galleries. The Forest Discovery Centre allows visitors to learn about Singapore’s diverse forest habitats and their distinctive features. There will be a botanical art gallery showcasing the role that art has played in the scientific documentation of flora and fauna in Singapore.

Today, I am happy to share several additional details for the Gallop extension. We will have a new canopy link bridge that will connect visitors from the Learning Forest to the Gallop extension. It will be sensitively designed to integrate with the natural landscape, and will allow visitors of all ages to view the Gardens’ native forest trees up close. As you enter the new forest grounds, you can either take a leisurely stroll along the lush foliage or if you are more adventurous, you can hike through a challenging ridge-top trail that overlooks the expansive forest. We don’t have a lot of forest in Singapore, but if you want a forest experience, you can come to the Gardens, and immerse yourself in the Gallop Arboretum.

We will also have a new nature play area for children. This will contain interactive elements inspired by various tree species and nature, and we hope to nurture and grow children’s innate desire to connect with and to care for nature.

All of this work is being done now; in fact it is in its final stage, and the Gallop extension will be opened to the public later this year. Meanwhile, we have prepared an extensive line-up of events to commemorate the Gardens’ 160th Anniversary. These include festivals, concerts and workshops – all themed around nature. To kick-off the celebrations, I am happy to launch the start of a two-week exhibition showcasing the Gardens’ rich history and key milestones. More details on the upcoming events through the rest of the year will be announced in time to come. We hope that everyone can join in the activities.  

Finally, I would like to thank the community – including our many volunteers, supporters and donors who are here today. Thank you for your contributions to the Gardens over the years. The Gardens would not be what it is today without your unwavering support. 160 years – we have been maintaining, improving and expanding the Gardens. And all of this is made possible through your support. You have helped bring nature closer to all who live and commute through this city. As a token of appreciation, we will be dedicating Heritage Trees to donors who have made significant contributions to the Garden’s efforts, in areas such as conservation and citizen science. 

We want many more Singaporeans to join us in this effort to enhance the Gardens, and enhance our City in a Garden. I hope the contributions of our donors here today will inspire many more Singaporeans to join us. We encourage private individuals and corporations to partner with us; to take greater ownership of our Gardens, and do even more with your creativity, imagination and energies. In fact, that is one reason why we set up the Garden City Fund. Together, we will grow the vision started by our founding leaders, and make the Gardens and our city a more beautiful and special place for future generations to enjoy. Thank you very much.