Secret Gardens

Singapore is a city of secret gardens waiting to be discovered, and an excellent website makes the discovery exhilarating with extensive photographs and detailed information about the island’s flora.

They are everywhere, Singapore’s secret gardens – across the wall, along the hedge, in verges and ditches, sectioning roads, above your head.

That blanket of yellow peanut plants along the length of a drive, little sunny heads nod nod nodding in the breeze, allamandas – alba and silver – peeping over walls, trellised trailing blue vines (aka butterfly pea, blue pea, pigeon wing, mussel shell creeper, bunga santan) on a patio, the Hong Kong Bauhinia with its pinkly mauve blooms across the road.

In my trawl of the nurseries, seeking ‘chicken poo’ (the organic variety, good for the red palms according to the gardener; and I decline the bountiful, packaged sheep and cow offerings), I discover rich purple irises and whiter-than-white tulips in glass bowls.

And hydrangeas and freesias, black cosmos and dahlias.

Roses from Ecuador, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and India, freshly cut, their fragrance palpable.


The sub-zero chambers in the nurseries along Thomson Road (Far East Flora, Goodwood, JM Flowers et al) yield blooms of every hue and variety, fresh, scented, blazing colours bound and bunched, ready-to-go. Peonies from Japan, lilies from Malaysia and China, wax buds from Australia, carnations, callas from New Zealand, Taiwanese typha (bulrush in British English, cattail in American English), amaryllis.

And from this part of the world, orchids: crimson, white, mauve, purple, yellow, striated, shaded, mottled and mixed, heliconias, ginger, birds of paradise.

And I dither between tulips from Holland and tulips from France; linger by the irises.

Secret gardens or treasure troves?

The nurseries stock fertilizers and foliage, compost and crucifers, pots and perennials, decorative accessories, water features and table gardens, tiles and trellises, ferns and fungicides, hybrids and heliotropes, peat moss, pergolas, palms, orchids and ornamentals, stones, sod and everything else in between.

Should you require everything all-at-once, go where the landscapists go, to Hua Hng Trading Company and while you’re about it, take the kids along.

The world’s largest tree-growing orchid – the tiger orchid – with its distinctive cream-maroon blooms (one of five orchid species presumed disappeared forever) is alive and well and you could well be walking beneath it, in Singapore, completely unaware of the fact.

The serendipitous discovery of epiphytes everywhere is as much a part of the Singapore experience as are the snowy white egrets in the green grass by traffic lights (near Pandan Valley, at the Clementi Road – Commonwealth Avenue West intersection), waiting to cross the road.

The majesty of the orchid – 1,000 species, 2,000 hybrids – is on display in the National Orchid Garden (part of the Singapore Botanic Gardens) and at any one time, about 600 of these bloom and blaze in sweeps and stretches; at least two hours of extravagance.

And, I ask myself, how does your garden grow?

I take inventory; our little patch, another secret garden and the National Parks website tells me things I didn’t know (or seek to know).

We have frangipanis (plumeria obtusa) and a coral tree, anthuriums, pink lilies, yellow irises (aka leopard flower, blackberry lily, salmon blood lily, pokok kipis), white meraya, orchids white and purple, heliconia psittacorum, pearl and carpet grass, desert roses, lipstick plants, Singapore adenia, honeysuckle, philodendrons, yellow burrheads, sansivieria (the moniker mother-in-law’s tongue sounds better) and calatheas lutea.

And outside the French windows, many tubs of thaumatococcus aka Miracle Berry, Miracle Fruit, Sweet Prayer Plant, African Serendipity Berry, Katempfe, Yoruba Soft Cane.

And I learn that it gets its name from the Greek thaumato (meaning wondrous or miraculous) and kokkos (berry), is traditionally used to sweeten bread and flavor palm wine; the leaves used to wrap food or as building material; the leaf sap as an antidote for poisonous stings and bites.

All this, in profusion, outside the windows.

And what of the garden next door ?

Their seasonal bounty is regularly presented across the wall – a wicker basket a-brim with mangoes or a bunch of drumsticks smothered with leaves.

Sometimes it is a weighty bag of rambutans, lushly red, picked by Alyssa, the slender eight year old with lustrous curls, standing on tiptoe, braving the scolding flock of greeny-red parrots resting in the tree.

Picture postcard perfect.

Photographs by Premod and Anita Thomas


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