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Sky’s the limit for Singapore gardens

When Albert Quek first moved into his home on the top floor of an eight-storey apartment block, he agonised about the limited space he had to pursue his passion for gardening.

world Updated: Jun 05, 2009 12:13 IST

When Albert Quek first moved into his home on the top floor of an eight-storey apartment block, he agonised about the limited space he had to pursue his passion for gardening.

All he had was a one-square-metre (10.8-square-foot) balcony, barely large enough for his wife to sun the laundry, let alone for him to nurture a garden.

Then he had a brainwave.

“Why don’t I do something vertical?” he mused to himself.

A year later, Quek’s garden, which features more than 10 varieties of flowering shrubs, ferns and herbs cascading down his wall, crowns his block with a shock of green, contrasting sharply with the staid colours of neighbouring buildings.

Singapore hopes others will follow his example and turn this already verdant metropolis into a high-rise garden city.

Tourists have long been attracted by Singapore’s lush parks and tree-lined streets, the result of a long-term urban planning strategy aided in no small part by lots of sunshine and rain.

“There’s so much greenery here, it makes the place very beautiful,” said Mario Quaramita, 37, a tourist from Italy.

Despite its compact size, Singapore already has 3,300 hectares (8,154 acres), or almost five percent of its total land mass, occupied by “green areas” which include parks, rainforests and nature reserves.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and National Parks Board hope to add another 50 hectares of greenery by 2030, through two landmark schemes introduced in April.

One is Programme LUSH (Landscaping for Urban Spaces and High-rises) and the other is an incentive scheme for greening tower and home roofs, both aimed at encouraging Singaporeans to adopt greenery at home, work and leisure areas.

Property developers in specific districts are also required to design buildings with integrated gardens to make up for greenery lost as a result of construction.

“We are constantly looking for ways to enhance this sense of greenery,” said Chen Hsing Yao, deputy director for urban design in the URA.

Establishments already boasting high-rise greenery say people are receptive to the concept.
The National Library’s main building, which incorporates sky terraces and rooftop gardens into its brightly-lit architectural design, says visitors enjoy the green respite from the urban landscape.

“Besides the aesthetic appeal, visitors and staff welcome the provision and convenient access to these green open spaces in the bustling city area,” a spokesman for the library said.

He said visitors from around the region and the United States have studied the green features of the building.

Indeed, greenery is being adopted as a main point of attraction by some businesses, including the Keyaki Japanese Restaurant, perched on a rooftop garden at the five-star Pan Pacific Hotel.

Its traditional Japanese garden aims to give diners “an immediate sensation of being removed from the contemporary interior of the hotel,” the restaurant’s spokeswoman said.

One George Street, an office tower primarily housing multinational firms, says office workers appreciate the tranquility of its “sky gardens”.

“Besides providing visual relief from the high-density urban landscape of the business district, these landscaped gardens improve air quality, lower the ambient temperature and help to reduce energy consumption,” its owner CapitaCommercial Trust said.

The developers of executive condominium Newton Suites also attest to such benefits as its sky gardens, beside the lift lobby at every fourth level, make the condominium blocks stand out from the surroundings.

Quek, the homeowner who pioneered “DIY (do-it-yourself) Vertical Gardening” which involves growing plants on walls instead of flat ground, says skyrise greenery is well-adapted to Singapore’s wet and humid environment.

“These gardens are space-saving, and it’s easy to maintain. It also can help to cool down the indoor temperature,” said Quek, whose own vertical gardens have won a number of awards.
Quek is not stopping at cultivating vertical gardens for aesthetic purposes.

“I would like to plant some fruits, or even some spices for cooking in my vertical garden,” he said.

First Published: Jun 05, 2009 10:51 IST