Tag Archives: HortPark

DIY Floating Gardens in HortPark

If you drop by HortPark recently and took notice of the Water Garden located in front of the Visitor Center, you would have seen the floating gardens that have been set afloat on the water surface.

These floating gardens are a practical solution so that aquatic plants can still be displayed as the pond currently has a hard bottom with an undergravel filtration system installed at its base. There is neither an appropriate substrate at base nor containers can be put in to grow and display aquatic plants.

Each floating garden is created using readily available materials (see schematic diagram for details of construction). The floatation device took us a quite some time to source. It comprises a slab of extruded polystyrene board which is usually used for insulation of roofs. Unlike widely available white polystyrene boards used in art and craft, this board is made of dense polystyrene is more buoyant, resistant to wear and tear under the elements and does not absorb significant amount of water.

A selection of aquatic marginal plants, which naturally grow in waterlogged soils along a pond’s edge, with different growth forms, foliage textures and colours, is creatively combined to plant up these gardens that magically hover on the water surface. Of particular note is the use of North American Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia), which are colourful, insectivorous plants that grow in sunny and boggy sites in their native habitat.

Besides being decorative, floating gardens, in general, draw excess nutrients from the water column, especially if you feed your fish frequently. Fish waste that is produced in excess can lead to algae blooms. On a larger scale, such set-ups perform phyto-remediation work, where plants help to purify water in reservoirs, lakes and rivers.

Floating gardens also promote biodiversity. They provide shelter for fish and other aquatic organisms from the sun and predators. Dragonflies and damselflies are given a place to perch on and water birds can even roost in them if they are large enough!

First ‘Grow Your Own Western Cooking Herbs’ Workshop @ HortPark

A maximum of 30 participants attended the recent gardening workshop entitled ‘Success with Western Cooking Herbs’ that was conducted at HortPark on 23 Jan 2010. It was the first gardening workshop in a series that was crafted to enhance horticulture excellence among Singapore gardeners. Topics covered will be those that will be more relevant to local gardeners. For this workshop, I was surprised by the great turnout and hope that the workshop had been an enjoyable and fruitful experience for all.

I was the instructor of this first workshop and shared with my participants some tricks that will enable them to successfully grow popular Mediterranean culinary herbs in tropical Singapore. With the lack of a local supply of potted culinary herb plants, participants got to learn how they can start their first herb plants from materials bought from the local grocer. Each participant got to bring home a pot of culinary (not commonly available in local nurseries), some pre-mixed soil, herb seeds, rooting powder and a CD containing the workshop presentation slides. Even though 3h was a little long, there is still insufficient to cover such a broad topic. I will work into future workshops more hands-on session.

For those of you who missed this first workshop, do look forward to a second run that is planned to take place in the second half of this year. Gardening enthusiasts can look forward to attend other basic gardening workshops in the series which include basic plant propagation techniques, pest and disease identification and management, high-rise gardening and starting your first outdoor garden.

The Balsam in the Water

Waterlogged areas can be a headache for many gardeners as they can be expensive to improve for growing plants that demand a well-draining location. Ever since I joined the National Parks Board (NParks) and got stationed in HortPark (the gardening hub of Singapore), I got to face the challenges of having to plant up waterlogged areas. One of the plants I got acquainted with was Hydrocera trifolia, commonly known as the water balsam or marsh henna. My colleagues from the Hort Management section planted a grove of Hydrocera trifolia in a waterlogged area near the prototype glasshouses located near the back of HortPark.

Hydrocera trifolia is native to lowland areas stretching from Southern India, Sri Lanka, southern China, Indo-China, Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia to Indonesia and is found growing in ditches, pools, rice fields and marshy places. From its ability to grow in stagnant water and the picture of its flowers shown above, it is clear why Hydrocera trifolia is called a water balsam. According to a Kew Bulletin paper by Grey-Wilson, this plant can grow in water with its stems submerged in water to a depth of 70 cm! For those of us who are familiar with the common garden balsam, Impatiens balsamina, it is a plant that loves to grow in moist areas but never waterlogged!

This plant is a perennial and can grow up to 1 m in the tropics. The part that grows above water is leafy and unbranched and its stems are held erect. Interestingly, the submerged portion do not have leaves and will thicken and become spongy, which I think is an effort by the plant to prevent itself from sinking! How interesting!

However,  Hydrocera trifolia and Impatiens balsamina differ in two ways, in terms of the structures of their flowers and fruits, according to Grey-Wilson. In a Hydrocera trifolia flower, one will be able to observe that there are five sepals and petals, where the latter are all free from one another. In  Impatiens balsamina, the flower usually have 3 sepals and the four petals instead come in two pairs, with the dorsal petal free.

The fruits of Hydrocera trifolia do not split open like those found in Impatiens balsamina which we learn from primary school textbooks that they burst open when ripe to disperse seeds via explosive action. Each fruit of Hydrocera trifolia contain about 5 seeds whereas one can find many more in Impatiens balsamina.

Like Impatiens balsamina, the flowers of Hydrocera trifolia yield a dye and the flowers of the latter are used to prepare a red dye for fingernails which serves as a substitute for henna (Lawsonia inermis). This use is behind Hydrocera trifolia’s alternative common name, water henna.

This plant is easy to grow that are suited for growing inside or near the edge of ponds. Although aquatic in growth habit, one can also grow it in a pot of soil that is kept moist at all times. It thrives in semi-shaded areas to locations with full sunshine and can be propagated easily via stem-cuttings or via layering.

Trees for Christmas!

Selected species of conifers grown in overseas plantations appear to be almost indispensable must-haves for Christmas. In Singapore, Nordmann fir (Abies nordmanniana, shown in photograph below) and noble fir (Abies procera) are two popular conifers that are imported and sold in local nurseries before the festive season. Noble firs emit a citrus-like aroma and tend to be bushier whereas Nordmann firs are exhibit a more distinctive layered look and a droopier look, with more spaces between the branches than the former.

Many Singaporeans buy live Christmas trees because the delightful fragrance from the aromatic oils in the leaves that permeate the entire home environment. Live Christmas trees are entirely biodegradable and can be turned into woodchips for use as mulch after they decline.

This year, in HortPark’s Lifestyle Corner, we put up a Christmas tree corner where visitors can pose for photographs. We have two Christmas trees, one is a common Nordmann fir while another is a blue spruce. The latter is a relatively new introduction we bought from Candy Floriculture Pte Ltd that is known by its botanical name Picea pungens glauca ‘Baby Blue’ which happens to be a cultivar grown from seed harvested from a blue spruce orchard at West Montrose Farms Ltd (Source – http://www.babybluespruce.com/index.htm). Shown below, it has beautiful bluish green leaves that are not commonly seen in the local range of imported Christmas trees.

Imported Christmas trees these days come in both the usual cut form, as well as, potted trees, complete with roots and growing media. The latter type of tree is probably easier to maintain as water is stored in the soil compared to having to watch a reservoir of water placed at the base of a cut tree. In Singapore, there is always a risk of mosquito breeding in reservoirs containing stagnant water. Hence it is necessary to put anti-mosquito granules in water reservoirs for cut Christmas trees.

It is unlikely that these imported potted Christmas trees can survive and even grow in the long term in Singapore due to differences in climate as these trees come from temperate regions that experience frost. It is during this time that trees get their annual rest which cannot be observed in tropical Singapore. Trees may not die immediately but they should slowly decline.

For those of us who are looking for tropical alternatives that will thrive in Singapore, there is actually a limited range of conifer species to choose from. However, there are two major drawbacks associated with the use of these trees. Most of these species do not have aromatic foliage and need to be placed in a location with good light to prevent leaves from turning brown and falling.

Shown in the outdoor display in HortPark’s Lifestyle Corner on the Timber Deck (picture above), we have put forth a selection of Chinese juniper cultivars (Juniperus chinensis) which adopt different growth habits, ranging from those with erect and conical canopy shape to those with sprawling ones. Some have leaves that are tipped with gold or even blue. Two other conifers for consideration include the Oriental Thuja (Platycladus orientalis) and Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla).

Celebrating Christmas in HortPark

Ho! Ho! Ho! HortPark Christmas 2009 was an event organised by my colleagues from HortPark to spread the Christmas cheer on 20 Dec 2009. Singapore finally had its long-awaited, first bazaar dedicated to gardening hobbyists. It was a rainy afternoon and that did not deter gardeners from all over the island to come to HortPark.

Christmas shopping ranked high on the agenda of gardening enthusiasts as they trawled through the 20 participating stalls for interesting plants and offers throughout the 4-hour gardening bazaar held at the Exhibition Gallery in HortPark. Motivated by the good response and positive sales, many of the vendors have expressed their continued support in subsequent Gardening Bazaars to be held at HortPark. The next one will be held in Jan 2010 and every alternate (odd) month thenafter.

I saw several members from the Green Culture Singapore discussion forum putting up stalls to sell their plants. TALOS was there with his range of begonias and carnivorous plants and greenhorn sold his collection of airplants. A few others formed groups to sell collector’s orchids and a multitude of plants, cuttings and seedlings from their gardens. The youngest participant for the bazaar was an enterprising 12-year-old boy named Bram Lim, who roped in his little brothers to peddle his home-grown plants. Talk about a bright green future (see picture above)!

Other activities for the day included the “Christmas in a Bottle” terrarium workshop and a talk on “How to Grow Your Own Culinary Herbs” conducted by myself, attendance was overwhelming despite the downpour. The celebration would not have been complete without Santa Claus, who came by to extend his greetings to all who were at HortPark that day.

Floral Arrangement Talk cum Demo @ HortPark’s Wedding Fair

Besides being involved in decoration work for the Wedding Fair at HortPark that was held last Saturday, one of my team members, Pearl Ho, also conducted a floral arrangement talk cum demo session entitled ‘Bridal Bouquet Demonstration’.  Pearl introduced to her audience the diversity of flowers, foliages and various arrangement styles that can be used on one’s special day. She also taught all who were present on the importance of colour scheme.

In the beginning of her talk, Pearl presented a couple of traditional hand flower bouquets that are popular wedding must-haves. She also introduced a range of innovative, ‘green-themed’ ones which are created using potted plants such as Pilea ‘Moon Valley’ (noted for its textured leaves), variegated and all-green Ficus pumila, variegated Dischidia species and Episcia ‘Malaysian Gem’. These plants definitely last longer and are easier to maintain traditional bouquets made from cut flowers!

If your wedding reception has long tables, consider using floral displays with plants incorporated in them for a more lasting and unique arrangement. Shown here is a naturalistic display using a species of club moss for its interesting-looking foliage, Selaginella kraussiana ‘Brownii’,  which forms low, small clumps of whorled mounded leaves. Plants are potted up in small thumb pots which can serve as unconventional take-away souveniors for your guests.

Another table display, suitable for traditional round tables encountered in most receptions, is made up of orchids. Spider orchid flowers (Arachnis cultivar), shown in the example above, are also more-lasting flowers compared to many other imported flower species. They also lend a more tropical feel to the atmosphere. Foliage from the aparagus fern is used as a filler, which is also a durable floral material.

Shown above is a hanging arrangement created using spider orchids. Long-lasting, finely divided leaves from a common houseplant, the Ming Aralia (Polysicias fruticosa), are used as a filler in this fine example.

In line with a garden wedding in HortPark, Pearl transformed upturned coconut coir pots into wedding bells for a hanging arrangement which can be used to decorate a chair. These pots are very afforable and are available for sale in most plant nurseries. They are the tropical version of peat pots that are usually used to start new plants and then planted together in a final growing spot, which it will gradually degrade.

Lastly, do not despair if you missed this talk and demonstration! Pearl will be conducting similar workshops for registered groups in HortPark in 2010!

Decor for Wedding Fair @ HortPark

My team was involved in some decoration work for the Wedding Fair that took place in HortPark on last Saturday. This time, we helped to dress up a signboard (located at the Multi Purpose Hall) that showcased HortPark as a garden wedding venue in Singapore.

There are two sides to this signboard and because HortPark is a gardening hub, we conceptualised a design that also incorporated some gardening elements in it. A lush grouping of plants flanked both sides of the signboard depicted a garden scene. Airplant species such as Tillandsia xerographica and T. usneoides were used in the decoration as well. The frequent visitor to HortPark would have noticed the clumps of T. usneoides, commonly called Spanish moss, hanging from a rain tree planted in the Silver Garden, which is a popular photographic spot with wedding couples.

We quietly put two terrariums in this display as the terrarium workshop in HortPark has been a very popular gardening activity with visitors. Couples planning to tie the knot can also consider making their own terrariums and watch their love grow. They make ideal gifts for your guests who are invited to your wedding reception. Two spherical cages containing nerve plants is one idea we came up with that can be used in a decorative display in a gardening wedding.

One would have also noticed the use of the sweetheart hoya (Hoya kerrii) in this decoration work. It is one plant that symbolises love due to its attractive, heart-shaped leaves. It is a fuss-free and easy-to-grow plant that is available for sale planted in snail shells which is another ideal gift idea for your guests.

On the other side of the signboard, we added an assortment of fittonias presented in an array of dish gardens to confer some vibrant colour to the overall display via their colourful foliage. Flowers are often used for various purposes in weddings and to promote a green wedding concept, we hope to promote the use of plants as environmentally-friendly alternatives for consideration by green-minded wedding couples on their special day.

Decor Ideas for Christmas

Christmas is around the corner and some of us can get a headache over what to use to decorate a Christmas tree at home or in the office. Here are some decor ideas to share that have been put up in HortPark’s Lifestyle Corner for the month of December 2009.

For those of us who are environmentally-friendly and want to avoid buying an imported conifer Christmas tree, one can opt to use any large enough houseplant as a greener substitute. Below is our resident Ficus lyrata ‘Bambino’ which have been dressed for the festive occasion. The usual decorative items apply and we recycled last year’s assortment of colourful baubles for this tree to reinforce a green Christmas.

If you don’t have a plant that is large enough, go out and collect a bunch of fallen branches and twigs from the garden or park and use these to make your very unique and green Christmas arrangement? Proceed to dry them, then spray with gold and silver paint and finally display them in a tall glass container. My colleagues then went on to tie ribbons on the branches and also stuck dry leaves and some store-bought Christmas ornaments to complete the display. We kept in mind that all store-bought Christmas ornaments should be recycable for future use!

Below is another decor idea made using natural materials, which one of my friends shared with my team. If you grow luffas (Luffa cylindrica) in the garden, the sponges obtained from old fruits can also be used as a decorative item on your Christmas tree. All you need to do is to tie and stick a nice ribbon on it and put a string on the top so that you can hang it anywhere you desire!

If you still got some ornamental corn cobs lying around from Halloween, you can use these to adorn your Christmas wreaths! Those displayed in HortPark’s Lifestyle Corner were grown by my team and the cobs matured on the plant just in time for us to use them on the wreath. A warning to all – keep this wreath away from the reach of rodents! Our corn cobs were half eaten as we left them on our office table the night before!

When the festive season is around the corner, we never fail to see loads of nuts being put on sale in our local supermarkets. These oil seeds make very good and apt decor items for the home. Seen below are two styrofoam bells which my colleagues stuck various nuts onto them using hot silicone glue.

Below is another version you can make using almonds. My colleagues cut a star out from a piece of cork bark and then glued the almonds onto it. To add colour, we added red saga seeds onto each one of them. You can use other nuts available for sale in supermarkets to make a similar decor item which you can hang on the wall. These can be stored in a cool, dry place and they can be taken out and used for next year’s festive display.

If you noticed, all the decor items need a fair bit of effort to make them. Gather the entire family or office and join hands to create them. It is a good opportunity to come together whilst making these ornaments, we can all make it a point to catch up amidst the hectic work schedule in the past one year. Incorporate as much recycling ideas as you can into the creation of Christmas decor items to help reduce waste and save our environment during the festive season.

Geophytes Showcase @ HortPark

Last Saturday, I was involved in giving a guided tour at the Lifestyle Corner at HortPark. The tour and showcase were aimed at educating the public what geophytes are and various common vegetables and medicinal plants that belong to this category of plants. The showcase is now on until 27 Aug 09. It will run through GardenTech 2009 (14 to 18 Aug 09 @ HortPark) and visitors to this garden fair will also get a glimpse into how one can use geophytic plant parts for home decoration!

In brief, a geophyte is a herbaceous plant with an underground storage organ. Storage organs are reservoirs of carbohydrates, nutrients and water and play an important role in the plant’s survival during adverse climatic conditions and we, humans farm them for food and medicine.

Do you know how to differentiate a taproot, tuber, rhizome, bulb or corm? These are terms that are used to describe underground vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, gingers, cocoyams and onions, respectively.

A root tuber is a modified lateral root that stores food for the plant. Either the tip, part of or the whole lateral root swells up to become a storage organ. Root tubers have the internal and external cell and tissue structures of a typical root. Unlike stem tubers, root tubers do not have nodes. Common root tubers are cassava (Manihot esculenta) and sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas).

A stem tuber is a swollen, modified underground stem that stores food for the plant. Internally, a stem tuber has the typical cell structures of a stem, including a pith, vascular zones and a cortex. Common stem tubers include the potato (Solanum tuberosum) and Chinese yam (Dioscorea opposita).

A bulb is a vertical, underground stem consisting of a compressed stem (basal plate) and modified scale-like leaves. These modified leaves serve as the primary storage tissue. Bulbs are divided into tunicate and imbricate bulbs. A tunicate bulb such as onion (Allium cepa) and garlic (A. sativum) have a paper-like covering, or tunic, that protects the scales from drying and mechanical injury. A common imbricate bulb is the edible lily bulb (Lilium sp.) which is often an additive in Chinese herbal desserts.

A corm is a vertical, underground stem that serves as a storage organ with one or more internodes. It is encased in dry, papery, dead petiole sheaths which act as a covering that protects the corm from insect attack and water loss. Corms have internal solid tissues. This distinguishes them from bulbs, which are made up mostly of layered fleshy modified leaf scales. Common corms include the cocoyam (Colocasia esculenta) and water chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis).

A taproot is a swollen, tapering root that grows vertically downwards. Lateral, fibrous roots grow out from this main taproot. Many taproots are also modified to become storage organs. Taproots can be divided into 3 main cateogries: conical root – carrot (Daucus carota), fusiform root – radish (Raphanus sativa) and napiform root – yam bean (Pacchyrhizus erosus).

A rhizome is a swollen horizontal stem of a plant. It is usually found underground, often sending out roots and leafy shoots from its nodes. A rhizome is a modified stem, and the stem tissue itself serves as the primary storage tissue. A common rhizome is the cooking ginger (Zingiber officinale).

‘SPICE’ up your life!

For the month of June, visitors to the Lifestyle Corner at HortPark had the chance to savour the sight and smell of more than 30 types of common and exotic dried spices in a special showcase of spices. They were also able to view various live spice plants, such as the pepper vine, clove, candlenut and asam gelugor trees on the Timber Deck.

Spice showcase at HortPark Lifestyle Corner.

Wilson sharing facts on spice gardens with the audience.

 In conjunction with the showcase, a talk-cum-demo entitled “SPICE up your life!” was conducted on Saturday (13 Jun 09). More than 30 participants turned up and learned interesting facts about spice trees and how to set up a simple spice garden. Spices such as clove, nutmeg and candlenut and leaves from their respective trees were passed around during the interactive session for the audience to take a closer look.

Leaves and fruits from spice trees were passed around in the audience.


Students from Teck Whye Secondary School Art Club showing the making spice pouch magnets to the audience.

Students from Teck Whye Secondary School’s Art Club also gave a demonstration that taught participants how to make attractive spice gifts using spices. At the end of the session, each participant received a spice magnet as a parting gift and was then brought on a guided tour of the Lifestyle Corner.

Fragrant spice ornaments you can display in your house.

You can still view the spices showcase at HortPark even after the month of June as the entire collection will be relocated permanently in the kitchen section of the Lifestyle Corner. So come down to HortPark and ‘SPICE up your life’ with us! Spices will never be the same again!