A garden for cities of the future has been created, writes Leisa Tyler.
While small in size, Singapore has no shortage of ambitions. Among them is a wish to transform itself into a "city in a garden", where lush vegetation and the latest in eco-tech help power the city while at the same time beautifying it.
At the heart of this plan is the $SG1 billion Gardens by the Bay, a 101-hectare park on reclaimed land between Marina Bay (location of the city-state's grandiose casino complex) and the Singapore Straits.
In less than two years since its opening, Gardens by the Bay has become one of Singapore's most popular and distinctive attractions.
And this is just the beginning. The scheme comprises three unique garden projects: the 54-hectare Bay South; 32 hectare Bay East which, when finished, will have a water education centre amid rice paddies and lotus ponds, and Bay Central, a three-kilometre promenade offering views of Bay East and Bay South.
For now, only Bay South is finished and open. Designed by the British firm Grant Associates and six years in the making, Bay South's landmarks include two stunning, asymmetrical, ribbed bio-dome plant conservatories and 18 steel super-trees.
The domes are shaped like paper nautilus shells and clad in vented glass, which allows for minimum heating but maximum light. They house 217,000 plants from 800 species, most chosen for their vulnerability to climate change and human activities.
The Flower Dome, the larger of the two conservatories, features the cool, dry environments found in the Mediterranean basin, the western parts of South Africa and southern Australia. Inside are ancient olive trees from Turkey, Chilean wine palms, African baobabs and Australian grass trees.
The Cloud Forest dome replicates the tropical montane climate, which is found at elevations of 1500-3000 metres, such as at Mount Kinabalu in the Malaysian state of Sabah, and the Himalayan foothills. This dome has lush vertical gardens and a 35-metre mountain complete with a waterfall, blossoming rhododendron trees and exquisite white orchids.
Electricity to cool the domes is created on site from biomass steam turbines fuelled by garden waste from the estate and other Singapore parks. The 18 steel-clad concrete super trees outside act as giant exhausts, and in turn support a living skin of plants and mimic the ecological functions of a tree, supporting orchids from Ecuador and bromeliads from Brazil.
The 120-seat Pollen restaurant, with a menu designed by UK chef Jason Atherton including dishes such as lobster with fennel cream and sea urchin, is located inside the Flower Dome, with a rock garden and floor-to-ceiling windows.
Also on the ground floor of the Flower Dome is Majestic Seafood, a 110-seat restaurant overseen by one of Singapore's most celebrated Chinese chefs, Yong Bing Ngen.
Singapore Airlines has multiple direct daily flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Singapore with connections to other international destinations including Asia and Europe. See singaporeair.com, phone 13 10 11.
Gardens by the Bay is open daily from 5am to 2am. The conservatories are open from 9am to 9pm daily. A two-dome ticket is $SG20 ($16.75) for adults, $SG12 for children. Dining at the restaurants provides guests with free entrance to the Flower Dome.