Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Hanging Gardens

When I’m not frustrated or discouraged or homesick (all natural parts of expat life, I suppose), I realize it’s the simple things in life that keep me going. Regardless of where I am, if the grass in my yard is growing and green and fuzzy - and the leftovers in my refrigerator are not - then what more could you ask for, really?

So I can appreciate living in a place where the plants grow, whether you help them or not. Here, I can pretend my spectacularly brown thumb is edging toward green; I accidentally kill a plant, and it magically resuscitates itself within a day or so. And the consistent year-round sun and humidity encourage rapid plant growth, so the surroundings always seem to be on the verge of becoming again the rain forest that once filled the island.

Taking advantage of this exuberant growth, Singapore’s government long ago decided to make Singapore a “city in a garden” - so in addition to some nice public gardens, a couple of mangrove swamps, and the patch of remaining rain forest, the city streets are lushly landscaped. Elaborate tropical flowers and stunning traveler’s palms burst from between buildings. Even the footbridges are swathed in colorful blooms:

The highways were the biggest surprise for me. After living in the northeastern US, I was used to the concrete tangles of overpasses and divided roads, with nary a plant in sight. So I’m always amazed, driving down Singapore’s ECP on my way into town.

I ease the car onto the green, shady highway beneath arching oak trees so thick I can barely see the sky. At the side of the road, perfectly shaped flowering shrubs of all colors flash by. To my left, I can look through the trees and catch the glint of sunlight on the water; the sea is just moments away. Then the road opens out for a sunny stretch lined by neat, Hollywood-like rows of huge palm trees that sway gently in the breeze. The median is filled with carefully tended tall plants flowering in reds, yellows, pinks, and deep purples.

As I move into the next shady stretch, where the oaks again arch gracefully over the road, I see a flashing road sign that must be unique to Singapore: “Slow. Plant Watering Ahead.” As I coast by, I smile at the sight of a huge water truck and a gardener directing what looks like a fire hose at the trembling shrubs.

My other favorite road sign is “Plant Pruning Ahead,” where I can expect to see a gardener calmly clipping away at the shrubs, as though he were working on a hedge in his own backyard - not on a shoulderless road next to cars passing by at 90 km/h. In this climate it’s not hard to imagine that, without the gardeners pushing them back, the plants would extend slowly into the roadways, covering the concrete and asphalt of civilization with verdant nature. It’s a nice change from the plants I remember, that needed far more skill than I had, and far more painstaking encouragement, to make it through the winter.


Anonymous said...


venitha said...

Hi, Jenn! I enjoyed this inability to kill plants, too. The only time in my life I ever had an ivy plant survive! I bought one since returning to Colorado, thinking maybe my luck had changed, but I threw out the dried up thing last week. Oh, well. =)