SINGAPORE: The Singapore Botanic Gardens was only 22 hectares when it was built more than 150 years ago in 1859.
It is going to get bigger and better by 2018, with its expansion of the Learning Forest and Jacob Ballas Children's Garden.
Works on these locales are expected to start in 2017, after the National Parks Board (NParks) has called for tenders.
The eight-hectare extension of the Learning Forest will include three new features - the Gallop Arboretum, as well the Forest Conservation Interpretative Centre and Natural History Art Gallery, which will be housed in two black and white colonial bungalows along Gallop Road. The added area will put the Learning Forest at approximately 18 hectares.
When completed, the four-hectare Jacob Ballas Children's Garden will be the largest of its kind in Asia.
No. 5 Gallop Road - believed to be the oldest black and white colonial house in Singapore - will become the Forest Interpretive Centre. It will showcase the Gardens' contributions to forest conservation through interactive displays. Visitors can learn about the latest work on biodiversity conservation and how they can participate in citizen science projects.
Another colonial house up the road, at No. 7, will house the Natural History Art Gallery, which will feature botanical art and natural history artefacts.
The collection will feature botanical illustrations in various artistic styles - from watercolours and ink drawings to wood block carvings. Displays will be rotated regularly from the Gardens' archives of more than 2,000 art pieces. Aside from artefacts from the Singapore Botanic Gardens, artwork from other botanic gardens, international galleries and the public will be showcased
Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong marked the event on Saturday (Nov 21) with a community tree planting at the Gallop Arboretum site. It involved residents from Tanjong Pagar and Jalan Besar GRCs, and students from the National University of Singapore and Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
"We want the Gardens to break new grounds in horticultural research. Our aim in developing the Learning Forest is to get people to learn more about forest ecology by experiencing it, so the trees we have planted today will form part of the future Gallop Arboretum - a living laboratory of trees for education and research," said Mr Wong.
"You will be able to see 200 species of Dipterocarps, also known as forest giants. They are majestic trees that are unique to this region and can grow to 80 metres. That's about the height of a 25-storey HDB flat," he added.
Mr Wong also threw back to the Botanic Garden's recent UNESCO World Heritage Site inscription. "The Gardens received unanimous support from the UNESCO experts, because of its significant contributions to botanical research and conservation, which were deemed to be of outstanding universal value. But we cannot rest on our laurels. Securing the UNESCO World Heritage inscription marks not the end but the start of a journey."
The new features tie in with the Gardens' continued efforts in conservation and education.
"The land we're now talking about is in the buffer zone, so it protects the inscribed site. But more importantly, the addition of this land means we can plant and conserve more of the trees from the region, which are going extinct. The Botanic Gardens has a finite size - we've already planted up a lot of the existing Botanic Gardens space. This gives us another 18 hectares to play with. And potentially, we can conserve many hundreds of tree species in this space," said Dr Nigel Taylor, Director, Singapore Botanic Gardens.
"The 'E' in 'UNESCO' stands for educational. I still believe many people who come to the Botanic Gardens actually don't know much about its history, don't understand its significance in the history of the region. And it's our job to make sure people do understand not only that, but also the value of forest," he added.
NParks also took this opportunity to launch the 'Singapore Garden Photographer of the Year' coffee table book. Specially produced to commemorate SG50, it features the best photos from all three of NParks' photography competitions. In addition, the book offers photography tips for budding photographers and photo enthusiasts.