Category Archives: International Experience

Gardens by the Bay & HortPark

January 11, 2012 – Gardens by the Bay & HortPark, Singapore
(written by Quill Teal-Sullivan, photographs by Wonsoon Park and Sara Levin)

The past two days have been full to the brim with visits to many of Singapore’s beautiful parks and urban green spaces. Tuesday morning started at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore’s newest and largest garden project sitting on one-hundred and one hectares encircling Marina Bay.  We were greeted by Chris Dalzell, a former Longwood international intern who recently moved from South Africa to act as the garden’s Assistant Director of Garden Operations.  Chris and his colleagues toured us around the site, which will be completed for an official public opening in June of this year. Gardens by the Bay features two large conservatories – one that will create a cool-dry Mediterranean climate, and the other a cool-moist mountain climate.

Flower Dome of the Gardens by the Bay

We were able to tour the Flower Dome, freshly planted with remarkable specimens imported from around the world.  Most notable were the enormous baobabs planted on a cantilevered overlook, and the gnarled one-thousand-year old olive trees just in from southern Spain.  Another highlight of the gardens were the eighteen “super trees” gracefully arching overhead, clad with epiphytes and climbers.  The “super trees” are one of the spectacularly clever aspects of the garden design, acting as a venting system for the glasshouses, water catchment mechanism, solar energy receptor, as well as an aesthetic wonder.

Super Tree

After a lunch of various local delights, we met with Dan Burcham (our host with the most and LGP alumn), and his colleagues at the National Parks Board (NParks) to tour four exceptional urban greening sites. As part of Singapore’s vision of “the city in a garden”, NParks offers financial assistance to green the exterior of existing buildings.  Three of the sites we visited were vertical green walls each designed by a different firm with a unique system and design philosophy.  The end of a long and most stimulating day of garden touring culminated in a trip to the top of Marina Bay Sands Sky Park to decompress and admire the city from above.

Green wall at the F1 race track

On Wednesday we traveled to HortPark, a display garden within the NParks system that features small-scale garden exhibits aimed to inspire Singaporean residents to include gardens and horticulture in their home life.  HortPark partners with local landscape companies that rent small plots to display their design, acting as publicity for the company and inspiration for the visitors.  As Abby says, “it is the perfect collaboration between government, industry, and community”.

Vegetable Garden at HortPark

Silver Garden at HortPark

HortPark sits within the Southern Ridges region, a chain of parks, gardens and natural areas linked with ‘park connectors’.  Two knowledgeable NParks staff, Wilson and Eric, led us on an excursion through a few of the natural areas. This included a jungle accessed by a 9 km canopy bridge, home to a delinquent gang of macaque monkeys, as well as a most beautiful wooden bridge with views to the sea and the city.

Dillenia suffriticosa

The evening was capped with a barbeque accompanied by the senior staff of NParks at the Outwardbound Singapore headquarters.  We ate satay and fresh fruit in the evening heat, feeling so grateful for the generosity of our Singaporean hosts and, the incredible opportunity we have as Longwood students to experience the ‘city in a garden’.

Canopy walkway at southern ridges

Henderson Waves

Singapore Botanic Gardens and CUGE

January 9, 2012 – Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore
(written by Wonsoon Park, photographs by Martin Smit and Wonsoon Park )

Even though Singapore can be very hot and humid the weather was cool enough for us to forget about our jetlag and be immersed in the beauty of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Imagine vast breathtaking tropical gardens with enormous trees and extraordinary flowers, all without the need of any glasshouses or conservatories.

Tour of the orchid breeding program facilities of SBG

The SBG was established in 1859 as the very first garden in Singapore and was initially used in introducing various tropical crops to Southeast Asia. These days the SBG is conducting all the functions of a modern botanic garden. Amazingly, it is open to public from 5am to midnight daily and attracts more than 4 million visitors per year, making it one of the most publically used gardens of the world.

The national flower of Singapore, Vanda Miss Joaquim

The national flower of Singapore, Vanda Miss Joaquim

The Cool House for displaying orchids needing cooler conditions

After a brief meeting with the director, Dr. Nigel Taylor, and various heads of departments, we had a tour of the facilities and gardens. We ended our visit to the SBG with a Q&A session with the SBG staff.  Our last activity of the day was a quick visit to Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology (CUGE). Assistant director, Chong Whye Keet, gave a quick presentation on CUGE that provided a greater insight into this unique department.

Oncidium arches in the National Orchid Garden

A strangler fig growing in the remnant rainforest in the SBG

 

Safely in Singapore

January 8, 2012 – Singapore Zoo, Singapore
(written by Martin Smit, photographs by Nate Tschaenn )

Everything went seamlessly as our group all ascended on Singapore from various corners of the earth. The drive to the hotel immediately blew us away because of the scale of landscaping everywhere and the beautiful epiphyte smothered street trees. After booking in at our hotel some of us explored the immediate surroundings while others briefly caught their breath before we headed out for our visit to the Singapore Zoo. We were warmly received by the enthusiastic staff and were quickly astonished by the amazing gardens and surroundings of this wonderful zoo. We were also informed about some of the conservation and education efforts that were undertaken at this institution. We were taken behind the scenes where we had the opportunity to interact with various staff members and of course, some animals.

A quick photo opportunity with some local zoo residents

Sara with some ring-tailed lemurs

Fellows in a section of the zoo displaying ethnobotanic plants

Our first impressions of Singapore were wonderful, not only because of the beauty of this urban paradise but also because of the extremely helpful and friendly people that we have met thus far. It already promises to be an unforgetful experience.

Travel to Singapore and Indonesia: follow us

This January the first year fellows will be traveling to Singapore and Indonesia for what promises to be an amazing International Experience 2012. Longwood staff members, Shawn Kister and Sharon Loving, will be joining for the Singapore leg of the journey while Tom Brightman and Wendy Gentry will be traveling with the fellows to Indonesia.

Inside one of the new conservatories at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. (Photo, courtesy of Chris Dalzell)

This travel opportunity will be the culmination of months of preparation in which all fellows were working diligently to make contact with and plan visits to various institutions. We will kick off our International Experience when we arrive in Singapore on the 8th of January. From Singapore we will be traveling on to the island of Bali and then on to Bogor, located on West-Java, before returning on the 21st of January. Some of the diverse sites that we will be visiting include the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Gardens by the Bay, Pulau Ubin, Bali Botanic Garden, Bogor Botanic Garden, Cibodas Botanic Garden, Taman Bunga Nusantara and the Gede-Pangrango National Park to name but a few.

We invite you all to follow us on our Blog and share in this unique experience.

The Viceregal Lodge and Botanic Gardens of Shimla

January 19 – Shimla
(written by Ashby Leavell, photos by Aubree Pack)

(One of the breathtaking views of Shimla, a town in the foothills of the Himalayas)

Today we quickly prepared for our last garden visit of the trip, to see the Viceregal Lodge and Botanic Gardens located in Shimla, a charming mountain village in the Himalayas.  It seemed fitting to finish our trip in the snow after beginning our India tour in the humid tropics.  We arrived late the night before from Chandigargh, after a flat tire on the road and a long drive from the Nek Chand rock gardens.

(The Viceregal Lodge, located within the Botanic Garden, is now the home of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study)

The Director and lead horticulturalist at the Viceregal Lodge was excited to show us around the stately former summer residence for the British viceroys.  The estate today houses the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, which awards fifty post-doctoral fellowships in the humanities each year to scholars from around the world.  The Institute is currently seeking advice on how to develop the historic English gardens surrounding the lodge to grow visitation.

(The Himalayas in the distance)

We had the opportunity to consult with the staff at the Institute on how to establish a self-sustaining public garden.  The research fellows and staff were keen to collaborate with our travel group to come up with original ideas for the space.  They have already begun work on an “Eco Walk” around the grounds and are instituting new training regimens for the gardeners.  We were also treated to a tour around historic Shimla and an elaborate luncheon before we had to leave early to catch our train through the Himalayan Mountains back to Chandigargh.

(The train ride out of Shimla has been high on all of our lists. Raakel demonstrates some of our excitement!)

(Our train careening down the side of the mountains, taking us back to Chandigarh)

We were excited to have our own carriage on the train, and enjoyed spectacular views of the mountains the entire way back.   It was truly a lovely end to a once in a lifetime trip.  We have taken in quite a bit of ground in both the U.A.E, Oman, and India, and experienced a dramatic range of gardens and research stations along the way.  Thank you Longwood…

Nek Chand’s Rock Garden

January 18 – Chandigarh
(written by Aubree Pack, photos by Ashby Leavell)

My apologies for blog posts coming through in ‘clunks’. We’ve had extremely limited internet access here in India. And where there is access, it’s been surprisingly expensive. But we’re certainly doing our best to keep you all in the loop!

(The Rock Garden has more than a kilometer of long meandering pathways, full of natural and hand-made wonders)

Arriving in Chandigarh was a crowning achievement! Seriously, we survived TWO back to back overnight trains! We’re rather proud of ourselves. Although the cabin we were in last night was much more comfortable than the night before (watch our video about the night before here), we still had a few problems. Such as squatters in our bunks. But not to worry, our favorite male chaperone, Matt, took care of it! We also arrived at the train station in Chandigarh a bit late. But we were picked up by our good friend Jarnail Singh, whom we all got to know when he was spending time at Longwood Gardens as an international intern.

Jarnail and his friend first took us to a lovely local Indian restaurant. It was excellent! Although some of the group is ready for some good ol’ American cuisine, there are a few of us left that are already sad to not have such amazing Indian dishes at our finger tips when we arrive back in the states.

(A small example of the many sculptures in the Nek Chand Garden)

Then we went to the Rock Garden of Nek Chand. What an amazing place! Nek Chand has an amazing story (see this website to read more about the man himself), but we spent the majority of our time lost in the magic of the Rock Garden he so skillfully created.

In the garden, you’ll find many (MANY) sculptures, all of which are original works of Nek Chand. The majority of the garden is created by waste materials. When we looked closely at the broken pieces used in walls and sculpture, we discovered old plates, toilets, and other recycled ceramic wares. There were also many natural looking forms that he created using concrete and different textures (such as burlap bags). Broken bangles and old broken metal were also elements of his work.

(You see before you one happy gal! I mean, it’s a CAMEL!)

In the garden, there is also an area that is most popular with children (and… Longwood Graduate Fellows). Many of us were able to swing on a huge swing set made completely of recycled materials and concrete. One of us was even lucky enough to score a camel ride ;)

(We were sad to leave Jarnail, but so happy we were able to spend time with him in his home country!!!)

We had only a short time to spend at the gardens of Nek Chand and with Jarnail, but we so enjoyed it! The next time we visit India we will certainly spend more time in this region, as it’s beautifully unique. Then it was off to visit the city of Shimla, in the Himalayan foothills.

(And so begins our ascent into the Himalaya’s!)

The National Botanic Research Institute

January 17 – Lucknow
(written by James Hearsum, photos by Aubree Pack)

(The group in front of the institute with the Director and two department heads)

Video Link: All Aboard!!!! … the Crazy Train. (Before we talk about how awesome the day at The National Botanic Research Institute was, we have to SHOW YOU how awesome it was getting there…)

The National Botanical Research Institute today provided a full schedule of meetings, tours and presentations explaining their research, outreach and facilities.  The day began with a meeting with the Director and Heads of each research department including Biotechnology, Ethnopharmacology, Floriculture, Conservation, Microbiology and much more.  These senior scientists direct a research staff of 100 scientists plus a support staff bringing the total to 500.

(The Cacti House)

The Director expressed a great desire to collaborate internationally by sharing both germplasm and expertise.  The garden has both a history and a current pipeline of new plants, scientific techniques and pure research that it is keen to see enter new markets.  It has had success especially in developing GM cotton, which is now grown on 8.2m of India’s 9.2m Hectares of cotton fields.

(Greeting cards made by staff at NBRI – completely out of natural materials!)

The institute is particularly keen to develop ornamental floriculture products that are appropriate to small-scale farmers with varying levels of education and capital.  It is developing research in tandem with an outreach program to provide a network of agriculturists with basic training, able to train others in turn.

(Irrigation techniques involved planting beds to be lower than the actual surface. The beds are flooded once a day in the summer months and every other day in the winter months.)

(Another view of irrigation, although this shows their Canna germplasm collection.)

The day continued with tours of the garden, including rose gardens, cycad house,  and germplasm collections of Bougainvillea, Cannas and Chrysanthemums.  A new cacti house has been recently landscaped and holds collections for both research and display.  Of great interest to many of us was a fantastic moss collection.  This was housed in its own, ultra-high humidity zone.  None of us envied the horticulturist’s need to weed with tweezers between species of moss, lichen and liverwort!

A presentation of India’s floral diversity highlighted the range and vulnerability of much of India’s flora.  Whilst there are great science institutes working to research both the conservation and application of many of these rare plant species, the task must at times seem overwhelming.

(Some of the Lichen specimens housed in the herbarium)

Following a great lunch provided by the garden (Thanks!) we visited the herbarium and IT departments.  The NBRI houses a national collection developed since the 1950’s extending to 97 000 accessions, including 290 Type collections.  Of particular interest was the Institutes unique database system.  This has been developed in-house over a number of years to provide for the level of comprehensiveness and accessibility not found in other systems used elsewhere.  In use for just over 6 months, this has revolutionised access to important plant data and is available for all via the Institutes website.

The day was exquisitely organised and presented and provided an unparalleled opportunity to see science and conservation in action through a Botanic Garden.

(The Director presents each of us with an array of exciting take away gifts!)

The Taj Mahal and Ram Bagh

January 16 – Agra
(written by Felicia Yu, photos by James Hearsum)

(We make the Taj Mahal look good…)

No trip to India would be complete with a visit to the Taj Mahal. And what would a visit to the Taj Mahal be without the experience of waking up before the crack of dawn for a chance of seeing the sun rise over those famous white minarets?

Video LinkThe Taj!!!

Luckily we were all able to get ourselves up at 5am in order to get there in time. Unluckily, none of us thought to check what time the sun actually rose, so we ended up being more than an hour earlier than necessary. And then there was the small matter of the fog and clouds not lifting until the afternoon…

(The Gardens)

Regardless, we can all now assure anyone that the Taj Mahal is not overrated, sunny weather or no. It deserves its reputation as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, if not the most beautiful.

As you approach, the surrounding red sandstone buildings keep the Taj out of sight until the last possible moment, and then bam! There it is. The Taj Mahal. Majestic even on a misty morning, even with a healthy population of tourists wandering around, backed by nothing except the sky because of its high placement above the banks of the Yamuna River.

(James found an Indian ‘friend’ who took a few photos of him. Here’s one of the ‘gems’!)

Before approaching the mausoleum itself, all visitors must remove their shoes or else wear the bright red shoe covers provided by the tourism office, to protect the white marble plaza and floors of the mausoleum where Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan are entombed.  Up close, the white marble is actually swirling with naturally occurring blues, oranges, pinks, and grays. The borders of every doorway and wall panel are either carved ornately or inlaid with semiprecious stones in varying floral patterns. Symmetry rules in every direction, down to the surrounding buildings.

(Ram Bagh Garden: a view from the top terrace)

Our second visit of the day was to the Ram Bagh, India’s oldest Mughal garden, built by the Emperor Babur in 1528. The garden is among the oldest formally designed landscapes in the world. We spent some time wandering up and down the straight pathways, regretting that the channels which would normally carry a cascade of water down from the top terrace to the lower level of the garden were dry, while the water pump system was being repaired. A couple of the garden’s caretakers were able to show us around and explain some of the history and background of the place. The garden is currently being restored, with new plantings already in place throughout the symmetrically placed lawns.

Lodi Garden and the gardens of the President of India

January 15 – Delhi
(written by Raakel Toppila, photos by Felicia Yu)

(A view of one of the tombs)

This morning we escaped the crowded streets of Delhi to enjoy the peaceful Lodi Gardens nestled in the heart of the city. Meandering paths lead us through the garden as Delhiites whisked by during their morning exercise routine.

(Another Tomb)

Two impressive tombs and other architectural marvels dating to the Sayyid and Lodi Dynasties of the 15th and 16th Century are found throughout the garden. The earliest tomb dating to 1444 is that of Mohammed Shah, the last Sayyid Dynasty ruler. A second tomb houses Sikander Lodi, the Sultan of Delhi from 1489 to 1517.

(We gained an extra group member the entire time we were at Lodi Gardens. We couldn’t shake him! Meet ‘Big Red’)

(Some plantings at Lodi.)

We shared a chance encounter with horticulture staff who were preparing for the day. The gardeners informed us that ninety staff maintain the 90 acre garden. Carefully planted display beds featuring primarily foliage plants are located throughout the garden. Towering trees undoubtedly make this garden a popular destination during hotter weather.

(Interacting with the gardeners of Lodi. We gave them a deck of Longwood playing cards; even though we didn’t speak the same language, we understood their Ooo-s and Ahh-s!!!)

We departed from Lodi Garden’s bound for the President’s residence, unsure if we would be able to pass through the high security gates. A few detours, a couple phone calls, and some smooth talking, we were in! Shri. Nigam Semwal, Special Officer on Duty (Horticulture) greeted us beyond the gates and toured us through the President of India’s Mughal Garden.

(Photos of the President’s Palace and Gardens were strictly prohibited. Don’t ask us how we got this one… ;))

The garden was designed by Edwin Lutyen, prominent 20th Century British Architect credited with designing much of New Delhi.  It is modelled after gardens created during the Mughal reign, which occupied a large part of the subcontinent from 1526 to 1858. The symmetrical walled garden is pierced by channels of flowing water. Three large terraced garden rooms descend from the President’s House: the main garden, the terrace garden and the circular sunken garden. Beyond the Mughal Garden, we visited the Spiritual Garden, which highlights plants of religious importance.  Next, we toured the Musical Garden, featuring a large fountain with water that dances to traditional Indian music.  Finally we viewed the Herbal Garden, which includes plants of medicinal importance.

Our group felt honored to have such an exclusive tour of the Presidential garden which is normally open to the public for only the month of February.

New Delhi ‘Rest’ Day

January 14 – New Delhi
(written by Ashby Leavell, video by Raakel Toppila, photos by Aubree Pack)

(A common view from our travel van…)

(We’re still on the fence as to whether they are crazy-efficient here, or just plain crazy…)

Our crew was ready for the break day in New Delhi to relax, explore, and… go shopping.  A group left midmorning to look through the government emporium shops nearby, featuring shops from each region of India.  Vendors hawked colorful silk scarves and metal trinkets galore.  We tried our hand at bargaining, wandered in and out of most of the shops, and left happy.

(Matt discovers that he is ‘wanted’ in India…)

Our food expert, Longwood gardener Pandora Young, guided us to Old Delhi for lunch.  Bustling does not begin to describe the street we navigated on the way there.  Keep in mind that roughly 20 million people are estimated to live in Delhi.  The blare of car horns and shopkeepers shouting filled the air and mingled with the aromas of street food along the way.

Video Link: A street walking experience in Delhi

(Part of the group waits for a gap in the traffic so they can cross the road)

(He is making jalebis, a treat that some of the group have been able to try while eating at local restaurants)

After lunch we visited the massive Red Fort, a Mughal construction from the 17th century.  Its red sandstone walls are surrounded by a deep moat and extend for 2km in the old section of the city.  We stopped at the iconic India Gate for photographs before heading back for the evening.

(The Red Fort – a stunningly large complex!)

(India Gate – it’s a lot bigger than it looks! A picture simply can’t capture its grandeur…)

(at least SOMEONE was resting today… :D)