From this year, Gardens by the Bay will focus on strengthening its role as a People’s Garden by rolling out new initiatives catering to disabled and special needs individuals. This is part of its commitment to be an inclusive garden, incorporating the feedback from various social service agencies on how it can better support the recreational needs of underreached segments of beneficiaries under its Gift of Gardens community outreach initiative.
The initiatives are designed to make the Gardens’ experience more accessible to those who face physical challenges or are cognitively different, such as people with dementia or autism. The efforts will be divided into two categories – “hardware” (such as changes in infrastructure, landscape and operations) and “heartware” (such as fostering an inclusive mindset among staff and volunteers).
The details were announced at the Community Reunion Dinner (团园) held today. This is the first reunion dinner of its kind at Gardens by the Bay where more than 400 beneficiaries from varied backgrounds – children and youth, senior citizens, disadvantaged families, special needs individuals, ex-offenders and migrant workers – came together for a diverse Chinese New Year feast and lo hei.
Organised under Gift of Gardens, the reunion dinner was graced by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, President of the Republic of Singapore and Ms Jane Ittogi. This is the first Gift of Gardens event that President attended as its new Patron.
Gift of Gardens was started in 2012, the same year Gardens by the Bay opened to public, as part of its objective to be a People’s Garden that reaches out to all in the community. Under Gift of Gardens, Singapore residents who may not have the resources to visit or are individuals with disabilities, receive free access to the cooled conservatories. Their visits may also be complemented by guided tours, engagement activities or community events. To date, Gift of Gardens has reached out to more than 200,000 beneficiaries.
Gardens by the Bay Assistant CEO May Yeo said, “As a People’s Garden, Gardens by the Bay constantly seeks to widen our offerings and deepen the engagements especially for the underserved. Over the years, our strengthened interactions with beneficiaries and social service agencies have helped us better appreciate where and how we can do more, so that more people can experience the Gardens in greater ways. Gardens by the Bay is committed to being an inclusive garden for all. Among some of the new initiatives under Gift of Gardens, we will extend our reach to individuals who may face challenges visiting us, such as those with physical disabilities or are cognitively different, and even providing employment opportunities for those who need a place to start.”
More facilities to foster inclusivity
An inclusive mindset for staff and volunteers
Beyond new facilities to strengthen inclusivity, Gardens by the Bay is also working on fostering an inclusive mindset within the organisation.
For example, under the MOU with AIC, Gardens by the Bay will continue with joint efforts in building the capability of its volunteers and frontline staff through training in dementia awareness, activity facilitation and communication skills to better engage with persons living with dementia and frailer seniors.
Gardens by the Bay is also an inclusive employer. In an inaugural collaboration with Autism Resource Centre, the Gardens hired its first batch of special needs individuals as horticultural assistants this month, after a period of training. As part of the horticultural team, they will be working with horticulturists and volunteers in the care and maintenance of Active Garden.
A Community Batik mural symbolising a Gardens for all
A highlight of the Community Reunion Dinner was President Tharman and Mrs Tharman, together with beneficiaries from Fei Yue Community Services, Singapore Association for the Visually Handicapped, The Helping Hand and The Salvation Army, putting the finishing touches on the last piece of a five-piece Community Batik.
Special needs artist Nicole Koo from non-profit ART:DIS was commissioned to design the 1.5 m-tall and 4.2 m-wide mural. The Community Batik was split up so that more than 80 individuals from the four social service agencies could work separately to add colour to Nicole’s design, and today was the first time everyone got to see all five pieces put together.
Nicole was also present this evening to assist in completing the last piece of the mural. The completed mural will be displayed at Active Garden for all visitors to enjoy.
Come July 12, visitors to Gardens by the Bay’s Flower Dome will get to experience a first-of-its-kind exhibition that seamlessly combines multi-sensory immersion and the beauty of nature with Impressions of Monet (印象莫奈).
Centred on the art, life and gardens of the master of Impressionism, the French painter Claude Monet (1840 – 1926), visitors to Flower Dome can experience two distinct but complementary aspects of the exhibition in one location:
Impressions of Monet is jointly presented by Gardens by the Bay and NEON.
Gardens by the Bay CEO Felix Loh said, “Nature is therapeutic, beautiful and a constant theme in the life and works of Claude Monet. Gardens by the Bay’s horticulturists were inspired by Monet’s passion for gardening, which is reflected in some of his most iconic paintings, to recreate scenes from his spectacular garden through a tapestry of horticulture and floral artistry. By partnering with NEON, we hope to marry art, nature, and technology to present to our visitors an experience like no other before.”
Executive Chairman & Group CEO of NEON, Ron Tan said, “Lauded as one of the most influential Impressionist painters of the late 19th century, Claude Monet’s dedication to exploring the nuances of light and colour has left an indelible mark in the world of art. NEON is thrilled to embark on this journey of artistic exploration with Gardens by the Bay, to bring to life his remarkable talent in capturing the immediate and transient effects of light and colour, in an immersive showcase that promises to enchant visitors young and old.”
Impressions of Monet: The Garden
Flower Dome’s centre field is transformed several times a year according to the different theme of each changing floral display. For Impressions of Monet: The Garden, the centre field presents landscapes that reflect scenes of Monet’s garden in his home in Giverny, France, which he lived in for 43 years, and where his artistic flair and deep love for gardening came together.
Monet’s iconic pink house and its garden, which still stand today, is the second most visited tourist attraction in the region of Normandy, France. Not only is Monet’s house recreated, but Gardens by the Bay’s horticulturists also recreate scenes from the house’s adjoining garden, which was called Clos Normand, and the land at the bottom of Clos Normand which Monet acquired later and was called the Water Garden. The landscapes of Clos Normand and the Water Garden served as inspirations for Monet’s paintings in his later years.
Through the colour, form, and vibrancy of a carefully curated plant palette, horticulturists bring to life scenes from Clos Normand and the Water Garden. Plants similar to those in Monet’s original gardens, such as hydrangeas, weeping willows, digitalis, daisies, delphiniums and geraniums are featured.
In homage to Monet’s Water Garden, the unusual green Japanese bridge that he was so proud of and is associated with him is recreated, and water lilies are featured in Gardens by the Bay’s floral display for the first time – after all, these are the eponymous subject of one of his most renowned works, the Water Lilies series.
Impressions of Monet: The Experience
Impressions of Monet: The Experience, a multi-sensory experience celebrating the works and life of Claude Monet and his fellow Impressionists, begins as visitors cross over from Flower Dome’s centre field to enter the front façade of the house of Monet.
Visitors embark on an immersive adventure into French Impressionism, indulge their senses with the sights and sounds of 19th century Europe as seen through the eyes of Monet and the Impressionist painters.
Set to a powerful classical score and showcasing the full breadth of the Impressionist movement, a stunning display of famous, inspirational images surround the visitor as they get lost in the vibrant colours and intricate details of the Impressionists' works.
Breathtaking paintings are projected at an enormous scale, illuminating the bold brushstrokes of Monet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas and many more. In a rich, dynamic display of light, colour, sound and fragrance, the masterpieces of the Impressionists come to life.
Visitors also have the chance to examine the Impressionists' sources of inspiration via photographs and video displayed alongside their works.
The intention is for visitors to forge their own paths and find their own meaning as they wander through the galleries, exploring hidden nooks, viewing artworks from new angles and discovering unique perspectives. But for many, the greatest pleasure lies in simply standing still, indulging the senses as waves of sights and sounds, intense and beautiful, wash over them.
Impressions of Monet: The Experience is a multi-sensory experience created and produced by Grande Experiences and uses SENSORY4™ immersive technology to bring art to life through an incredible application of light that even the artists themselves could not have envisaged.
In commemoration of the Year of the Wood Dragon, a dragon that reaches the height of two-storeys at 7m tall and stretching 15m across, rises in the centre of Flower Dome amidst more than 1,000 dahlias of 40 varieties. This dragon is the centrepiece of Gardens by the Bay’s Dahlia Dreams floral display, which opens on Friday, January 19.
For the first time, the annual Chinese New Year floral display involved over 30 beneficiaries fromDementia Singapore, made up of persons living with dementia and their caregivers, who came together over the course of a week to create 30 floral arrangements made of preserved hydrangeas, lunarias, and statice in the auspicious colours of red and yellow. These floral arrangements were then incorporated into the body of the dragon centrepiece, forming its “scales”.
Such flower arrangement sessions have therapeutic benefits for individuals with dementia, such as cognitive and sensory stimulation, enhancement of motor skills, and bolstering of self-esteem as well as a sense of purpose. It is also an occasion to make precious memories, which is particularly poignant for those with dementia and their loved ones.
Spanning a variety of Dementia Singapore’s unique services, these participants are clients of namely the Family of Wisdom enrichment programme, the Voices For Hope empowerment programme and the social service agency’s CARA membership programme.
Gardens by the Bay Assistant CEO May Yeo said, “The participation of Dementia Singapore beneficiaries and their caregivers not only added a unique charm to the dragon centrepiece, but we hope we have also provided a beneficial activity to engage them. Chinese New Year is traditionally about family, and it is particularly meaningful how the effort put in by individuals with dementia and family members who are often their caregivers, will in turn contribute to a wonderful experience for visitors and their families to Gardens by the Bay this festive period.”
Dementia Singapore CEO Jason Foo said, “This initiative helps affirm the fact that we all have a role to play in building a more inclusive society. Not only is this a great way to leverage the cognitive benefits of the visual arts for people living with dementia, particularly the natural splendour of floral design, but allowing them to contribute directly to such an important centrepiece is surely as intrinsically rewarding. Ultimately, it should remind those living with the condition that despite dementia, there are many ways to continue living fruitfully. And we hope that fellow members of the public, whom we encourage to be more mindful of dementia and its impact, would subsequently be reminded of their active contribution to the cause.”
Dinnerplate dahlias and other lucky blooms
Gardens by the Bay’s signature dinnerplate dahlias, so-called because some measure up to 25cm in diameter, make a return in the Dahlia Dreams floral display. There will also be dahlias of varied shapes and forms. Varieties of note include:
Complementing the dahlias are other Chinese New Year blooms such as celosias, asters, chrysanthemums, cymbidiums, guzmanias, oncidiums, marigolds, pussy willows, hydrangeas, lilies, and camellias.
Eight auspicious dragons in Flower Dome
This year, visitors can look forward to seeing eight dragons in Flower Dome. Flanking the dragon centrepiece are four colourful dragon lantern sets, each symbolising the elements of metal, water, fire and earth, which are deeply rooted in Chinese culture. There is also a pair of dragons captured in mid-dance, embodying the traditional dragon dance performed during Chinese New Year and is believed to bring good luck to people.
Rounding off the dragons is The Bearer of Infinite Blessings, a 6m-tall dragon sculpture specially created by British sculptor James Doran-Webb for the Dahlia Dreams floral display, which welcomes visitors when they enter Flower Dome.
Breathing out smoke and set amidst a water feature, the sculpture is constructed from approximately 2,000 pieces of wood repurposed from dead trees as well as recycled stainless steel and took 9,000 hours to put together. The Bearer of Infinite Blessings symbolises prosperity and renewal this Chinese New Year. After Dahlia Dreams, the sculpture will travel to the United Kingdom to be showcased at the prestigious RHS Chelsea Flower Show by The Royal Horticultural Society in May.
To usher in positivity for all visitors, the floral display also features a scene that interprets the Chinese saying 鱼跃龙门, which translates into “carps leap over the dragon gate”, a metaphor for courage and the pursuit of greatness amidst challenges.
To add to the Chinese New Year festivities at Gardens by the Bay, visitors can look forward to River Hongbao 2024 in the outdoors, which will be returning from February 8 to February 17 for its fourth edition at the Gardens. Highlights include a 140m-long dragon lantern stretched across two Supertrees and suspended 5m above ground at the Supertree Grove, and an 18m-tall God of Fortune.
From April this year, Gardens by the Bay volunteers who have undergone training in geragogy to better engage with senior visitors, will get to apply their newfound skills in workshops they will be running under the Intergenerational Learning Programme with Council for Third Age (C3A). This is a cross-generational collaboration where the volunteers will conduct courses for seniors, such as terrarium making, together with youth volunteers.
This is just one initiative that is part of Gardens by the Bay’s efforts to add to the breadth of experiences available to its volunteers – not all of whom work with plants. In fact, its volunteers are active in various areas beyond horticulture, for example in interfacing with visitors in customer service roles, an opportunity for volunteers that started two years ago. This is part of Gardens by the Bay’s aim to cultivate a broader definition of community stewardship of a national garden, so that it involves a diverse cross-section of the community to help run one of the foremost gardens in the world.
The new initiatives were announced by Minister for National Development and Minister-in-charge of Social Services Integration Desmond Lee at Gardens by the Bay’s Volunteers Appreciation Night held today.
Gardens by the Bay CEO Felix Loh said, “As a national garden, we hope individuals from all segments of our communities will be attracted to volunteer with us. We hope to grow our volunteer base beyond traditional plant lovers to include other passionate members of our community, to serve in different domain areas like education, outreach, and even customer service. Our volunteers not only bring along their wealth of experience and skills with them, but also fresh ideas and enthusiasm to co-create an international icon which we can be proud of.”
Gardens by the Bay currently has over 1,000 volunteers, of which about 500 are regulars who volunteer at least once every quarter. Over the next three years, the Gardens aims to double the number of regular volunteers to 1,000.
New initiatives for volunteers in 2024
The new initiatives that Gardens by the Bay will be rolling out this year to engage volunteers come under a partnership with C3A and cover three broad areas.
From seniors, plans are also underway to bring on board more young people as volunteers too, to further diversify the volunteer pool at Gardens by the Bay.
Different backgrounds, different skillsets
Volunteers Appreciation Night was a celebration of the contributions of the many volunteers at Gardens by the Bay, who have been involved in various aspects of the Gardens through the years, in areas such as horticulture, education, community outreach and customer service. When volunteers come from a cross-section of backgrounds, they bring with them different experiences that add value to how they can contribute.
Take Hossine Md Mukul for example. Mukul is a migrant worker from Bangladesh who has been in Singapore for the last 14 years and works as a commercial painter. Last year, he started to volunteer to lead tours for migrant workers to Flower Dome and Cloud Forest, making the experience special for them since he can explain the finer points in Bengali. It all began in 2021, when Mukul attended a tour of the cooled conservatories as part of Gardens by the Bay’s efforts to integrate the migrant worker community in collaboration with The Salvation Army. He found the experience so meaningful that he wanted to pay it forward.
Poon Siew Luan, a child psychologist before she retired, has volunteered at Gardens by the Bay since 2016. She often tells other volunteers to introduce colours when facilitating activities that require them to engage with young children, as this is important for improving memory and supporting emotional regulation. Such knowledge stems from her 25 years of experience working with special needs children and those with learning difficulties, and is one way she translates a lifetime of professional skills into her current volunteer work.