Orchids in Singapore

David Menzies

David is a member of the RHS Orchid Committee, a retired curator of the Glasgow Botanic Gardens, and has spoken to us on numerous occasions in the past.

The upcoming WOC will be held in Singapore this November, and a dress rehearsal for the judges was held there last summer – of which David was involved. This gave him the opportunity to have a good look around the island to see just what is grown. There is of course a long tradition of orchid growing in Singapore. It is a multicultural hotpot of mainly Chinese, Indonesians and Malays – as well as the British and other Europeans. The country is classed as a benign dictatorship, and things ‘get done’.

The city and surrounding areas are planted with trees, which are essential for shade as Singapore is close to the equator. Humidity is naturally high as there are frequent heavy downpours – perfect for many hot growing orchids. In the city orchids such as Cym. findlaysonianum are planted on trees. They look great for a few years before they become very large and messy.

The Botanic Gardens were built by the British in 1859, and at the entrance is a huge Grammatophyllum speciosum that is about 4 metres across. Within the gardens is a specific orchid area, although they are found around the garden. A chilled house allows some cooler plants to be grown. These include Masdavellias, as well as some Paphs that require cooler nights. Arches are constructed of yellow Oncidiums.

V. Miss Joaquim is common as it is the national flower. This, and other Vandas are grown on 6’ posts where the roots attach to the post. The plants grow rapidly, and flower frequently all year round. Often these are grown as hedges, or within hedges.

The National Orchid Garden is on a nearby hillside, and plants are raised here for display as well as export. They have a bright lab with thousands of flasks. A huge range of species and hybrids are grown in all colours and sizes. Mokaras (Arachnis x Acsocentrum x Vanda) are becoming more prominent having vigour, shape and colour. Many are in a basic clay pot for their first roots. Renantheras are common, although they tend to grow very tall very quickly. It isn’t all vandaceous though, and a range of Cattleyas are produced. Dendrobium phalaenopsis hybrids are planted out as temporary bedding (in pots), and are up to 3-4’ tall. Antelope type Dendrobiums are also produced (by the herd) in great colour and range. Spathoglottis of all colours are also used for bedding. Phals are a rarity as generally it is too hot and bright for them. Any that are around are imported from Taiwan.

The conference centre is very modern, and is built on land reclaimed from the sea. This is adjacent to the huge conference hotel – the Marina Bay Sands Hotel of 3 towers connected at the top with a huge open ‘boat’ complete with trees and swimming pools, as well as a view over the entire island. The show itself was over 2 floors, and was full of displays of enormous sizes and colour. 20’ high was common. Cut flower walls are frequently built, as are curtains of Vanda roots. Many displays are off the cuff, and beyond description in words, and sometimes photography can be difficult due to the artificial lighting.

This was an excellent introduction to the orchids in Singapore as well as an insight into what is likely to be seen at the WOC. If your appetite has been whetted there is still time to arrange your trip…..

A hearty round of applause followed.