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Gardens by the Bay - Cover

An Inside Look At Gardens By The Bay – We Check Out What It Takes To Set Up World Famous Exhibits

Behind the scenes at Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay is a “tropical oasis” according to Forbes, a “garden of wonder” according to the BBC, and “an amazing place that got nice air con and pretty photo spots” according to the average Singaporean. 

We’ve all been there, snapped a gazillion photos, and posted the hashtag #gardenswiththebae on Instagram. But for something largely transparent – literally, the domes are made of glass – most of us have no clue about its inner workings. 

Where do all the flowers come from? What happens to them once an event ends? We contacted Gardens by the Bay to get a peony for their thoughts – hah. They allowed us a behind the scenes peek as they set up an event at the Flower Dome.

Where on earth do all the flowers come from? 

Gardens by the Bay - Poinsettia Wishes 2023
Poinsettia Wishes 2023 – Exotic flowers don’t grow in Singapore, right? So what sorcery is this?
Image credit: Gardens by the Bay

Amidst the organised chaos during set-up, we managed to grab the busy Melissa Tan, Gardens by the Bay’s Deputy Director of Conservatory Operations, to help answer a few of our burning questions. Think of her as the friendly commander in this multifaceted operation.

Gardens by the Bay - Melissa Tan

As you’ve probably guessed, a large fraction of the flowers here are painstakingly brought in from overseas “growers” for each event. But they aren’t just shipped directly – rookie mistake! Shipping whole plants long-distance can result in them breaking en route.

Gardens by the Bay - Chrysanthemum

To grow chrysanthemum varieties from Europe, Japan, and Holland for example, stock materials like roots are brought to nearby locations like Cameron Highlands, where they grow big before being brought over to Singapore by land. 

It can be a tricky affair since they have to arrive at just the right time, so the flowers are in full bloom when the show begins.

Are there any hidden features in the Flower Dome?

Gardens by the Bay - Tulipmania 2023
Flower Dome during
Tulipmania 2023.

The short answer is yes, but they aren’t something out of a spy movie. The Flower Dome is smartly designed with everything you could possibly think of preemptively included into the glass structure. Apart from having heat-reflective glass and sails that can be unfurled to provide better shade for the flowers, the dome also has a hidden road most visitors don’t get to see.

That’s how all the flowers and large props get brought in without obstructing the buzzing visitor traffic outside.

Gardens by the Bay - behind the scenes

Located right by the Flower Dome exit, the road is just large enough for small vehicles like buggies and trolleys to go through. Pots of flowers, large decor, and other bits and bobs come in through this path.

The path is closed most of the time, but you can see the purplish pink wall that obscures it on your way out.

Hearsay you grow some of the plants right here in Singapore?

Gardens by the Bay - Support biome

This is a part of Gardens by the Bay that visitors do not get to see. Down one of the many winding paths is a greenhouse where some of the display flowers are grown locally. It resembles a mini Flower Dome, with giant glass panels and nifty contraptions that blend in seamlessly with the rest of the structure. 

Gardens by the Bay - Carly Anderson

We stepped into a colourful world of plants, with sizes ranging from barely-visible seeds to tall flowering ones that reached our hips. Here, we met Carly Anderson, a Researcher at Gardens by the Bay.

Inside look GBTB - support biome - lights

Within the nicely regulated 20-22°C of the glasshouse, she introduced us to the ceiling lights that help extend “sunlight hours” for the plants to achieve perfect blooms, and the wheels beneath each row of plants for easy maintenance. 

We also had a peek at the back rooms where Carly does desk work, and enjoyed a drink from the water dispenser – classic office stuff. Certainly a pretty place to call a second home. 

Apart from this facility, there are 2 more glasshouses scattered across Gardens by the Bay. For suckers for cool names, these are called Support Biome 1, 2, and 3. 

Gardens by the Bay - buggy

When it’s time for planting, the flowers here are carefully picked up and transported over to the Flower Dome in small quantities. If you see these buggies filled with flowers shuttling around the gardens, you now know what they’re up to.

How difficult is it to plan an exhibition at the Flower Dome?

Travellers far and wide have heard of Gardens by the Bay, so the pressure to live up to the reputation is real. Remember your university FYP project where you get a year to plan something cool? This is something like that but on a much bigger scale. 

Inside look GBTB - mongolia
Image credit: Gardens by the Bay

9 months to a year in advance, the planning begins. There’s the conceptualisation of themes, discussions with foreign embassies, and even recce trips overseas.

Inside look GBTB - mongolia market
Image credit: Gardens by the Bay

For example, the Chrysanthemum Charm floral display earlier this year featured a Mongolian theme, hence the crew flew off to the Land of Nomads to get a realistic feel of the landscape.  The trip included visits to the market to look for authentic decor, which were eventually used to decorate parts of the exhibits like the yurts. Yep, the Gardens by the Bay career site is here if you’re now interested.

Inside look GBTB - mongolian boots

Why do my flowers die so easily while the ones at GBTB thrive?

Inside look GBTB - Poinsettia Wishes - flower
Image credit: Gardens by the Bay

We had access to the experts so of course we couldn’t leave without asking Melissa this essential question. 

Here’s the low-down, coming from a pro. Gardening is not always easy – you have to understand your plant, read up on how to care for it, and treat the symptoms right. Most of the time plants die because we have, in the worlds of Selena Gomez, killed them with kindness – by overwatering.

Inside look GBTB - behind the scenes - planting

If you wish to go down the rabbit hole, there’s also micro environmental factors to take into account like wind factor, direction of sun, and if it’s outdoor versus indoor. 

In short, if you want to grow flowers in Singapore, get good. Or, just buy a fake plant from IKEA if another dead plant baby would shatter your heart.

What happens to all the flowers once the exhibition is over?

Inside look GBTB - The Flower Carpet
The Flower Carpet, which was on display earlier this year. 

Some of the plants are moved to other parts of the garden. Chrysanthemums for example, can take the heat and would be suitable for outdoor garden displays.

Gardens by the Bay - Eco-Wise

Those that are too old or damaged to be reused are transported over to the on-site Eco-Wise facility where they are turned into wood chips, which are then burnt and converted into energy. While the energy generated is used to power Gardens by the Bay and cool the domes, the residual heat produced is used for dehumidification.

TL;DR, dead plants are used to provide better growing environments for existing plants. There’s no need to pull up The Lion King, you can watch the Circle of Life here. 

It’s truly hard not to be impressed by the fact that the 1,010,000sqm garden operates as a cleverly crafted ecosystem, with each jigsaw in the puzzle carefully thought out from the get go. 

Uncovering the secrets of Gardens by the Bay

Inside look GBTB - Poinsettia Wishes
Poinsettia Wishes 2023.
Image credit: Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay has plenty of hidden features we don’t see, and little fun facts that have somehow not come to light. Why? We’re not sure. Maybe it’s just because no one has asked. These aren’t vault-level secrets like Coca-Cola’s recipes.

Gardens by the Bay - Photo spots

One final cool tip the folks from the Gardens shared was that there’s lots more to do within the garden apart from visiting the ever popular domes. Find offbeat photo spots if you take a walk along one of the many paths. There are also life-sized topiary animals and even an arowana aquarium – easy enough to find if you just take a look at the official Gardens by the Bay map

Our beloved GBTB is much like an onion – with layers upon layers to unpack. There’s more to the beautiful attraction than meets the eye and knowing these may give you a deeper level of appreciation that next time you play tourist in Singapore.

The current show Poinsettia Wishes, will be happening till 1st January 2024, and you can get your tickets on Gardens by the Bay’s website

For more secrets unveiled: 

Cover image adapted from:
Photography by Liu Xing Ying.