This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Growing a green city

marinabaysands-2European cities may have a few large, designated parks and many small green patches squeezed in later between the houses and streets. In Singapore, urban greeneries and jungles are not inserted here and there after the city is planned and built. Instead, since 1967, they have been consciously included in the plan as the city grew. Surprisingly large areas of green have been retained, such as the Botanic Garden and the Gardens by the Bay. Access is free from dawn until late, in some cases until midnight. My local friend spends most of his weekends in the Botanic Gardens with his wife and baby, discovering new things every time.

Because this is Singapore, “conventional” is not a word used in the urban planning office. The Gardens by the Bay include huge mushroom-like structures of steel towering above the treetops, connected with canopy walkways. There are many theme gardens with colorful sculptures, and two huge, air-conditioned glass domes: the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.

The city is littered (or “decorated” if you prefer) with tiny parks, and each park is a carefully constructed piece of art, with surprising sculptures or a decorated walking path. Such attention to detail and imagination only happens when two aspects are met: enough affluence to invest a little extra in every structure being built; and a strategy to consciously incorporate greenness into city planning.

Only this way are there people employed to really rethink the greenness of spaces planned, before they are built.
marinabaysands-1(Gardens by the Bay, Singapore; July 2018)


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In the cloud forest

cloudforest-4If it is too hot to enjoy gardens outside, why not build a hollow mountain with a cool cloud forest on the outside, complete with mist, underneath a huge glass dome?cloudforest-1The Cloud Forest consists of a large, hollow, man-made “rock” planted with flowers, ferns, mosses, and climbers. The entire construction is misted every two hours, and this is the main attraction: visitors time their visit to enjoy the cooling sensation of mist on their skin while strolling the 6 stories of criss-crossing walkways in the skies. Because this is Singapore, one can naturally ride the elevator all the way up. cloudforest-3But the best surprise awaits the one who makes it all the way down and still has eyes for more beauty: the waterfall cascades down into a clear pool lined with the most interesting ferns, mosses, epiphytes, and climbers. Oh if only I had a private garden in a cool, shady area – this and a few trees would be the gorgeous landscape. Who cares if there was no sun, as long as there are ferns, mosses, and no mosquitoes?
cloudforest-2(Marina Bay Sands, Singapore; July 2018)


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Green wisdom

SPbotanicgarden-3On a whim I took the metro to the Botanic Gardens. I had no idea it was famous – until I entered and realized it probably must be. I have visited many botanic gardens in my life but nothing comes close to the one here in Singapore. The garden is easily 2-3 kilometes long and 1 kilometer wide. It contains two lakes, several ponds, a rainforest (large enough for a proper stroll!), a palm tree valley, an orchid garden, a symphony orchestra stage in front of a lawn – and approximately 20 themed gardens.

One of the most interesting gardens is the ethnobotany garden. It is divided into themes: symbolism, spirituality, food, crafts, and so forth: thus how people, especially local ethnicities, use or used plants to their advantage. There are plants used for hunting, for medicine, for building boats and houses, and for crafts.SPbotanicgarden-4It strikes me that still 150 years ago we Europeans too knew all about the properties and uses of our plants and trees: which wood is pliable, which is durable like steel, which plants are medicinal, and how to weave bowls and from what. All this knowledge here on the Malaysian peninsula will be lost soon, too, unless it is specifically conserved. Even here in Singapore I would wager to claim it is already lost from the collective mind of commoners and preserved only among few with an interest in herbology and healing.
SPbotanicgarden-2(Singapore; July 2018)


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Dear old wisteria

genoa-9Dear old wisteria, how old are you? How were you brought to the rooftop of the palazzo Doria Tursi on via Garibaldi? Were you a sight to be seen, covered in periwinkle flowers?  Were you the centerpiece of a pre-dinner cocktail gathering? How many kisses stolen and promises of love fervently whispered have you hidden underneath your branches?

Wikipedia tells me that your kind was not brought from far Asia until the early 1800s, which means you are probably not more than two hundred years old. Do you agree? And by the way, did you know that the house you grow on is three hundred years older yet?

(Genoa, Italy; July 2018)


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An English garden in Italy

italygardens-2When one is 35 years old and wishes to establish oneself, one can either join the entertaining society or one can entertain oneself by building a fine garden from scratch. In this garden it is not enough for the visitor to love flowers to see them; here one must climb down a height difference of 100 meters to see the end of the garden by the ocean – and another 100 m up again to exit by the gate. When deciding to establish themselves, Sir Thomas Hanbury and his brother Daniel did not choose a garden site with step-free access.italygardens-1 To compensate for the viewer’s labors, in the late 19th century the La Mortola garden was one of the most famous gardens in the world: nearly 6,000 different plants; many exotic and brought home from Asia by Sir Thomas himself.

The garden has been destroyed and reborn several times due to war and bad management. Today it is owned by the University of Genoa and is in better shape than it has been for decades. While it is lovely, and age has only made the buildings and structure more charming, I could not help but think that it lacks the more orderly feel of an English or German garden (Hanbury’s head gardener was German). Perhaps this slightly topsy-turvy current state befits a garden which after all is on Italian soil.
italygardens-3(La Mortola, Italy; April 2018)


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Easter lilies

daffodilsIn my mind, daffodils are flowers of old houses inhabited by sweet old ladies. In Finland they are mostly bright yellow wild daffodils. But oh, those special moments, when walking past a garden I would spot the smaller, white poet’s daffodil, with a little red crown. I could look at the intricate and symmetric architecture of a poet’s daffodil for a very long time.

In the winter garden in Helsinki, Easter was celebrated with daffodils. Perhaps partly because daffodils are also called Easter lilies in Finnish and Swedish? And what is more joyful than a sea of yellow and orange after a long, cold, dark winter?

(Winter gardens, Helsinki, Finland; April 2018)


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The Spice Isles were not always so

spices-1Zanzibar and its surrounding islands are also known as the Spice Isles. Curiously, this is a wholly imported conception, as there was no real concentration of spices growing here until the Arabs and the Portuguese came and planted spice and fruit varieties they had encountered on their travels around the world. Everything seems to grow on Zanzibar, and so now the farmers grow peppercorn from India, lemongrass from Southeast Asia, avocado from Peru, cloves from Indonesia, and vanilla from South America. In essence, the ecosystem of Zanzibar changed completely with the settlement of the Portuguese. spices-4.jpgAnd yes, cloves come from red flowers on a tree and peppercorn grow on a vine. Cardamom comes from overground root-like pods produced after flowering, and pineapple takes 6 months to mature (and one can only harvest one fruit per plant per year). All of these, as well as cinnamon, turmeric, and other spices are now an integral part of the Swahili diet and kitchen. I would love to know what food tasted like before the Portuguese came.
spices-2.jpg(Zanzibar, Tanzania; August 2017)