The Japanese Garden at the Istana has been enhanced to provide a better experience for all visitors, including foreign dignitaries and members of the public.
To commemorate the launch, President Halimah Yacob hosted around 20 frontline workers and their families on a tour of the garden on August 26.
The garden will also be a key feature in the picnics and garden tours when Halimah hosts beneficiaries visiting the Istana grounds.
Tree planting by the president
At the launch, Halimah noted a sense of serenity at the garden:
“What strikes me most about the enhancements is how peaceful and close to nature one feels when you are walking around it – from the sound of water flowing through the stream and water fixtures to admiring the new features, such as the dry rock garden and the traditional Japanese lantern.”
“Visitors will truly enjoy the experience this unique garden provides, where tranquillity meets beauty and tradition,” she added.
Halimah planted a tropical conifer known as Dacrydium elatum, which has a a soft elegant form reminiscent of the Japanese garden landscape.
It can grow up to 40m tall, about the height of a 12-storey HDB.
The tree is native to Southeast Asia, and can be found in the moist forests of Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Resistant to bending and breaking, the hardy tree is used to make boats, bridges and fine art making.
The Japanese Garden
First built in 1967, the Japanese Garden is the Istana’s only themed garden.
This is the garden’s first enhancement in 55 years, and the planning and design was done by Junichi Inada, a renowned landscape designer.
While Inada managed to make frequent trips to the garden to place the rocks and plants, arrangements had to turn virtual when the reciprocal green lane arrangement with Japan was suspended in January this year.
“That was a bit of a challenge, we had to use Zoom calls. He couldn’t direct the planting of some of these pine trees, so we got our NParks designers to fill in the gaps,” said Senior Director of National Parks Board (NParks) Ryan Lee.
Planning for the enhancement process started a few years ago, while the landscaping work took about six months to complete.
Before the enhancement, the Japanese Garden used to be much smaller.
Here’s a panorama shot of how the garden used to look:
New water cascade added to the pond
The main reason the enhancement work was carried out is to fix a water logging issue that was affecting the quality of the existing pond.
A water cascade was added to the pond to provide a focal point to unify the pond area and the new dry rock garden.
The water originates from a traditional Japanese basin, and flows through a series of black lava rock formation that helps to filter the water.
“Water purity was the main consideration in planning the redesign,” said Lee.
While the pond used to have a concrete finish, the new enhancement added a lining of black lava rock, a typical aesthetic treatment for Japanese garden ponds.
Dry rock garden overlooking a field
Another main addition is the dry rock garden, featuring nine sculptural rocks and a granite crossing bridge.
The idea of creating a dry rock garden is to borrow the scenery of the abutting lawns, to accentuate the serenity of the Japanese Garden.
“This concept of borrowed scenery is actually a very common practice in Japanese landscape design called the art of shakkei,” said Lee.
“Besides the aesthetics of the dry rock garden, it also performs an important functional role in maintaining the clarity of water in the pond,” he added.
When it rains, the terrain of the surrounding area allows water runoff will be collected here, where the rocks act as sponges to soak up the water.
Beneath the gravel, pipes channel the murky water into a drain, to redirect it away from the pond to other parts of Istana grounds.
In Japanese landscape design, bridges are often used to unite complementary zones.
The granite stone bridge is hand carved from a single piece of granite, placed here to symbolise the connection between the garden and the rest of the Istana grounds.
Traditional Japanese lantern
A tall traditional Japanese lantern stands next to the rock garden, made using traditional Japanese methods.
Made of six pieces of hand crafted granite rocks, the pieces are stacked together without any cement or glue and were assembled in Singapore.
The lantern is also another common ornament in Japanese garden design.
Stand-alone lanterns on pedestals like this are found in temples and shrines, while smaller lanterns are meant for beautifying the landscape in gardens with lakes.
Lee shared that NParks tried to accentuate the Japanese theme by bringing in plants representative of the Japanese culture.
At the same time, NParks used plants that are native to this tropical or sub-tropical region, to “achieve the same look and feel”.
For example, the pine trees that frame the extended garden provides a flowy look.
But instead of planting temperate Japanese trees, tropical pine trees were used.
Next to the pine trees are a few dozen Camilia amplexicaulisx plants, a tea plant native to Vietnam that is reminiscent of a Japanese garden.
Found in the enhanced garden is also the hybrid orchid Vandachostylis Lou Sneary, which was crossed with a samurai orchid.
On August 28, ticket holders to the National Day Istana Open House will be among the first members of public to enjoy the garden both the enhanced Japanese Garden and the new Inclusive Garden which launched earlier this year.
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Top images by Kow Zi Shan.