'Five trees' take root in Esplanade Park

Samantha Boh, Straits Times AsiaOne 28 Nov 15;

By the time lovers discovered their sheltering embrace and shade, they were already mature trees.

For decades, at least between the 1960s and the 1980s, five Angsana trees stood over young lovebirds as they sat cheek-to-cheek on the grass below them at the Esplanade Park, then better known as Queen Elizabeth Walk.

Sometimes, there were groups of friends chattering or strangers taking a break as they watched merchants going about their business.

The massive trees lent the popular spot the name, gor zhang chiu kar, Hokkien for "under the five trees".

"I used to go there to relax and chat with my friends in the 1970s before we went and ate at Satay Club," said Mr Mah Ah Wah, 67, recalling the open-air food centre nearby then.

"People there were mostly in pairs; we were the light bulbs," said the noodle seller, chuckling as he used an expression for unwanted third parties among dating couples.

But the lovers' lane just along Connaught Drive was hit by a fungal disease outbreak which infected the five trees in the 1990s.

They had to be chopped down by the National Parks Board (NParks), to prevent further spread of the disease which, at its height between 1989 and 1995, killed nearly a tree a day.

But now, gor zhang chiu kar is back, with the agency's first disease-resistant Angsana tree transplantation project there.

After months of careful planning, the NParks transplanted five Angsana trees from a field in Bidadari, where they had been cultivated to replace those removed long ago.

The transplanting process itself took about a month, during which the trees were pruned, uprooted, wrapped and ferried to the Esplanade Park, where they were carefully planted and secured down.

The exercise was completed early this month, as part of the Civic District enhancement project by NParks and the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

The trees stand in the very same spot as before, and NParks has been watering and feeding them nutrients and root hormones to keep them healthy.

Mr Oh Cheow Sheng, director of Streetscape at NParks, said the aim was to keep alive the Civic District's rich heritage and history.

"We hope uncles and aunties who have fond memories of the place will re-visit it with their children if we re-create this piece of history for them," he said.

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