Mandai Orchid Garden: 'Save the orchids, save our heritage'

Mandai Orchid Garden hopes the authorities will let it stay on, as its land lease is running out soon
Melissa Pang Straits Times 18 Jul 10;

These orchids at the Mandai Orchid Garden may soon have no home when the garden's lease runs out in under six months, to make way for a potential nature attraction. Word on whether a lease extension will be granted is expected soon. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

With less than six months to go before its land lease expires, Mandai Orchid Garden is stepping up efforts to convince the authorities to let it stay on.

It is using the current week-long Singapore Garden Festival at the Suntec convention centre to draw attention to its plight, by giving out red ribbons adorned with fresh orchids printed with the message 'Save Heritage Orchids'.

'We just want to retain the part of the garden where the orchids are. The Nature Photographic Society has also asked for the water garden to be retained because the place is great for nature photography,' said the garden's curator, Mr Hedrick Kwan, 33.

He is part of a three-man Save Heritage Garden movement fighting to keep the garden alive. The others are the garden's part-time consultant Alice Mendoza and artist-in-residence Mark Kaufmann.

The Mandai Orchid Garden now sits on a 4ha piece of land that is part of a 30ha footprint identified by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) for a potential gated nature attraction.

The garden has occupied the land in Mandai for 59 years now. Besides the orchid garden, which has 50 orchid varieties dating back more than 20 years, there is also a water garden.

It is now mainly a tourist destination that sees up to 500 tourists a month. Some of the orchids are named after famous people such as Singapore's first chief minister David Marshall.

Mr Kwan said he is asking the tourism body to allow it to extend its land lease, albeit on a smaller plot in Mandai.

At the garden festival, where the Mandai Orchid Garden has a historical retrospective, e-mail contacts are also being collected to build up a mailing list to keep interested members of the public updated on the latest developments.

Mr Kwan said he has exchanged many phone calls with the STB so far, and has had one meeting to exchange ideas on possible uses of the garden.

Ultimately, he hopes to turn the orchid garden into a living museum. 'It will be a depository for vintage orchids. The family members of orchid breeders who have passed on can leave the orchids at the garden, where they will be taken care of,' he added.

STB's director of attractions, Ms Jeannie Lim, said the board is in touch with both Mandai Orchid Garden and the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) on the lease extension. 'STB understands that SLA will convey its decision soon,' she said.

Mr Tan Jiew Hoe, president of the Singapore Gardening Society, said he hopes to see the garden stay, but also highlighted that a place of that size needed more monetary and manpower support to maintain.

Should the mission to save the orchid garden fail, the next best scenario would be for a private grower to offer to purchase the collection, said Mr Kwan.

Otherwise, said Mr Kwan matter-of-factly: 'A part of history could be gone.'