Described by David Attenborough as “visually amazing” in a 2016 BBC Earth documentary, Gardens by the Bay has earned its rightful place as a must-see attraction for tourists visiting Singapore. Yet it is more than just that. Since its official opening in 2012, the Gardens have become an important symbol of Singapore’s efforts to become a City in a Garden, striking the perfect balance between green space and cityscapes.
And behind Gardens by the Bay’s continuing success and over a million flourishing plants? Nothing less than a dedicated team of people with green thumbs and a heart for horticulture. Manager of Gardens Operations and recipient of the Gardens by the Bay Undergraduate Scholarship, Irene Chong, 31, shares her journey.
Growing With The Gardens
Irene’s foray into Gardens by the Bay began with a six-month internship in 2008, when the Gardens were still in the works. She enjoyed working on and designing the landscapes so much that she decided to stay on as a temporary and then permanent staff, instead of first going to university. Seeing her team’s work finally come to fruition with the opening of the Gardens was something she did not want to miss.
Irene Chong Jia Zhen
Manager (Gardens Operations)
Bachelor of Environments
– The University of Melbourne
“It was one of the most exciting horticulture developments in Singapore during that time, and I felt so proud and satisfied when Gardens by the Bay opened in 2012,” says Irene. “And I do still feel it until today. It’s something that is very close to my heart.”
It was only later in 2013 that Irene decided to take up the Gardens by the Bay Undergraduate Scholarship, which gave her the opportunity to study Environments in the University of Melbourne. “It has helped to widen my knowledge about landscaping, introducing biodiversity into the landscape, and how landscape designs affect human behaviour and vice versa. All these elements do value-add to my daily work,” she shares. “Apart from these, it was also an experience to get the chance to interact with international students and gain global exposure.”
These lessons have come in handy for the exciting and dynamic role in Gardens by the Bay which Irene plays today as the Manager of Gardens Operations. She oversees the daily maintenance of Bay East and Bay South Gardens, which include the Kingfisher Lake and Far East Organization Children’s Garden. She is also involved in coordinating, supervising and implementing plant works with contractors on site, and outdoor plant decoration for festive seasons. An eye for detail is crucial to her work too, as she has to visually inspect the trees in the Gardens and provide follow-up treatment if needed.
A Heart For Horticulture
More than a decade since joining the team at Gardens by the Bay, it is still this unwavering passion for plants that keeps Irene going today. “Most of what I do is greatly related to plants. They make me happy, so I am glad that I am making visitors as well as our landscape plants happy.”
Irene adds, “Trees that were planted 10 years ago are now established to provide shade for the visitors and home for many fauna, creating a biodiverse garden that attracts wildlife back into the ecosystem. It is always rewarding to see smiles on visitors’ faces and photography enthusiasts taking pictures of the flora and fauna.”
Her work is far from a leisurely walk in the park, though. There are different challenges to face with every new outdoor landscape project and every event she has to decorate for, but it is precisely this challenging nature of her work that keeps her passion burning. “Working in the Gardens and seeing my plants grow give me a sense of satisfaction. It is a rewarding process, and you will forget how hard you’ve worked when you see the end results. Passion is important, because that is the drive that keeps you going, and beyond.”
Making The Impossible Happen
The support Irene has from her team at Gardens by the Bay – a fun and loving bunch, she explains, where people respect and trust each other – has been instrumental to her work too. “We never fail to always find joy and laughter, encourage one another, and see the goodness of things. And, I must say that I am proud of the culture in my department,” she adds.
Even after all these years, for Irene, there is still always something new to learn in Gardens by the Bay. And to prospective scholars looking to join Gardens by the Bay, she advises, “Have an open heart and mind, and take every opportunity or challenge as a learning experience. Gardens by the Bay is where wonders are created. We do things that are deemed impossible by others, but we always push and strive to do our very best.”