Bougainvillea flowers on overhead bridges are one of Lee Kuan Yew’s most endearing legacies
Today marks the 4th year of Lee Kuan Yew's passing.
While many Singaporeans might be feeling the heat recently, you might have noticed that flowers on the roadsides are blooming exceptionally well.
Blooming bougainvillea flowers
Particularly, the bougainvillea flowers, which are commonly found on overhead bridges.
The bougainvillea grows well in warm weather and under steady sunlight.
The hotter the weather, the more aggressively these flowers bloom.
Part of the Garden City vision
The reason why bougainvillea flowers are so common in Singapore is part of the late Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy.
Lee believed that greenery in the environment helped to improve the people’s spirit, a point he mentioned in a 1995 speech.
“I have always believed that a blighted urban jungle of concrete destroys the human spirit. We need the greenery of nature to lift up our spirits. So in 1967, I launched the Garden City program to green up the whole island and try to make it into a garden.”
As such, bougainvillea flowers were brought in to decorate the Singapore landscape so as to beautify it.
At the early stage of the green transformation in the 60s and 70s, fast-growing creepers and trees were planted.
Then flowering plants and trees such as the Yellow Flame, frangipani and bougainvillea were later added after a worldwide search for the most suitable species to grow in Singapore.
The fruits of their labour were visible by the 80s.
“Once we had greenery over the main parts of the island, we added dashes of colour with free-flowering trees such as the Yellow Flame, and the deep pink frangipani. We planted colourful bougainvillea on our overhead pedestrian bridges creating hanging gardens across our roads. To get variety, I encouraged the Parks and Recreation Department to send men to visit Botanic Gardens in other equatorial and tropical regions of the world to select new species of trees and shrubs which can grow in our climate. The results of this active search became visible in the 1980s, when swaths of colour began to appear along many of our major roads and in our HDB new towns.”
Back in 2015, prime minister Lee Hsien Loong also posted a photo of the bougainvillea in memory of his father.
View this post on Instagram
Snapped this pic of a red and white bougainvillea in full bloom at home, the Saturday before my father died. He was passionate about making Singapore a garden city. He felt that the greenery and nature would lift our people’s spirits, and took a personal interest in what was planted around our little island. One of his legacies that we will build upon. – LHL #cityinagarden #SGBlooms (Photo by me)
Deputy prime minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam also shared that bougainvillea flowers remind him of Lee.
“He was, as NParks always said, our chief gardener. He would send a large number of proposals to them, some unworkable but most workable. Whenever I see the red bougainvillea on the overhead bridge, my heart moves up a tick… That was Lee Kuan Yew.”
The legacy continues
Bougainvillea flowers are no longer just “hanging gardens” along roads, you can even find bougainvillea gardens at East Coast Park, Gardens by the Bay and Terrace Garden of Telok Blangah Hill.
There are more varieties of bougainvillea now in Singapore, thanks to the National Parks Board (NParks).
Besides bougainvillea, NParks has continued Lee’s legacy to make Singapore a beautiful green city with new flowering trees such as the trumpet trees, tropical cherry blossoms.
Here are more photos of recent blooming bougainvillea:
Top photo collage from Remembering Lee Kuan Yew and Jane Teo