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.

Zhangxin Zheng | March 23, 01:26 pm


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.

Photo by Michiko Thien.

The bougainvillea grows well in warm weather and under steady sunlight.

The hotter the weather, the more aggressively these flowers bloom.

Photo by ‎Tan Vyvyana.

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.

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:

Photo by @citylex.
Photo from @songsengwun
Photo from @st3v3n_lim.
Photo from @horehare71.
Photo @twinoaksfarm.
Photo by Wendy Choo via NParks.
Photo by Wilson Ang via NParks.
Photo by @pascal_pics.
Photo by @reginavescobar.
Photo by Jane Teo.

Related stories:

LKY wanted land-scarce S’pore’s flyovers to have a gap in the middle, here’s why

Heng Swee Keat: From handling LKY’s red box to S’pore Prime Minister-in-waiting

S’pore must be a ‘poisonous shrimp’ to survive in a world of ‘big fish’, LKY said in 1966

Top photo collage from Remembering Lee Kuan Yew and Jane Teo

About Zhangxin Zheng

Zhangxin’s favourite pastime is singing Mulan’s soundtrack in the mangrove forests. She hopes to perfect the art of napping in a hammock in the mangroves without being drowned by rising sea levels.

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