Bougainvillea flowers on overhead bridges are one of Lee Kuan Yew's most endearing legacies

Remembering his legacy on his 100th birth anniversary.

Zhangxin Zheng | September 16, 2023, 05:47 PM

Sep. 16, 2023 marks the 100th birth anniversary of Singapore's founding Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew.

His legacy can be found all around us, but there is one that is exceptionally beautiful: Blooming bougainvillea flowers on overhead bridges.

Blooming bougainvillea flowers

In Singapore, bougainvillea flowers 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 Lee's legacy.

Lee believed that greenery in the environment helps 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 beautify Singapore's landscape.

At the early stage of our 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.

Then-deputy prime minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam also shared that bougainvillea flowers reminded 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 the bougainvillea, NParks has continued Lee's legacy to make Singapore a beautiful green city with new flowering trees such as the trumpet trees and tropical cherry blossoms.

Here are more photos of blooming bougainvilleas:

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:

Top photo collage from Remembering Lee Kuan Yew and Jane Teo