Mandai Orchid Gardens
Mandai Orchid Gardens (MOG) was a commercial entity located at Mandai Lake Road. It was owned by Singapore Orchids Private Limited (SOPL), a worldwide exporter of cut flowers and live plants.1 Initially meant for growing and cultivating orchids, MOG was later transformed into a business entity and tourist attraction known for its beautiful orchids and tropical landscape.2 In 2011, the garden ceased operations upon the expiry of its lease, and the land was slated for development into a new tourist attraction.3
MOG was established in 1951 by John Laycock, a lawyer and founder member of the Malayan Orchid Society, now known as the Orchid Society of South East Asia (OSSEA).4 Laycock imported and collected many species of orchids from neighbouring countries; and in one instance, he travelled to Sumatra, Indonesia, on a trail for rare orchids.5 Many of the orchids he collected were subsequently used to breed hybrids in the Botanic Gardens, Singapore.6 In 1941, together with Richard Eric Holttum , the director of the Botanic Gardens, Laycock produced a hybrid orchid named Arachnis Maggie Oei (also known as the spider orchid), which later became a favourite at MOG.7
In 1950, Laycock and Lee Kim Hong, a merchant who collected orchids, purchased five acres of land on Mandai Road to grow Laycock’s expanding orchid collection, which led to the founding of MOG in 1951.8 In the beginning, the orchids took up only a small amount of land at the garden as Laycock did not have enough orchid plants to fill the entire area. He tried to plant pineapples at the garden too, but those did not take off.9
Laycock, together with Holttum, earned a reputation for growing hybrid orchids during the 1950s.10 They were credited for making Malayan orchids famous, which led to a rising demand for local hybrid orchids from other countries.11 With the help of his adopted daughter, Amy, Laycock made early attempts to cultivate and export orchids in the 1950s.12 In 1954, he sent 300 orchids, which he had grown in MOG to Colombo, Sri Lanka, as a gift to the queen.13
Management under the Edes
The MOG was under Laycock’s care until his death in 1960.14 The garden was then managed by SOPL.15 The company had four partners: Amy (who became known as Amy Ede after her marriage), her husband John Ede, the aforementioned Lee, and Rosalind Lee.16
With the advent of air travel and the development of the orchid export business in Australia and Hawaii, the four partners entered the business of exporting orchids to London, New York, Australia and Europe by 1960. To test their method of packaging, they sent two packs of orchids around the world by air, which eventually arrived back in Singapore perfectly intact.17
Since then, the MOG focussed on the cultivation of orchids for sale.18 In particular, the hybrid produced by Laycock, Arachnis Maggie Oei, was well-received and made up 40 percent of the garden’s exports, which totalled some 200,000 stalks in 1965. With the growing demand for orchids, the partners sought to expand the garden by obtaining more land.19
In 1968, SOPL began to export ornamental and foliage plants in addition to orchids. By then, the MOG had expanded to 10 acres. The additional five acres of land was leased from the government to grow flowers for export.20
Meanwhile, SOPL had continued to produce hybrid orchids. Due to successful hybridisation, many new hybrids were registered under the company.21 For instance, it registered a rare, tri-generic orchid hybrid named after Lee in 1966. At that time, it was the third tri-generic orchid hybrid produced in Singapore.22 Over the years, the company also won many awards for its hybrid orchids, some of which were named after Laycock and Singapore. From 1960 to 1972, 15 of its plants won awards presented by the OSSEA.23
Besides commercial cultivation and hybridisation, the MOG also kept older and rare species of orchids. The older species displayed in the garden included Vanda Emma van Deventer, and Dendrobium Gatton Sunray – a large, rare-to-bloom variety that flowered at the garden in 1986.24 Thereafter in 1996, about 500 tiger orchids and 4,000 black scorpion orchids (which are rarer than the former), bloomed at the garden at the same time.25
In 1961, the MOG was approved as a tourist attraction by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).26 Around 1966, the Edes built the Water Garden by converting some swampy land at the foot of a hill that was too waterlogged to be used for cultivation. To construct the Water Garden, the Edes filled the valley with soil and incorporated an existing stream. They then planted numerous ornamental plants around the Water Garden, forming a beautiful tropical landscape.27
The MOG was favoured by visitors; a survey of tourists conducted in 1978 had listed the garden as a popular attraction.28 In 1986, it was one of three gardens in Singapore featured in The House & Garden Book of Beautiful Gardens Round the World, which was said to be a leading authority in horticulture. The book mentioned the Water Garden and orchid-filled hillsides as visitors’ favourites.29
By 1989, John Ede estimated that the garden received about 500 visitors a day.30 Based on a survey conducted by the STB in 1999, the garden saw a five percent increase in visitorship for the first six months of 1999 compared to the same period the previous year, which the garden’s management attributed to its low entrance fee of S$1.50, its serene and natural environment, and presence of migratory birds.31
John Ede, as the managing director of SOPL, was awarded the Public Service Star in 1989 by then-President Wee Kim Wee to honour his contributions to Singapore’s orchid industry.32
Sale of the garden
After John Ede’s death on 23 January 2003, Amy Ede sold the garden and business as she was no longer able to handle its management. She died on 8 November 2007, having had at least three hybrid orchids named after her – Aerides Amy, Vanda Amy, and Dendrobium Amy Ede.33
Management under Heah Hock Heng
By June 2003, management of MOG was taken over by Heah Hock Heng. At the time, the garden had about 250 visitors daily. Under Heah, the garden was renovated to include more facilities and activities, such as an arts and craft centre, a café, and guided tours which showed visitors how orchids are hybridised.34 In 2004, an Italian restaurant named Vanilla Pod opened at the centre of the garden, which provided diners with a view of the garden and its orchids.35
To diversify business, the garden collaborated with cooking school, Gourmet Haven, to feature orchids as edible ingredients in three dishes during the Singapore Food Festival in 2005.36 In addition, members of the public could name orchids produced at the garden for a minimum sum of S$5,000, which included official registration of the orchid with the Royal Horticultural Society.37
In 2010, the government announced that a site in Mandai had been identified for the construction of a nature-themed tourist attraction.38 Faced with the possibility of closure, attempts were made by the staff to save the garden, including putting up a display at the Singapore Orchid Show that year to highlight its dire situation and historical significance, as well as meeting officials from the STB to discuss alternatives.39
In November 2010, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) offered the garden a one-year extension. Heah rejected the offer, citing the increase in rental from S$2,000 to S$20,000 as reason.40 SLA explained that the increase was due to a larger plot of land, the additional uses that SOPL wanted to include for the land, and the fact that the company had been earning rental from subletting land without approval to an education centre, research company and fish farm.41
With closure imminent, the company announced that the garden would move to a new site in Kranji, which would not be able to house all the plants from the Mandai site. Consequently, it sold more than 1,000 plants to the Shangri-La Group, and 600 to the National Parks Board. On 1 January 2011, MOG closed down upon the expiration of its lease.42
Lee Siew Yeen
1. J. Elliot, “The Mandai Orchid Gardens – History Made Alive,” Malayan Orchid Review 27 (1993), 30 (Call no. RSING 584.15 MOR); “Advertisement: Singapore Orchids Pte. Ltd.,” Malayan Orchid Review 28 (1994), 17. (Call no. RSING 584.15 MOR)
2. John Anthony Moore Ede, oral history interview by Lily Tan, 30 November 1983, transcript and MP3 audio, 27:45, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 000322), 96–97.
3. Jamie Ee Wen Wen, “Mandai Orchid Garden to Move to Kranji,” Straits Times, 1 January 2011, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Elliot, “History Made Alive,” 30; “Our History,” Orchid Society of South East Asia, accessed 18 October 2016.
5. R. E. Holttum, “Orchids, Gingers and Bamboo: Pioneer Work at the Singapore Botanic Gardens and Its Significance for Botany and Horticulture,” Gardens’ Bulletin, Singapore, 17, no. 2 (5 December 1959), 192 (Microfilm NL6576); Ede, oral history interview, 30 November 1983, 96–97 – 8; “A Failure in Orchid Collecting,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 18 August 1930, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Orchid Hybrids in Malaya,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 22 April 1940, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “Orchid Hybridisation Programme,” Singapore Botanic Gardens, accessed 16 October 2016; “Mandai Orchid Gardens,” National Heritage Board, accessed 24 Orchid 2015.
8. “Raid on Orchid Garden,” Straits Times, 12 October 1956, 4 (From NewspaperSG); Elliot, “History Made Alive,” 30; William Warren, Singapore: City of Gardens (Hong Kong: Periplus Edition, 2000), 142. (Call no. RSING q915.957 WAR-[TRA])
9. Ede, oral history interview, 30 November 1983, 95–96.
10. “Orchids for the New Commons,” Straits Times, 21 October 1950, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “Cup for Colony’s Best Orchid,” Straits Times, 3 February 1952, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Frankie Chee, “Woman Who Put S’pore on Orchid World Map Dies,” Straits Times, 10 November 2007, 61. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Singapore Sends Its Loyal Greetings,” Straits Times, 6 April 1954, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “Laycock – the Poor Man’s Champion Dies,” Straits Times, 4 December 1960, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
15. National Heritage Board, “The Mandai Orchid Garden”; J. Elliot, “Fifty Years of Hybridising in an Independent Singapore,” Malayan Orchid Review 49 (2015), 26. (Call no. RSING 584.15 MOR)
16. Chee, “Woman Who Put S’pore on Orchid World Map Dies”; “Orchids Go Around the World and Return to Singapore in Perfect Display Condition,” Singapore Free Press, 2 May 1960, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “Orchids Go Around the World.”
18. Ede, oral history interview, 30 November 1983, 96 – 8.
19. Judith Yong, “The Spider Which Spins S’pore a Web of Gold,” Straits Times, 5 December 1965, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “Good News for Garden Enthusiasts,” New Nation, 15 April 1972, 10 (From NewspaperSG); Ede, oral history interview, 30 November 1983, 96.
21. Elliot, “History Made Alive,” 30.
22. “Rare S’pore Orchid Registered in London,” Straits Times, 9 July 1966, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Elliot, “History Made Alive,” 34.
24. Elliot, “History Made Alive,” 30; Nancy Koh, “A Giant Shows Its Colours,” Straits Times, 3 March 1986, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
25. Joshua Lye and Khor Su Min, “Seen This Orchid Before?” New Paper, 2 August 1996, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Elliot, “History Made Alive,” 30.
27. Warren, City of Gardens, 145; Ede, oral history interview, 30 November 1983, 96.
28. “Mt Faber Top Spot for Most Tourists: Survey,” Straits Times, 1 September 1980, 26. (From NewspaperSG)
29. “World Ranking for Three S’pore Gardens,” Straits Times, 11 February 1986, 32. (From NewspaperSG)
30. “Orchid Grower Reaps a Star,” Straits Times, 9 August 1989, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Krist Boo, “More Visiting S’pore’s Gardens This Year,” Straits Times, 27 November 1999, 68. (From NewspaperSG)
32. “Orchid Grower Reaps a Star”; Investiture of the 1989 National Day Awards at the Singapore Conference Hall, 10 November 1989, photograph, Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. 19980007523-0085)
33. “Untitled: John Ede,” Straits Times, 24 January 2003, 13; Chee, “Woman Who Put S’pore on Orchid World Map Dies.”
34. Ginnie Teo, “Orchid Paradise,” Straits Times, 24 June 2003, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
35. “Green Piece in a Pod,” Straits Times, 12 December 2004, 41. (From NewspaperSG)
36. Eveline Gan, “Petal Pleasure,” Today, 16 July 2005, 23. (From NewspaperSG)
37. Shermaine Wong, “Say It with Orchids,” Today, 3 February 2007, 40. (From NewspaperSG)
38. “4th Site in Mandai Identified for Nature-Based Attraction,” Channel NewsAsia, 21 May 2010. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
39. A. Mendoza, “The Mandai Orchid Gardens: The Story Behind a Winning Show Display,” Malayan Orchid Review 44 (2010), 35 (Call no. RSING 584.15 MOR); Ee, “Mandai Orchid Garden to Move to Kranji.”
40. Ee, “Mandai Orchid Garden to Move to Kranji.”
41. “Orchid Garden Owner Illegally Sublet Land,” Straits Times, 5 January 2011, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
42. Ee, “Mandai Orchid Garden to Move to Kranji.”
The information in this article is valid as of 2011 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.