A very good evening to all of you. It is always good to be here to join you at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. This evening, I am delighted that we can all come together to mark the start of work to rejuvenate our National Orchid Garden.

Orchids are an integral part of Singapore. Their presence is ubiquitous all over our island. We have our orchid garden, we have orchid motifs everywhere, we export orchids, and we sell orchids as flowers and souvenirs.

A lovely hybrid orchid, the Vanda Miss Joaquim, is our national flower � it is vibrant and resilient, which are characteristics that in many ways reflect the Singapore spirit.

The Botanic Gardens' first scientific director Mr Henry Ridley was an orchid expert, and the third director, Professor Eric Holttum, was also an expert in orchid breeding and hybridisation. In fact, it was his work which established the Botanic Gardens as a centre of orchid breeding back in the twenties.

So this place, our National Orchid Garden is our tribute to orchids. It was opened by the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew back in 1995, more than 20 years ago. In fact, when he opened this place, he called it the crowning attraction of the Botanic Gardens.

The National Orchid Garden opened with around 700 orchid species and hybrids. Over the years, we have been progressively improving the collection. Today, the collection stands at about 2,000 orchid hybrids and 1,000 orchid species. It is the largest and most comprehensive tropical orchid display in Asia.

Of course over the last 20 years, we've done many other things to improve and enhance the Gardens. We have added new spaces like the CDL Green Gallery and the Botanic Gardens Heritage Museum. We have also recently expanded the Gardens with the new Learning Forest.

So as we progressively expand and enhance the rest of the Gardens, I think it's time that we also enhance the Orchid Garden itself, and make sure that it continues to remain the Garden's crowning attraction � as Mr Lee called it in 1995. Let me share with you some of the plans to enhance the Gardens.

First, we will improve the Cool House, the Tan Hoon Siang Mist House, and the Yuen Peng McNeice Bromeliad collection enclosure. These are the three key parts of the National Orchid Garden. We will upgrade their infrastructure and introduce new orchids. For example, we will increase the display area at the Cool House by four times. We will also add a more energy-efficient cooling system which will create an optimal environment for the orchids to thrive, and at the same time allow us to save on energy.

Next, we will add new features to the Orchid Garden. Today, the Cool House, the Mist House, and the Bromeliad collection enclosure are separate and distinct from one another. We will now bring them together with a new ravine which will take visitors through the different orchid habitats and connect the three different features.

Together, the integrated area will form an orchid showcase that is three times the size of the current collection. All in all, the enhancement works will allow us to strengthen the National Orchid Garden's capabilities in orchid breeding, conservation, and research. And we will make it truly the crown jewel of the Botanic Gardens.

So we have much to look forward to with the revamped Orchid Garden. It will take time for this to be ready, they estimate that the project will take about two years. But we will do it in phases so that the works will be staggered, and that at any time, the Orchid Garden will still be available for visitors.

In the meantime, we will also do other things so visitors can still come and see, and look at things in the Orchid Garden. For example, this year, NParks will be creating special orchid displays as part of the Singapore Botanic Gardens Heritage Festival. In fact, the Festival itself starts today and will continue over the next two weekends. There will be a range of activities for you and your families to come and to enjoy at the Gardens.

Finally, let me conclude by saying that what we do at the Singapore Botanic Gardens is not possible without the steadfast support of industry and community partners. In particular, I would like to acknowledge the strong support from some of our corporate sponsors who are here.

Sembcorp has been a big supporter of the Gardens, and their contribution remains the largest single donation to the Garden City Fund to date. It will go towards rejuvenating Cool House which will be called the Sembcorp Cool House. We thank Sembcorp for being a very steadfast partner.

AkzoNobel has also contributed to restoring and refreshing Burkill Hall and the Bandstand gazebo, and so we are also grateful to them for their contributions.

We have many more sponsors and supporters, and we thank all of them for their generosity. And I hope that these contributions will inspire many more corporations and individuals to support the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

This is a Singapore treasure and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a special place that we hold in trust for all Singaporeans, and indeed, for the whole world. So let us continue to work together to protect and to enhance the Gardens, and make sure that it remains a special place that will be much loved and enjoyed by future generations. On that note, thank you very much and have a very pleasant weekend ahead.

Source: Ministry of National Development, Singapore