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The Case of the Evolution Garden

Volume 2 Number 2 - October 2005

Dr Wong Wei Har





This article looks at the use of strategic planning as a tool in the development of a new attraction, the Evolution Garden, in the Singapore Botanic Gardens.  The use of strategic planning helps the organisation achieve clarity in determining the goals of the new attraction, formulate action plans to achieve these goals and identify the roles and responsibilities of members of staff.

The goal of the new garden is to be an educational attraction centred on the theme that plants are not only beautiful; but crucial to the survival of all life.  It tells the amazing story of how plants gave us life, and how, long before humans arrived, plants started to evolve into the myriad complex, wonderful life forms that we see today.  The Evolution Garden takes visitors on a journey through time, from the fiery planet that the world was in ancient times before memory, through the planet of the dinosaurs, and on to the modern world of 250,000 different flowering plants that the world enjoys today.

Planning for the Evolution Garden resulted in the development of strategies to achieve its goals.  Strategies ranged from creating as exciting a landscape as possible, customising new educational programmes and producing a new guidebook and childrens' workbook, to getting 'buy-in' from both teachers and students. 

Whatever success the new garden achieves as a horticultural and botanical attraction, as well as an educational feature, is in part due to the use of strategic planning as a tool in its development.


The goal of the Evolution Garden, to be an educational attraction, sounds relatively easy to achieve.  However, there have been plenty of challenges.  Central to the planning of the garden was the challenge of balancing and interweaving the use of selected artificial models to represent extinct plants, selecting the large number of living specimens of the various plant groups and most importantly ensuring the comfort of visitors. 

At the entrance to the garden, huge columns of stone, known as the ‘trees of stone’, create a special effect and set the mood for the garden.  Across a bridge, the educational journey begins some 4,600 million years ago.  The Earth at its beginning was stark with an unbreathable atmosphere, of poisonous gases devoid of oxygen, and intolerably hot with searing UV radiation from the sun. 

Setting the Scene

To create a realistic picture of the uninhabitable Earth at this time, we created a landscape where artificial rocks and a mud pool are used to represent the young Earth pulsing with volcanoes spewing lava and where the land was strewn with streaming pools of bubbling, scalding mud.  For visitors in a tropical garden, the heat and humidity can be extremely uncomfortable if ample shade is not provided.   However we deliberately created a barren rocky waste at the start of the journey for effect, to provide a contrast and to set the stage for when plants would make the planet hospitable.

Following the blackened volcanic landscape is a shallow pool backed by wave-cut rocks with replicas of Stromatolites - mounds of calcium carbonate slowly produced by colonies of bacteria inhabiting shallow seafloors some 3,600 million years ago.  After this, the various groups of plants are displayed in an evolutionary sequence along a patch sculptured by boulders and terrain change.

While the Evolution Garden is an educational first for Singapore and the Singapore Botanic Gardens, we needed to come up with strategies to achieve success for this garden and its educational goals; despite the lack of comfort for visitors as they started their tour of the Garden.

The first strategy was to create as exciting a landscape as possible using both massive real boulders and some artificial ones, as well as planting extraordinary and amazing prehistoric plants including many large old cycads.  We successfully grew a thriving patch of Equisetum, probably for the first time in Singapore, and created more excitement by making several models of the extinct Lepidodendron as examples from the Carboniferous period.

The Educational Context

Having set the physical stage, we next sought 'buy-in' from  teachers before the attraction was formally opened.  This involved the Gardens' education unit organising Evolution Garden familiarisation talks and tours for teachers. 

We also wanted to ‘lighten’ the educational component without compromising its content.  The action plan for this called for the joint efforts of our horticulturists and education officers to present the Evolution Garden as the stomping garden of the botanic garden's ‘resident dinosaur’.  She is a Botanicosaurus and her name is Sara.  With the help of a storybook doubling as a workbook, Sara comes to ‘life’ for our young visitors as they journey through the garden learning about bryophytes, ferns, cycads, gymnosperms and other plants.  Older children and adults are not forgotten too.  A guidebook complementing the displays is available as well which also serves as a stand-alone reference on the exciting journey that our planet has taken.  New education programmes are also specially designed.

The Visitor Services unit organized an ‘Art in Evolution’ programme to celebrate the launch of the Evolution Garden on 14 February 2005.  This involved staff working with teachers and students on an art project where students put on paper their thoughts and feelings about the new Garden.  The theme ‘Love in the Evolution Garden’ was chosen by the students to express their love for nature. The result was a collage of artwork that ranged from detailed depictions of the plants to the abstract; each offering an unique perspective of the Evolution Garden.  Collectively they are a wonderful example of how art and botany can come together to inform, entertain and inspire.


Since the opening of the Evolution Garden, students from kindergartens and lower primary schools have embarked on the time journey; upper primary students have taken part in the Plant Classification Tour and students from lower secondary schools and junior colleges have taken part in the general familiarisation tours.  Feedback from teachers is that they find the Evolution Garden relevant as an outdoor classroom.  Other visitors have complemented the garden as an outstanding execution of the story of plant evolution.

Whatever success this garden will enjoy as a horticultural and botanical attraction, as well as a living class room, is in part due to the use of strategic planning as a tool in its development.



Cet article porte sur l’utilisation d’un plan stratégique comme outil dans le développement d’une nouvelle attraction, le Jardin de l’Evolution, au jardin botanique de Singapour. L’utilisation d’un plan stratégique aide la structure à définir clairement les buts de la nouvelle attraction, formuler des plans d’action pour atteindre ces buts et identifier le rôle et les responsabilités des membres de l’équipe.

Le but du Jardin de l’Evolution est d’être une attraction éducative. Il emmène les visiteurs dans un voyage à travers le temps, de l’époque impétueuse des dinosaures jusqu’au monde moderne des 250 000 espèces de plantes à fleurs qui embellissent notre monde d’aujourd’hui.

La planification du Jardin de l’Evolution a donné lieu au développement de stratégies pour atteindre ses objectifs. Ces stratégies vont de la création de paysages aussi intéressants que possible à la personnalisation de nouveaux programmes éducatifs, la production de nouveaux livrets de visite et de livres de travail pour les enfants, et le gain d’intérêt de la part des enseignants et des étudiants.

Quel que soit le succès atteint par le nouveau jardin sous la forme d’une attraction horticole et botanique en plus de sa forte caractéristique éducative, celui-ci sera en partie dû à l’utilisation du plan stratégique en tant qu’outil pour son développement.



Este artículo se enfoca en el uso de los planes estratégicos como una herramienta en el desarrollo de una nueva atracción; el jardín evolutivo, en el Jardín Botánico de Singapore. El uso de planeamiento estratégico ayuda a alcanzar claridad en la determinación del propósito de esta nueva atracción, formulando planes de acción para alcanzar los propósitos e identificar el papel y responsabilidades de los distintos miembros de la institución.

El propósito del Jardín Evolutivo es fundamentalmente una atracción educativa. El Jardín Evolutivo lleva al visitante en un viaje a través del tiempo, desde el violento planeta de los dinosaurios hasta el mundo moderno que alberga 250.000 diferentes especies de plantas con flores.

La planeación para el Jardín Evolutivo resulto en el desarrollo de estrategias para alcanzar sus metas. Estrategias que varían desde crear en la medida de los posible un paisaje excitante, nuevos y atractivos programas educativos, producir nuevas guías y libros para niños y su compra por maestros y estudiantes.

Cualquiera que sea el éxito que alcance el nuevo Jardín Evolutivo como una atracción horticultural y botánica así como también educativa se deberá en parte al uso de los planes estratégicos como herramienta en su desarrollo.

About the Author 

Dr Wong Wei Har is the Deputy Director of Singapore Botanic Gardens, National Parks Board, 1 Cluny Road, Singapore 259569. Tel: 65 6471 9947  Fax: 65 6467 4832. Email: Website: