Mr Said Bin Zailani lives and breathes the history of our
Garden City. He grew upon the grounds of the Singapore
Botanic Gardens, began working there at 18 and later
helped develop its landmark attraction, the National Orchid
Garden. In 2015, Mr Said will serve his 50th year as an officer
with the National Parks Board (NParks).

He shares his fondest green memories with us.

I’m a very lucky man to be working at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. In fact, I was born here. That was in 1947, two years after the Japanese Occupation ended. Lucky, right?

My family lived in the Javanese quarters of the Gardens. My father was the driver for the Director, and in the afternoons, he’d look after the plants and flowers. The Javanese quarters were located where the Eco-Garden is today. It was like a kampong, with coconut, banana and tapioca trees around it. I had many good friends, and as children, we’d earn a little money by pushing cars out of the flooded roads at Bukit Timah.

Mr Said Bin Zailani

Mr Said Bin Zailani

I met my wife at the Javanese quarters, too. There were about 10 blocks there, and I lived in Block 1 while she stayed at Block 3. We used to quarrel a lot as kids. But one day, we got together! We held a simple wedding ceremony right at our quarters. That’s my favourite memory.

An orchid is like a beautiful lady. My favourite is the Pigeon Orchid because it is simple and has white petals that look like
a pigeon’s wings. When you rub the petals together, it gives off a pleasant smell – a natural, free perfume.

Queen Elizabeth II on a tour of the Singapore Botanic Gardens in 1972, with Director Arthur George Alphonso (right) leading the way.

Queen Elizabeth II on a tour of the Singapore Botanic Gardens in 1972, with Director Arthur George Alphonso (right) leading the way.

I’ve worked closely with many of our orchid experts, including the late Arthur George Alphonso. When Queen Elizabeth II visited the Gardens in 1972, I helped Mr Alphonso to create the Dendrobium Elizabeth hybrid, in her honour.
The 1980s were exciting times for the Gardens. As part of my work, I was sent to Johor, Pahang, Palembang and Terengganu to collect wild orchids.

I’d camp in the jungle for three nights. I learnt how to grow epiphytic orchids as there were many of them in the trees. But when we brought these species home, not all of them could grow. Our hot weather is challenging. But we tried our best.

I also helped to set up the Orchid Enclosure. This was visited by so many people that the managers decided to build the National Orchid Garden. I’ve been here since it opened in 1995. We now have 20,000 orchid plants, some 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids.

The Gardens today are different from before. We have more experts and scientists now. But some things never change. The Bandstand has been around even before I was born. When I was young, I’d go there on Sundays to listen to musicians from around the world. We’d go there to picnic and makan. That’s still my favourite part of the Gardens.

Why are orchids important to me? They are very lovely plants. When I work on them, I don’t feel any stress. We all know that it’s very calming to work in nature. Orchids keep me happy, and I want to continue doing this as long as I can.


“Keep them safe, and show them love.” This was Mr Kothari s/o Mudavan Maideen Masood’s way of caring for the flowers and plants at the Istana.

Mr Kothari first began working there in 1965, at the age of 20. “I started as a simple gardener,” he says. “I did all the basics – trim the grass, sweep the paths, water the plants and even pluck fruit. After some time, I took charge of more areas.”

True to his work as an NParks officer, Mr Kothari has an abiding love of all things green. “The Istana is where heads of state come to visit,” he says, “so it’s important that we keep it beautiful. We felt proud when people said the plants were strong, healthy and beautiful.”

In 2015, having dedicated 50 years to the Public Service, Mr Kothari retired as one of NParks’ longest-serving officers. Why did he spend five decades with the agency? “I loved it, all of it,” he says.