Damaged plants give horticulturist 'heart pain'

Damaged plants give horticulturist 'heart pain'
Horticulturist Dr Wilson Wong with one of his favourite outdoor tropical plants, the Heliconia Longissima.
PHOTO: The New Paper

He hates it when people damage his plants.

Dr Wilson Wong says: "I feel such 'heart pain' every time I see someone with a flower in their ear."

The horticulturist at Singapore Botanic Gardens (SBG) has seen his fair share of plucked leaves, broken stems and stolen plants.

And this is why keeps a close eye on visitors.

He explains: "Many of the plants here are from all around the region.

"People do not know how much effort was put into finding and growing them. Some just yank their leaves out because they find them beautiful."

Last year, he spent 12 months growing an uncommon species of ginger in his nursery before planting it out in the open for the public.

He says: "I nurtured it, guarded it from pests and checked on it every morning. But after finally planting it outside, it was stolen a few days later.

"I did not know whether to cry or get angry."

But Dr Wong, who has been a horticulturist for 10 years, bears no resentment towards visitors at the Botanic Gardens.

WORKSHOPS

Instead, he enjoys sharing his extensive knowledge of horticulture.

He speaks at gardening workshops every few months at the Botanic Gardens.

"My job is to create a pleasant learning experience for visitors, which includes ensuring the footpaths and lights are in good condition.

"I also make sure every plant in SBG is labelled," he says proudly.

As a "plant doctor", Dr Wong conducts simple treatments for yellow, withering plants that are ill - be they infected or infested.

How can he tell if a plant is "sick"?

"The plant will tell you. It cannot talk to you, but it will show you," he says with a smile.

Dr Wong adds that people tend to confuse horticulturists with botanists.

He explains: "Botanists study the classification of plants, whereas for horticulturists, simply put, we study how to grow plants."

Dr Wong travels overseas every few months to learn more about plants in other countries.

He has visited flower shows in London, Taiwan and the United States, studying the works of other horticulturists and garden designers.

He says: "I speak to fellow plant growers from all around the world who share their experiences with me."

At the Singapore Garden Festival two years ago, Dr Wong curated the Learning Garden, a garden of plants mainly catered to children.

He says his aim was to connect children with the plants.

Dr Wong says: "When I heard visitors saying 'Wow, I did not know this plant looks like that', I was satisfied.

"Knowing people learn from my work really fulfils me."

Dr Wong speaks fervently about his personal collection of plants - many of his plants are succulents, an uncommon group of plants in Singapore.

A plant enthusiast, he has around 200 pots of exotic plants in his house, mostly from South Africa and Madagascar.

One of his favourite plants is the Heliconia Longissima, which he grows at SBG.

He explains: "I like it because it is elegant and unique. Plus, the flowers look like firecrackers."

SECRETS OF THE TRADE

Have a thirst for knowledge. Horticulture is a science that requires passion and interest to perfect. You need to regularly research how to grow different plants and the environment that best suits them.

Dare to try new things. Experiment with different methods of growing plants. You never know which is the best until you try.

Be humble and share your knowledge with others. By teaching, you will learn and grow as a horticulturist as well.

zacsoh@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 22, 2016.
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