Before beginning his career with Changi Airport Group (CAG) some four years ago, Ng Ding Geng, Assistant Manager of Airport Operations Management (Horticulture), never knew that Changi Airport had a horticulture team – much less thought that he would be part of that team.
So, it’s serendipitous that he landed this position as a horticulturist after completing a project he was tasked to work on in his first two years with CAG. Ding Geng studied Life Sciences in university and although it was unrelated to horticulture, it did not deter him from embracing a different field of work.
An initially steep learning curve and tons of hands-on learning on the ground aside, Ding Geng was fuelled by an interest and growing passion for the work he was doing. It wasn’t long before he became adept in the science of plants, thanks to his more experienced colleagues who also served as mentors – sharing their knowledge of gardens and what works in Changi’s indoor and outdoor spaces. Soon enough, he knew upon first look whether a browning leaf meant that the plant needed more water or fertiliser.
Injecting a breath of fresh air into the hustle and bustle of air travel
To the hundreds of thousands of passengers and visitors who pass through Changi daily, walking through Changi is always a breath of fresh air, quite literally, and a sight for tired eyes. With over 600,000 plants strategically scattered over its four main terminals (we’re not even counting the plants in the nature wonderland of Jewel Changi!), it’s evident that to Ding Geng and his team mates, the airport is not just a place for air commute.
Landscaping is a large part of infrastructure planning at Changi Airport and the focus on greening the airport goes way back to its early days – so much so that it has now become a signature of the airport.
Ding Geng’s day-to-day work involves the maintenance of the lush greenery and floral displays. His team also takes care of the airport’s butterfly garden which features over 500 butterflies among lush greenery and a 6-metre grotto waterfall, a rooftop garden with over 100 species of cacti and succulents from Africa and the Americas, a sunflower garden and an orchid garden with a koi pond.
Planning for new displays with specific themes or festive seasons – think cherry blossoms for spring and evergreen coniferous Christmas trees for the year-end festivities – are also part of what Ding Geng and his colleagues do as horticulturists. These seasonal displays are meant to be culturally relevant, while also keeping the aesthetics of Changi and its plants fresh and vibrant.
Red is the new green: Celebrating Singapore’s 54th birthday with a display of iconic landmarks
In fact, his latest project is the National Day display to commemorate Singapore’s 54th birthday. The themed display will run throughout the month of August across all four terminals at Changi. Coinciding with Singapore’s bicentennial celebrations, the displays will feature plant replicas of iconic Singapore landmarks such as the City Hall. Of course, no National Day floral display is complete without the country’s national flower – the Vanda Miss Joaquim.
Additionally, there will be a globe display representing how being open and connected to the world has benefited Singapore over the years. Hopefully, this openness and connectivity will spur us forward as a nation.
From start to end: Inspiration from the little things and tight execution
Around four to five months of planning is required for these displays, although the team sometimes works with less. Inspiration for these elaborate displays comes from many places.
“Sometimes, ideas come from Pinterest – other times, our colleagues travel and send us pictures of interesting flowers that we can consider incorporating in our designs,” shared Ding Geng.
For Ding Geng, inspiration comes from the everyday little things. Most recently, his team was inspired by the design used on the construction hoardings in Terminal 1 featuring iconic cityscapes around the City Hall area, such as the Padang and National Gallery. Ding Geng and his team worked with designers to create a similar look and feel using suitable floral and plants for the display.
Take a behind-the-scenes look at how the City Hall display was set up in this video!
These neoclassical buildings bore witness to key moments in Singapore’s history, including the declaration of independence, and hosting the first ever National Day Parade in 1965. Fittingly, this year’s bicentennial parade will also be held at the City Hall and Padang area.
The National Day floral displays are now up at Changi and will bring a taste of the upcoming National Day Parade to passengers and visitors passing through the airport.
A close collaborative effort among the team, partners and contractors ensures that the floral displays are carefully thought out and curated. Choosing specific species of plants for their aesthetic value and ability to thrive in whatever environment they are placed in are also key considerations. The team also thought about curating displays that are #instaworthy and photos they can post for the ’gram.
But this is merely the planning stage. Ding Geng shared that the setup of the floral displays is often done overnight, and sometimes over a few days, as you can see in the video above.
One standout project for Ding Geng is the Dragonfly display at Terminal 1’s Arrival Garden. This is Changi’s first garden in the public area, and the team had to challenge themselves to integrate different display requirements so that it was visually appealing, yet provide a seamless flow from the transit to the public areas of the airport. Under a tight timeline, Ding Geng said that seeing the project through successfully made it memorable for him.
Future and feedback: What’s next and what drives him
For Ding Geng, his favourite part of the work is selecting flowers and plants for the different seasonal displays. It is elements like these and the flexibility to explore working with new concepts that keeps things interesting for him.
That said – these days, being an expert in the art of garden cultivation is not enough. The team also employs data analytics to get a clearer picture of what’s trending, and what people are keen to see. They use the information to guide their ideation and conceptualisation. Technology is also used to gather feedback from visitors on the displays via touch screens.
It gives me satisfaction to see families enjoying our gardens in Changi and I am spurred on by the encouraging feedback we receive from the public. When you see the displays being shared on social media extensively, or when kids are running around and enjoying the gardens – that’s really what makes my work rewarding
The next time you visit Changi and pass through one of the many gardens and floral displays, do remember that lots of thought and hard work go into designing these features. So, be it soaking up some sun in the outdoor gardens or breathing in the fresh scent of flowers at the indoor landscapes, don’t forget to stop and snap a photo for the memories! Even better, leave some feedback and say hello if you bump into Ding Geng or anyone else from his team!