The new Yunnan Garden experience

The rejuvenated Yunnan Garden, a green lung in our urban city, is now a nine-hectare precinct for leisure, education and heritage, updated for today’s generation of students

The new Yunnan Garden experience

The rejuvenated Yunnan Garden, a green lung in our urban city, is now a nine-hectare precinct for leisure, education and heritage, updated for today’s generation of students

by Chrystal Chan / Photos by Lester Kok, Amin Shah, Kwok Pei Fang and Don Tan

Built in the 1950s, Yunnan Garden was a key attraction of the Nanyang University campus, the land on which NTU now sits. Today, it is seamlessly integrated with the Chinese Heritage Centre and an expanded Nanyang Lake following the diversion of a stretch of Nanyang Drive in front of the Chinese Heritage Centre, which now runs alongside the Pan-Island Expressway.

The result is a nine-hectare heritage precinct – bigger than 12 soccer fields – that preserves the garden’s legacy while enriching it as an educational and recreation hub, making it a go-to place in NTU not just for the university community, but also residents of the wider Jurong neighbourhood.

Yunnan Garden in its early days
Photo: Chinese Heritage Centre

The park in its early days.

To preserve the garden’s historical significance, its iconic features and monuments, including the Senegal Mahogany trees from the 1960s, were retained. The grass slope in front of the Chinese Heritage Centre still bears the Chinese saying: “To thrive in adversity, to strive and improve oneself constantly” – words that will continue to resonate with future generations of students.

Anatomy of the garden

Past and present come together in this refreshed space

1. More than 1,100 new trees from over 80 species were planted, along with a quarter million shrubs, making the garden even more attractive to insects, birds and other native fauna. The tallest trees have also been protected from lightning strikes.

2. This 5.6m-tall waterfall brings the expanded Nanyang Lake into Yunnan Garden. Water flows through it to the wetlands in the lower garden as part of a stormwater management system that collects and purifies rainwater. Artificial wetlands with layers of sand and gravel not only filter the water in Nanyang Lake but are also habitats for flora and fauna.

3. The garden’s design, a series of loops and geometric patterns, is inspired by elements from traditional Chinese gardens and the formal, symmetrical and highly ordered gardens of the French Renaissance periods. Low kerbs that run along some walkways echo the ones found in traditional Chinese gardens, with new secondary footpaths created for easier access.

4. Nature enthusiasts can explore the garden’s rich biodiversity through its mini gardens and trails centred on various themes, such as orchids, herbs, pitcher plants, national flowers and plants for cosmetics. There is also a butterfly garden and lily garden.

5. The Chinese Heritage Centre, now seamlessly connected to Yunnan Garden, features a new lawn and a water playground for kids. Other iconic monuments and structures retained in the garden are the replica Nanyang University arch, Nanyang University Memorial and the red pavilions.

Your virtual tour guide

All you need to explore the many facets of Yunnan Garden is your phone and the NTU HEY! AR app. Head for these five locations and scan the AR markers there for some interactive fun and a mini learning experience

1. Beautiful AR koi fishes will remind you to refrain from fishing to ensure the natural ecosystem is not disturbed.

2. Take turns with your pals getting into the camera frame for fun shots at the waterfall with friendly AR animals such as otters and flamingos.

3. Did you know that the water body now known as Nanyang Lake was laboriously dug by Nantah students in 1961? It is now 3.5m deeper and surrounded by mini gardens that are accessible by boardwalks. Witness its transformation over the years here.

4. Discover what’s so special about these herbs. And see how other plants do double duty at the other themed gardens and trails.

5. Watch the past come to life in this video with old photos and historical snippets of these heritage landmarks.

Post as many Instagram Stories as you like with free Wi-Fi throughout the park.

A vibrant space for all

Aside from preserving heritage, the garden aims to be a vibrant recreation and gathering space that has something for everyone

Sweat it out at the fitness corner
Gym buffs can head here for fresh air if NTU’s indoor gyms get too crowded. Keep yourself hydrated too with the water coolers that are conveniently located within the garden.

Lush life
The landscaping and water features not only offer new rest areas but also lessons on biodiversity and sustainability.

Walk on water
Boardwalks spanning almost a kilometre zigzag across the garden and are suitable for wheelchairs and strollers.

Fish and company
The garden has all the ingredients for a self-sustaining ecosystem, from fish that eat up the algae to aquatic plants that filter the water.

Park after dark

Like a sky full of stars, this ecological corridor never sleeps with its well-lit paths and lookout points. The garden harnesses energy-efficient lighting that includes solar-powered lamps, and its safety features – 53 CCTVs and several emergency call buttons – also make it friendly to all visitors.

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