The Plant Whisperer
Sekaran started his urban landscaping company Greenology during the Global Asian Financial Crisis in 2008, and endured going without a salary for more than two years.
“I persevered because I had faith in the resilience of Singapore’s system and economy,” he says.
Singapore was basically the “ideal place” to start Greenology, says Sekaran,
Given Singapore’s limited land mass and vertical urbanised landscape. “The city is literally vertical and greenery can become a challenge in such a built-up city,” he continues. Vertical gardens are therefore especially important because they maximise the use of space so “people don’t feel the compact crowdedness that we have,” he muses.
With Singapore’s Government taking the lead to create a city in a lush garden in the 1980s, Sekaran dreamt about catalysing change and “professionalizing” the local landscape industry. This meant creating a full supply chain with local talent at every step from nurseries to landscape technicians and architects.
Not only did this mean starting training programs at different educational institutions, but also using a simple method of rebranding jobs and renaming job functions to correctly describe different specialisations.
Events such as the International Green Building Conference and Singapore Garden Festival also helped to “develop the local industry and showcase to the world what Singapore can do”. Personally, Sekaran has managed to forge many global partnerships through these events, particularly in Australia and across Southeast Asia.
Future-Proofing The Garden City
Singapore has set out a plan for the city-state to be the “world’s first Smart Nation” by 2025. And akin with this ambition, Sekaran also envisions building a smart green city not just in terms of energy, but a breathing interaction between the outdoors and indoors, using innovation, creativity and lots of technology.
“Living within very dense spaces, the greenery becomes an important part of how you connect with nature,” shares Sekaran “Every time you go to a park, there is psychological relief,”
But Sekaran explains that with technological advances, the boundaries of outside versus inside are upended as greenery can be cultivated indoors, at home or at work, “to become part of your living experience”.
By using artificial lighting and sensors to test temperature, humidity and soil pH levels, these give a better grasp of plants’ general well-being. And for the 2 million or more trees that line the streets of Singapore1 drones can be used to help with upkeep. Through predictive maintenance, these technologies can also help cut costs of cultivating green spaces.
“I call it the Internet of Trees,” he says. “I’m developing something called the Green Intelligence Network that allows people to communicate with the greenery that they put in.”