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This huge, 60 hectare park is one of the largest tropical botanical gardens in all of Southeast Asia. As well as being free, it is open from 5 am to 12 midnight every day of the year so you can always enjoy the different species and habitats of this region.
On weekends and holidays the locals come here to for a stroll or to play sports, especially families with children. During the week, however, it is an oasis of calm within the city.
It was Sir Stamford Raffles himself who in 1822 established the first botanical garden in what was then Government Hill, now Fort Canning Park. One of his goals was to introduce inexpensive crops such as cocoa or nutmeg, but the garden was not successful and in 1829, shortly after Raffles’ death, it was closed.
The gardens you see now were founded in 1859 by the Agro-horticultural Society. From the very beginning, it was planned as an ornamental and recreational space that would also host flower exhibits as well as other activities. In 1874 it was handed over to the Singapore government for management and maintenance.
During these years the administrators themselves were the real architects of the park and its various spaces. Of these, special mention goes to the British botanist Henry Ridley, the first director of the park, who worked here for 23 years, from 1888 to 1911.
His relentless persistence in trying to convince the Malaysian farmers to cultivate large-scale rubber won him the nickname "Mad Ridley”. During the last decade of the nineteenth century he had discovered a way to extract the rubber without damaging the trees. Still, farmers ignored him until a plague devastated their coffee plantations. By then, demand for rubber had increased substantially due to the emerging automotive industry and, finally, their planting and marketing began to spread and the botanical garden plants became the basis for the Southeast Asian rubber industry. Also, during Ridley’s tenure as park director, the current national flower of Singapore, the Van Miss Joaquim orchid, was discovered by Agnes Joaquim. She brought it to Ridley, who soon confirmed that it was a new hybrid.
Another of the park’s important figures was Professor Eric Holttum, director of the gardens from 1925 to 1949. He created and conducted laboratory experiments in the breeding and hybridization of orchids. His work saved the floral industry millions of dollars as it managed to increase the strength and endurance of these flowers.
When Dr. Tan Wee Kiat became its new director in 1988, he decided to take the park in a new direction. The focus turned to preserving its heritage, creating educational programs and botanical research. Among other things, he was responsible for the creation of the National Orchid Garden, now a popular tourist attraction. In the last years of the twentieth century, under the direction of Dr Chin See Chung, other public facilities were improved, such as the new Ginger and Evolution Gardens.
Today this park has become one of Singapore’s major tourist attractions. We recommend a leisurely stroll through its numerous paths. You will be surprised at the different species of plants and trees found here, as well as the flowers, sculptures, birds and lakes.
We now offer you an itinerary of less than two hours that includes the essential features of this important botanical garden.
Starting from the southern gate, or Tanglin Gate, you can go to the Botanical Centre next door to get information about the gardens and have a drink before starting your itinerary. If botany is your thing, don’t miss their huge library. You'll love it.
To the north are historical buildings such as Ridley Hall or Holtum Hall, as well as various sculptures. Of these, we highlight the Swiss Ball Fountain, donated by the Swiss community in 1991. It's a huge 700 kilo ball of granite, 80 cm in diameter kept afloat by extremely high water pressure.
A little further east is the Swan Lake, where in addition to plants, trees and palm trees you'll see amazing swans brought here from Holland. From here go north on Dell Lane towards the Ginger Garden. On one acre of land you will see over 250 spices with very interesting shapes, pretty leaves and attractive flowers.
If you continue to the northeast, go through orchid square and head to the National Orchid Garden. Even though they charge a small entrance fee, it's worth it as they have over 2,000 orchids and 1,000 hybrids. Over 600 varieties of orchids are exhibited here so be sure not to miss it.
On the other hand,to the west you will find the Rain Forest. This is very close to what the area used to look before becoming a big city. More than 6 hectares of forest with huge ancestral trees. If you walk up the Upper Palm Valley Road, you’lll find the Visitors Centre, in what is the exact centre of the park. Here you can eat in the restaurant or take the opportunity to buy some souvenirs.
Once you've refuelled, take a look at the Symphony Lake, so called because it has a small artificial islet sometimes used for concerts by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Then continue walking to the north to the Evolution Garden. An acre and a half devoted to teaching us how plants give us life and how they have evolved since the time of the dinosaurs to the present day.
Continue along Cluny Park Way to the northernmost area called Bukit Tima. Here you will find herbs, spices of all kinds, bamboo and even fruit trees, among many other things.
Finally, visit Echo Lake, where you can see black swans imported from Australia. Is that something you would want to miss?
As you can see, the botanical garden has a lot to offer. Tropical flowers, plants with unimaginable shapes, the aroma of spices, spectacular lakes, giant water lilies, ancestral trees, ...But above all, remember not to leave this place without having admired and photographed the national flower of Singapore: the Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid.
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