Ask any Singaporean and he or she is sure to have a cherished memory of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Its sprawling grounds in the heart of the city are ideal for an invigorating jog or a relaxing picnic with family, friends and pets while its dazzling array of over 60,000 plants makes it a nature lover's paradise.
In 2016, Singapore’s oldest garden adds another accolade to its illustrious history by becoming the country’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here are seven reasons to include the Singapore Botanic Gardens on your itinerary.
1. Have an audience with some VIPs
Very Important Plants, that is.
At the National Orchid Garden, you will get to rub shoulders with VIPs such as the Vanda William Catherine and the Paravanda Nelson Mandela. It is a longstanding tradition for Singapore to name orchids after visiting dignitaries and celebrities who have contributed significantly to society.
This unique hall of fame includes one-of-a-kind orchids named after the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Catherine, as well as special guests such as Nelson Mandela and celebrities like Jackie Chan and Shah Rukh Khan. With over 200 VIP orchids on display, let’s see how many names you can recognise.
2. See the birthplace of SEA's rubber boom
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Southeast Asia would be a very different region without the Singapore Botanic Gardens. In 1877, rubber seedlings were brought to Singapore from London’s Kew Gardens, where they were cultivated in the Gardens.
In the 1880s and 90s, sustainable rubber tapping techniques were developed there, giving birth to the rubber boom across the Malay Peninsula. By 1917, the gardens had supplied over 7 million rubber seeds to the region, bringing economic prosperity to Southeast Asia. This supply of rubber also gave rise to unprecedented developments in various modern industries that required rubber as the raw material for their various innovations, including automobiles, aviation and textiles.
3. Enjoy a bit of England in the tropics
With its gently sprawling grounds, meandering paths and natural distribution of plants, the Singapore Botanic Gardens is the only major garden in Southeast Asia that is landscaped in the English style. Founded in 1859, the Gardens were designed by Lawrence Niven, whose work reflects the influence of the English pleasure garden style of parks and gardens in England.
This layout has survived the ages mostly intact, and the park is also dotted with many historical buildings including Burkill Hall, Ridley Hall, EJH Corner House and Holttum Hall. For some extra credit, keep an eye out for Burkill Hall, which is believed to be the only surviving example of an Anglo-Malay plantation-style house in Southeast Asia.
4. Get cultured with free concerts in the park
There’s something incredibly unforgettable about enjoying a classical music concert with nature’s lush greenery as the stage. This is why the Singapore Symphony Orchestra holds frequent free concerts at the Gardens for all to attend, featuring a line-up of familiar classics with contemporary movie scores thrown in for good measure.
5. Visit the Garden City's original plant nursery
As you travel around the Garden City and admire the lush greenery lining the roads and little pockets of nature in this urban jungle, know that many of these plants had their roots–literally–in the Botanic Gardens.
When the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew started his tree planting campaign and Garden City programme in the 1960s, the area where the Symphony Lake now resides was then a nursery to grow the plants that would eventually paint the city green. Today, the Gardens still upholds its mission to keep the city clean and green with a highly respected Botany Centre that is recognised as the world’s leading institution for tropical horticulture.
6. Have a date at Singapore’s first paktor spot
Travel back in time and go on a romantic date at the Botanic Gardens, which could very well be Singapore’s first paktor (Hokkien for dating) spot. During the 50s and 60s, this was said to be a popular meeting ground for families hoping to broker arranged marriages. Later on, young lovers would plan secret meetings at the various nooks and crannies of the park.
Some picturesque spots you can bring someone special to include the Swan Lake Gazebo, the majestic Burmese Banyan tree or the Bandstand. The latter used to be the site for band performances and is now a popular spot for wedding photoshoots. Inspiration, perhaps, to pop the question?
7. Remember the contributions of our pioneers
Take a closer look when you walk up the steps at the Plant House. The bricks on these steps were made by prisoners of war (POWs) during World War II and inscribed with arrows as a silent act of defiance.
While you are there, take a few moments to reflect on this touching reminder of the hard work and sacrifices that our predecessors have made to lay the foundations for this modern city.