The Singapore Botanic Gardens is one of the most important botanic gardens in Southeast Asia. The Singapore Botanic Gardens is a 183-acre (and 2.5 mile long) botanical garden. It is half the size of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew or around one-fifth the size of Central Park in New York. It is the only botanic garden in the world that opens from 5 a.m. to 12 midnight every single day of the year, and does not charge an admission fee, except for the National Orchid Garden.
The 150-year old Singapore Botanic Gardens is a star visitor attraction for the sophisticated traveller as well as the local resident. This Gardens possesses an array of botanical and horticultural attractions with a rich history and a wonderful plant collection of worldwide significance. Complementing these unique resources are sensitive developments providing visitors educational and recreational facilities.
Layout of the Singapore Botanic Gardens
To make it easier for visitors to find their way through the gardens, this tourism attarction is divided into three main sections namely Tanglin Core, Central Core and Bukit Timah Core. Within the Tanglin Core, you find the Tanglin Gate, Swan Lake and Bonsai Garden. At the Central Core, you find the Visitor Centre, National Orchid Garden, Palm Valley, Rain Forest and Evolution Garden. At the Bukit Timah Core, you find the Garden of Spices, the Bamboo Garden, Eco Lake, Fruit Trees and Jacob Ballas Children's Garden.
The Singapore Botanic Gardens can trace its beginning right up to the founding of Singapore itself. Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore and a keen naturalist, set up the first Botanic Garden on Government Hill at Fort Canning in 1822. The purpose of that garden was to find and develop plants that can be used as commercial crops such as nutmeg, clove and cocoa. However, due to insufficient funds, and there being no full-time director to lead it, the garden died a slow death, neglected and eventually closed after Raffles passed away in 1829.
The Gardens at its present site was founded in 1859 by an Agri-Horticultural Society, and was later handed over to the government for maintenance. From an ornamental garden with roads, terraces, a bandstand and even a small zoo, it has come a long way in evolving into a leading equatorial botanic garden of 63 hectares.
In 1859, the Agri-Horticultural Society founded its own gardens on the site of the present Singapore Botanic Gardens. The land was acquired from Chinese merchant Hoo Ah Kay @ Whampoa, who in return was given land at Boat Quay. Until then, Whampoa had used it as a plantation. The society developed their Gardens for recreational activities. Laurence Niven, its superintendent and landscape designer, cleared the plantation and turned it into an ornamental park, the layout of it today is still very much faithful to Niven's design. The Gardens was used by the Society for flower shows and horticultural fetes. They maintained it until 1874, when they ran out of funds to maintain it, and handed it over to the government.
In the hands of the government, the role of the Singapore Botanic Gardens reverted to continue the mission of developing commercial crops. Botanists and Horticulturists trained at Kew were employed to manage the Gardens. Its first Director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens was Henry Ridley, the man credited with introducing the planting of rubber in Malaya. He started working at the Gardens in 1888, and for the next 23 years, worked tirelessly not only to persuade plantation owners to try rubber, but also to ways to tap the trees without damaging them. Planters nicknamed him Mad Ridley, and largely ignored his plea, until their coffee crops were brought down by diseases, and they desperately needed a new cash crop.
The planting of rubber coincided with the automobile industry boom, and through Ridley's efforts, the Singapore Botanic Gardens was responsible for the fortune of not only Malaya, but much of Southeast Asia.
During Ridley's administration, an Armenian lady named Agnes Joachim discovered a hybrid orchid in her garden. She showed it to Ridley. That orchid, Vanda Miss Joachim, is today regarded as the National Flower of Singapore.
Singapore's orchid industry was largely the effort of Professor Eric Holttum, the Director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens from 1925-1949. Prof Holtum set up laboratories to conduct experiments on orchid breeding and hybridization.
The role of the Singapore Botanic Gardens continue to evolve over the decades. In the 1960s, it was given responsibility in greening Singapore. The Gardens supplied planting material for road sides and parks. The management of the Gardens evolved with the time as well. In 1973, it became part of the Parks and Recreation Department. In 1990, it fell under the management of National Parks Singapore, with Dr Tan Wee Kiat as the Chief Executive Officer. Under Dr Tan, the National Orchid Garden was established. Today it is one of the major highlights of the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
Admission to the Singapore Botanic Gardens is free, except for the National Orchid Garden, which charges a fee of S$5.00 for adults. The Singapore Botanic Gardens is the only botanic gardens with an opening hour from 5:00am in the morning until 12 midnight every day. There are a few entrances to the Gardens including Tanglin Gate (the main entrance), Burkill Gate, Nassim Gate and Cluny Park Gate. There is a taxi drop-off point at the Visitor Centre along Cluny Road.
If you are going to the Singapore Botanic Gardens by taxi or private car, enter the gardens at Nassim Gate, at the heart of the gardens. This takes you directly to the Visitor Centre, from where you can decide whether to explore the northern or southern part of the gardens.