Last November I took you on a virtual tour of the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney, Australia. Today we’re going to visit the Singapore Botanic Gardens. According to Wikipedia, “It is one of three gardens, and the only tropical garden, to be honored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.” One visit, and it’s easy to see why.
The gardens were first planted in 1859 and presently contain over 60,000 plants. The place is huge—it took us hours to walk from one end to the other, but then I had to stop and appreciate every plant (and bird) I passed.
As with other botanic gardens, there are themed gardens within the main garden. A healing garden included medicinal herbs and other plants, with explanations of their use in both western and Asian medicine. The scented garden advertised its presence by the heady perfumes that almost overwhelmed us as we walked by. I had to take a detour and stick my nose into every blossom. Further on, a grove of rainbow-hued Frangipangi (Plumeria) added their own fragrance, one of my favorites.
We wandered between the towering trees of the tropical rainforest, oohed and aahed over gingers, heliconias, and other tropical flowers, and traveled millions of years, from the Precambrian to the present, along the evolution garden’s pathway. Other gardens specialize in palms, bonsai, or marsh plants. There are also individual plants of note, such as the huge Tembusu tree, which is featured on Singapore’s money. I was particularly fascinated by the grove of baobobs (right), with their squat shape and twisted limbs.
The most famous specialty garden is the National Orchid Garden. Since I last visited, back in 2000, it had been moved into new quarters and greatly expanded. A series of parallel paths take you along a hillside jam-packed with blooming orchids, all displayed against a screen of tropical foliage. Many of the plants are in pots, so they can be swapped out when their blooms begin to fade. Others, epiphytes, hang on overhead branches, their blossoms hanging down just within reach of my camera.
The garden’s brochure explains that “It is a longstanding tradition for Singapore to name orchids after visiting dignitaries and celebrities who have contributed significantly to society.” In the Celebrity Garden, you can find examples of these noteworthy plants, such as Vanda William Catherine and the Paravanda Nelson Mandela. With a bit of hunting, we also found orchids named after Jackie Chan and Shah Rukh Khan among the over 200 “VIP orchids.”
Pete was particular enthusiastic about the “cool house”—the tropical counterpart to a conservatory. The air conditioned greenhouse allowed for the inclusion of orchids from more temperate climes—and provided a welcome respite from this pair of overheated visitors!
While admission to the Botanic Garden is free, there is a modest charge for the National Orchid Garden. (Pete had to pay approximately $5 to get in. Being a few years older, I took advantage of the senior “concession” price and forked over a mere 75 cents.)
As a convenient hub for plane travel in southeast Asia, Singapore is an excellent place to stop for a day or two and take a break between long flights. There’s enough to do and see that I could easily fill a couple of weeks. However, I have no regrets for spending an entire day at the gardens. To get there, take advantage of Singapore’s excellent mass transit system. Buses stop right at the main gate.
I can’t emphasize enough how gorgeous these gardens are. In fact, there’s only one downside—no matter what time of year it is, you can assume that both the temperature and the humidity will be in the mid-to-high 90s. After all, at a latitude of 1.35° N, Singapore is barely into the northern hemisphere, and it’s at sea level. Bring lots of water, along with sunscreen and a hat, and look forward to having dinner in an air-conditioned restaurant.