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Published on: 06/26/06 11:41 AM

Travel: Singapore`s Botanical Gardens

In search of the baobab

Chasing a childhood chimera, Sheila Kumar walks through Singapore’s beautiful Botanical Gardens

I blame it all on Antoine de St Exupery and his “The Little Prince.”

Ever since I read that classic, I’ve been wanting to see a baobab tree. And when someone I met at Singapore’s Tony Tanglin Club mentioned a baobab tree in the Lion City’s Botanical Gardens, I, of course, just had to set off on a pilgrimage.

Which was how I ended walking virtually all of the 52 well laid out hectares of the Gardens, not that I regret it for a moment.


No getting lost here

Like everything else in Singapore, The Gardens have clear signposts all along the wooded trails, telling you what lies ahead and ensuring you don’t get lost for a minute. Then again, I discovered that getting lost could be a lot of fun, too. Since my informant was at best vague about the baobab tree, I decided to stroll the Gardens looking for the tree but taking in whatever else came my way, besides.

The Singapore Botanical Garden was established way back in 1822 by Sir Stamford Raffles himself but that was at Fort Canning; the Gardens were laid out at their present site in 1859. Once a centre for agricultural experimentation, now the Gardens are parks for walking, jogging, picnicking; popular, though more among the locals than tourists.

Which is very definitely the  tourist’s loss.



The gardens are known for their famous sub-section, the Orchid Gardens, and the blooms, growing and on display there, are a staggering riot of size, species and colour, some distinctly sinister in aspect. Orchid breeding began here in 1928 and today, the Orchid Garden houses over a 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids, the largest display of the bloom in all the world.

The lovely, colonial Burkhill Mansion houses the VIP Orchids, named after famous leaders, statesmen and other visiting celebrities. I looked for the bloom named after Shah Rukh Khan but was told it was brought out only when it flowered.

The Cool House, the Green House and the Mist House all held exquisite specimen of tropical plants and flowers, some from the mountainous areas.


Lush parks

My search for the elusive baobab led me down some pretty paths, indeed; green arbours, heliconia-hedged downs, leafy walks, the structured topography contrasting beautifully with the tropical jungle backdrop.

The local jacaranda was in season and some pathways were carpeted lushly in yellow flowers. Frangipani trees, too, dropped their pink-tinged white flowers, as did the laburnum, while rain trees spread their fan-like branches overhead, shielding walkers from the sun.

Not too far on the horizon, I could glimpse the busy buildings of Orchard Road but the Gardens  muffled all sounds of traffic.

I came across a couple of lily ponds surrounded by statuary that seemed to belong to no definite culture or period but just looked pretty; a set of lovely lakes (Swan Lake, Eco Lake, Symphony Lake), the first with white and black swansduly strutting their stuff on the waters; a white wooden pavilion, the Bandstand.

Palms of many kinds fanned out in all their glory in the Palm Walk. One beautiful kind was the sealing wax palm with vibrant red stems, the exact scarlet of sealing wax.

Turning down a pebble path, I came to Singapore’s national flower, the Agnes Joaquim, rows upon rows of orchids with elongatedstalks and pale pink flowers. A Chinese gentleman had pulled up a mobile stool and was standing precariously on it, staring closely at the blooms.


Varied walks

Deep in the Gardens, I came across a most charming sight… a set of statues of women, a girl on a hammock, another on a swing, a third on a bicycle, all free form sculptures full of grace and fluidity, all executed by Sydney Harpley.

The Rain Forest, which predates the Gardens, was intriguingly  full of forest sounds, the chirping of birds, the chirruping of crickets, and one actually expected to come face to face with some minor denizen of the jungle. One delightful thing is that pets (on a leash, of course) are allowed into the
Gardens, so one saw a whole lot of cute pooches, noble hounds, collies, Maltese, Yorkies and sundry cats, too.

The Cactus Garden had some striking specimen of hardy succulents on a bed of sand. The Ginger Garden hosted as many as 250 varieties of ginger and its `relatives.’

Further on, I walked barefoot on the Reflexology Path, no mean feat as the sun had warmed the smooth pebbles by then, and came to the Evolution Garden. Here, one walked through the ages, gazing upon plants, fossils, trees while reading up on neat potted accounts of the evolution of the species, of human, fauna, flora, rocks.

The Gardens have toilets placed at convenient intervals; a couple of quick bite eateries, two restaurants (one the famous Au Jardin Les Amis, where you need to queue up for reservations); and of course, the ubiquitous gift shops.

My baobab hunt, you ask?


I looked high, I looked low, but found nary a baobab tree. Two evenings later, I ran into my `baobab informant.’ Didn’t you see it at the cactus garden, he asked with insouciance. And on closer questioning, admitted he wasn’t sure what he’d seen was a baobab tree, it just looked like what he imagined one to be.

The only reason I did him no physical harm was because I’d so enjoyed my trawl of the Botanical Gardens.

This ran in THE HINDU of 26 June 2006.

Related Links:

Travel: Singapore`s hawker centre food

Travel: The Singapore Flyer

Travel: Fish Reflexology Spa, Singapore

Travel: Singapore Spas

Travel: Singapore`s Orchard Road


Au Jardin Les Amis restaurantBotanical GardensEvolution Gardenorchid garden\Reflexology PathSingaporeSydney Harpley`s statues

Sheila Kumar • June 26, 2006

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