Burkill Hall, the National Orchid Garden, the famous five-dollar Tembusu tree – just how well do you know Singapore’s very first UNESCO World Heritage Site at Cluny Road?
When it comes to taking a tour of our city’s greenest attraction, is there anyone more suited to the job than the director of Singapore Botanic Gardens, Dr. Nigel Taylor, himself? We think not. Gardening is a serious business for Dr. Nigel Taylor (naturally). As director, Dr. Taylor spearheaded the efforts in clinching the landmark’s prestigious UNESCO World Heritage Site title in July, as well as leads the team in cultivating rare plant species and promoting the conservation of the region’s flora. Here, the good doctor walks us through the must-sees of the 156 year-old Gardens, and shares some fun snippets along the way.
1. Kick off your stroll at the SBG Heritage Museum
A stone’s throw away from the gorgeous Tanglin Gate entrance is this two-storey museum in Holttum Hall, situated next to the Botany Centre. Built in 1921, it served as the office and laboratory of the Director of the Gardens back in the day. This was also where Professor Eric Holttum – the Director from 1925 to 1949 – developed innovative orchid breeding techniques.
2. Meet the famous Five-Dollar Tree
After learning about the Gardens’ rich heritage, head north to Lawn E to see the old Tembusu tree; the same one featured on the $5 note. It’s estimated to be around 170 years old. Its low-hanging branch is supported by a dynamic system, which is designed to prop the branch up without restricting its growth. Besides this majestic icon, there are 46 other Heritage Trees in the Gardens (some more than 30-metres tall!).
3. Take a closer look at the Prisoner-of-War Brick Steps
During the Japanese Occupation, the Australian prisoners of war (PoWs) marked out arrows on the bricks that they made at a brickworks in Changi. These were used to create this flight of stairs along the Lower Ring Road. Arrows were common symbols used at that time, serving as an act of defiance. You can still see those marks on the bricks today.
4. Play your air guitar at the Bandstand
Make your way up the hill to the Bandstand; an octagonal gazebo that has retained its original structure since 1930. In its heyday, the lovely structure was used as a stage by regimental bands, who would perform lively sets among the terraced flowerbeds and palms. Though no longer used for musical performances, it’s a very popular spot for wedding photographs!
5. Feel oh-so-small in the Rain Forest
Across from the Bandstand lies a six-hectare tropical forest along Maranta Avenue, which contains 314 species of plants. Some trees here reach 50 metres in height and existed before the founding of modern Singapore.
6. Snap a selfie in the Orchid Garden
Wander along Maranta Avenue towards Lower Palm Valley Road and you’ll find yourself at the entrance of the National Orchid Garden. Opened in 1995, it houses more than 2,000 varieties of orchid hybrids and 1,000 varieties of orchid species. The VIP Orchid Naming Programme started in 1956, and the first flower was named after Lady Anne Black, the British Governor’s wife. Since then, more than 200 dignitaries (from over 90 sovereign states) have received VIP orchids.
7. Make like a VIP and finish off at Burkill Hall
While you’re inside the National Orchid Garden, don’t forget to stop by Burkill Hall. This restored colonial house, which overlooks the garden, was constructed between 1867 and 1868. It is believed to be the only example of an Anglo-Malayan plantation-style building in the region. Plus, it’s the oldest structure in SBG and currently serves as the VIP Orchid Exhibition Hall.
Singapore Botanic Gardens 1 Cluny Road www.sbg.org.sg (65) 6471 7138 Botanic Gardens Open 5am-midnight.