Our little red dot seems to be filled with them. And to be fair, this is not a recent phenomenon. Because as far back as when our country first achieved independence, the vision had been to turn the little red dot green – ie to be a ‘garden city’.
You might have read our pieces on the magnificent gardens by the bay (here). Or the tranquility of the Chinese & Japanese gardens in the far western end of the island (here). Definitely if you read about our Fort Canning piece (here) you will also realize it has been turned into a public green space. Finally if you noticed in our posts on the MRT series, you might have also seen photos of gardens in the precincts where we walked and explored.
This piece though, is focused on the center of town.
Alongside the Fort Canning which was not originally intent as a green space, the Botanic garden has a history as old as the modern founding of the island. It was first started by horticultural enthusiasts in 1859, only becoming part of government administration about 15 years later. Over the decades, the garden endured heights and lows and in 2015 it gained UNESCO World heritage site status.
How to get there:
It is so accessible and the garden’s site (www.sbg.org.sg) provides all that you need to know how to get to the various entrances. However here’s a map with the entrances highlighted. From the busy shopping stretch that is Orchard Road, it is an easy walk.
How to plan you time here:
The challenge is actually to be able to find sufficient time to get the most out of the garden. Our recommendation is really to take a half day. And start early too since our tropical heat starts to rise significantly after 10am.
The garden and its component sections (also called gardens…) are open from 5am through to midnight. But if you are looking specifically for some of the main attractions within, then do note that most are only open after 8am.
Here’s a summary:
- National Orchid Garden (8:30am – 7pm) free for Singapore citizens and PRs
- Jacob Ballas Children’s garden (8am – 7pm) free
- SBG heritage museum (9am – 6pm) free but closed last Monday every month
- CDL Green gallery near the heritage museum (9am – 6pm) free but closed last Tuesday every month
- Library of Botany and Horticulture (9am – 5pm) closed weekend and public holidays
You can also register for guided tours every Saturday. Different itineraries run for each of the Saturdays, so look out for it at the garden’s website.
We personally found it best to start from one end to the other as today the transport links facilitate that.
Our recommendation is to start from the Bukit Timah entrance. That is accessible via the Botanic Garden MRT (CC19/DT9) station on both the Circle and Downtown lines (it is an interchange). Because from here one can begin the exploration of the garden with a trip down memory lane – as children that is. And if you have children, then this is a wonderful place to be!
It is a fun way for children to learn more and also nurture their appreciation of the natural world. They can spend a lot of time here and might take up a whole day!
Further south as the “crow flies” though is a different sort of learning. And here both children and adult can partake in it. Sponsored by a local MNC, the learning forest comprises of an array of knowledge areas that can fascinate you or at least make you curious. This is a rain forest habitat, though small (merely 6 hectares) and compact, it packs a punch of highlights that gives you an idea of how important the ecosystem is. Walk on an elevated sky bridge over the wetlands and enjoy a scenic view. Continue onto a boardwalk and get up close to plant species that call the forest home.
If you noticed, there are some tall buildings that seem to be in the vicinity of the garden. Well those are part of the National University of Singapore’s campus, and they house the faculty of law here. So you might imagine budding lawyers having the beautiful garden right at their doorstep as they get to school everyday… nice huh?
And one thing though you cannot miss is the National Orchid garden.
Open from 8:30am, this is the place where it is said that more than 1000 species and 2000 hybrids of orchids are on display. We did not count… but you might want to try!
From the crane fountain at the entrance, make you way uphill through arches bristling with orchids. Play a game of chess on the orchid checkerboard if you will, but don’t worry about the tiger at the tiger orchid fountain…
When you reach the “top” of the hill, you will be greeted by Burkill hall. It was the residence of the Directors of the gardens until 1969. Can you imagine waking up each morning to the colors and smells of the garden? Today it is the site of many an occasion when a new orchid hybrid is unveiled, especially for visiting dignitaries. For next to the hall is the VIP garden where you can view the hybrids created in honor of distinguished guests of the country. Did you spot Obama’s orchid?
The garden is home to an active collection program at the Herbarium. And botanical specialists are constantly researching into hybridization. Did you know that you can have a hybrid Orchid named after you? The Orchid society of southeast Asia has a program where you can select a hybrid and have it registered in the Royal Horticultural society in the UK. Voila! You will have an orchid after you or your love one(s)!
Of course that is not all that is in the garden. For the large open green space especially in front of the symphony theatre offers an excellent ground for folks seeking solace from the bustle of the city. Get your own piece of ground there and perhaps practice yoga. If not, why not meditate with all that green around you? Just know that over the weekends there will loads of folks who would love to do this.
And with that walk, you would have reached the Tanglin entrance at Holland road. No, you are not in the Netherlands, but you will be just a stone’s throw back to Orchard road. Alternative take the bus if you feel ‘tired’ from all that green walking…
Best times to go:
The weather that is. For this is a tropical island with wet and wetter seasons (there is no real ‘dry’ season to us). So you should always be prepared for a shower or two. The year end is generally wetter while the mid of year might see some drier days. Take solace that there are pavilions located strategically around the garden, should you ever need to take shelter from the torrential downpour that seems to be the stuff of climate change these days. But as Mel says: it’s warm rain, so you won’t freeze or melt.
The walk from the “top” of the garden to the “bottom” might add 2km to the steps you accumulate in the day. And if you meander a little through the above sub-sections of the garden, you might clock 5-6km easily. Good not just to see the beautiful flora but also for some exercise. The garden like many other public venues, play host to a variety of activities throughout the year. While it may had obtained UNESCO status, it remains a people’s garden. Come here and enjoy it for free, most of it anyway.