Cultivating Singapore’s Reputation As A Garden City: Singapore Botanic Gardens
The founding of the Singapore Botanic Gardens can be traced back to the British colonial era in 1822 when Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern-day Singapore, developed the first ‘Botanical and Experimental Garden’ at Fort Canning. This keen passion for botany was to set in motion the colonial government’s plans to incept a national garden in Singapore. These plans were finally realized when the Agri-Horticultural society received this land from the British colonial government and began developing the 32 hectares of land by laying it out in the English Landscape Movement’s style.
The Gardens was soon handed over to the British colonial government in 1874 and a series of Kew-trained botanists saw the Gardens blossom into an important botanical institute over the following decades. One of the most influential contributors to the growth of the Singapore Botanic Gardens was Henry Nicholas Ridley, the Director of the gardens back then, and one of the pioneers of rubber research in Malaya. He went on to develop improved methods of rubber cultivation.
One of the earliest and most important successes was the introduction, experimentation and promotion of Para Rubber, Hevea brasiliensis. Eventually, Ridley was able to convince planters across the Malaysian peninsula to follow his methods, resulting in the areas becoming the world’s largest producer of natural rubber. Even till today, his methods of rubber extraction are still being widely used.
Other researchers and horticulturalists have also played a huge role in the development of the Singapore Botanic Gardens over the years. One of the more prominent figures, other than Ridley, is Professor Eric Holttum whose research focused on commercial orchid growing. His experiments, research and work eventually led to the world-class Orchid Garden which houses the largest collection of orchids in the world and in 1981, one of his hybrids, the climbing orchid, was chosen as the nation’s national flower.
In modern times, Singapore embarked on a massive urban development programme which would transform the city-state into a world-class financial and international trading hub dotted with high-rise buildings and stunning architecture. However, throughout all the rapid urbanization of Singapore, the Singapore Botanic Gardens continues to preserve its green and lush spaces for visitors to enjoy the pleasures of Mother Nature, ensuring that Singapore retains its moniker of the “Garden City”. Through the botanical and horticultural work carried out today, it will continue to play an important role as a leading tropical botanical institute, and an endearing place to all Singaporeans and visitors from other countries.
Its crucial role in Singapore and the region led to the Singapore Botanic Gardens being inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) on 4 July 2015, where the 21 member World Heritage Committee unanimously gave their support towards the inscription of the Gardens. Today, the Botanic Gardens remains Singapore’s one and only UNESCO World Heritage Site, as it continues to be a world-class tropical botanical institute that every Singaporean can be proud of.