The Singapore Botanic Gardens is a
dynamic and living monument to the foresight of the founding fathers
of Singapore. Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore and
a keen naturalist, established the first botanical and experimental
garden on Government Hill (Fort Canning Hill) in 1822, shortly after
his arrival in Singapore. He aimed to introduce cultivation of economic
crops such as cocoa and nutmeg. However, without a full-time salaried
director and sufficient funding, the garden languished and was closed
in 1829, after Raffles' death.
The Gardens at its present site was founded in 1859 by an Agri-Horticultural
Society. Planned as a leisure garden and ornamental park, the Society
organised flower shows and horticultural fetes. In 1874, the Society
handed over management and maintenance of the site to the government.
The scientific mission of the Gardens evolved when the colonial
government assumed management and deployed Kew-trained botanists
and horticulturists to administer the Gardens.
It is fair to say that the history of the Gardens is in many respects
the history of its dedicated administrators. The Gardens' first
Director, Henry Nicholas Ridley, came to the Gardens in 1888 and
worked tirelessly for the next 23 years to usher the Gardens into
the twentieth century and its most productive period historically.
Ridley's zealous persistence in persuading Malaya's planters to
grow rubber trees earned him less than flattering nicknames such
as "Mad Ridley" and "Rubber Ridley". During
the 1890s and early 1900s, Ridley devised successful propagation
methods and also discovered a way to harvest commercial quantities
of latex without harming or killing the trees. He advocated the
large-scale cultivation of rubber in Malaya. Planters in Malaya
largely ignored Ridley until their coffee plantations were devastated
by disease and they desperately required a new cash crop. During
this time, demand for rubber soared as the automobile industry boomed.
As Ridley had turned the Gardens forest clearings and waste land
over to rubber, the Gardens had a ready source of seed supply when
the rubber rush came. The Gardens' revenue multiplied greatly as
the region became a major market for the rubber trade. The plants
at the Botanic Gardens became the basis for Southeast Asia's rubber
industry, an industry that generated fortunes.
also during Ridley's administration that Singapore's national flower,
Vanda Miss Joaquim, was discovered. An Armenian lady, Agnes Joaquim
was in her garden when a new hybrid caught her attention. Thrilled
with the beautiful discovery, she rushed to Ridley with the plant.
Ridley confirmed that a new orchid hybrid, previously unknown to
science and that flowered freely year round has been created.
Beginning in 1928, Professor Eric Holttum, Director of the Gardens
from 1925 - 1949, set up laboratories and conducted the first experiments
in orchid breeding and hybridisation. The results of these experiments,
free flowering and hardy orchid hybrids laid the foundation for
the multi-million dollar cut flower industry. Since then, outstanding
hybrids have been cultivated in the Gardens and received recognition
By the mid 1960s, the Gardens
was taking a leading role in the greening of Singapore. To meet
the need for urban landscapes and recreational areas, the Gardens'
staff became involved in supplying planting material and in plant
introduction to increase the variety and colour in road side and
In 1973, the Botanic Gardens merged with the Parks and Trees branch
of the Public Works Department, which became the Parks and Recreation
In 1988, a big leap forward occurred when Dr Tan Wee Kiat
became Director of the Gardens. While the Gardens remained committed
to its role in making Singapore a Garden City and meeting
recreational needs, renewed focus on being a leading international
institution for tropical botany was established. Excellence in botanical
research, education programmes and preservation of the cultural heritage
of the Gardens were emphasised. Under Dr Tan's direction, the 3-hectares
National Orchid Garden, a major tourist attraction today, was established.
In June 1990, Singapore Botanic Gardens came under the
management of the newly formed National Parks Board. The Gardens embarked
upon a comprehensive improvement programme to bring it to the
forefront of botanical and horticultural activity by the 21st century.
Dr Tan became the Chief Executive Officer of this new National
Parks Board. In July 1996, the Ministry of National Development
merged the National Parks Board and the Parks and Recreation
Department into a single authority to look after the greening and
beautification of Singapore. The name of the authority, a statutory board
remains as National Parks Board. Dr Chin See Chung took over the
challenging role of Director of the Gardens. Besides continuing the
Gardens' traditional roles in research, education and conservation, Dr
Chin steered the Gardens on a long term upgrading programme to
provide better public facilities and amenities. New attractions, such
as the Ginger Garden, Evolution Garden, Coolhouse and
the Children's Garden were added to keep the Gardens relevant
as a leading destination.
Under the stewardship of Dr Nigel Taylor, who came to Singapore from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in 2011, the Gardens is geared towards entrenching itself as a tropical botanical institution of international renown, a key tourist destination and a flagship park.