A delightful breath of fresh air

A delightful breath of fresh air

Band performances at night, flower shows and a zoo with animals including a leopard and four kangaroos.

More than 100 years ago, the Botanic Gardens was a popular pleasure ground and today it is still very much a draw, even if the animals now tend to be ducks and swans.

Ms Elizabeth Williams, 59, visiting from New Zealand, says: "The last time I was here was 30 years ago. But I had a free day on transit and wanted to revisit it. It's just a lovely place to lose yourself in."

Even after Gardens by the Bay opened two years ago, the Botanic Gardens, whose roots go back 155 years to 1859, is very much holding its ground. The 74ha park may be smaller than its 101ha counterpart at Marina Bay, but it has a bigger collection of different species of plants, numbering at least 10,000.

Nominated in 2012 as Singapore's first Unesco World Heritage Site, the Botanic Gardens is also a top tourist attraction, with US travel website TripAdvisor ranking it the top park in Asia earlier this year.

"It was our first stop in Singapore because we heard so much about it," says former forester Dick Pierson, visiting with his wife. They are from Seattle in the US.

"The orchids are fantastic and the maintenance is super. And it's free, which is incredible," adds the 73-year-old.

The park is famous for its more than 1,200 species of orchids and about 2,000 hybrids - the largest collection in the world. It also helped pioneer rubber cultivation and tapping techniques, leading to the economic boom in the rubber industry in the early 20th century.

Economic and scientific importance aside, the Botanic Gardens is simply a treat for the senses: Lakes with murky green surfaces are a foil to the bursts of colour, be it the burnt orange-yellow of the Saraca tree, the fiery red of the pagoda flower or the purplish blue of the morning glory.

It draws more than 4.4 million visitors annually, making it the most-visited botanic garden in the world and beating the likes of Britain's 255-year-old Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew.

The grand green dame of Singapore is a hit with locals too.

Freelance writer and runner Colin Tung, 26, who is training to qualify for the SEA Games, says: "It's a nice place for an easy run - it offers a natural environment that's relaxing with all the trees and lakes."

The high-rise tree cover and thick vegetation along the park's perimeters shield visitors from the bustle of traffic.

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