ultramarinus – beyond the sea

ZOOLOGICAL & BOTANICAL GARDENS (兵頭花園), Central (中環), Hong Kong

Famous for its restless and often stressful urban living, sparing the time to take a walk in the park can be a luxury for many Hong Kongers. In fact, many may not even notice the existence of parks and gardens in the business district of Hong Kong. Behind the towering skyscrapers of Central (中環), a rather hidden 5.6 hectares area on the slope of Victoria Peak stands the oldest public park in Hong Kong. Long before the city was promoted as a shopping paradise, or a foodie haven of Michelin star restaurants, or a recreational hub of amusement parks and vibrant nightlife, or an exotic destination of subtropical beaches and seaside hiking trails, Hong Kong Botanical Gardens (香港植物公園) was one of the primary tourist attractions in the Victoria City. Founded in 1864 and completely opened to the public in 1871, the gardens was established in times when botanical gardens were founded by colonial powers in different locations around the world. The Hong Kong Botanical Gardens was used by the British as a regional hub to study plant species collected from the Far East before transferring back to the Kew Gardens in England, or before planting at other areas in Hong Kong.

Bounded by Garden Road (花園道), Robinson Road (羅便臣道), Glenealy (己連拿利) and Upper Albert Road (上亞厘畢道) in the Mid-Levels (半山), Hong Kong Botanical Gardens is often referred to as Bing Tau Fa Yuen (兵頭花園) by the locals. Literally means “Head of Soldiers” Garden, “Bing Tau Fa Yuen” references to the former Governor’s House built at the Garden’s location. In 1975, the official name of the Gardens was changed to Hong Kong Zoological & Botanical Gardens (香港動植物公園), as a result to the growing collection of display animals. Despite initial researches of botanical science (which led to the founding of Hong Kong Herbarium in 1878) at the Gardens, most people would remember the Gardens as a place to check out animals and floral displays. Though the history of how the Gardens had played a role in botanic research for tree planting on the Hong Kong Island shall always be remembered. After all, transforming Hong Kong Island from a barren and rocky island with no forests, no trees and only grass in the 19th century (resulted from centuries of reckless deforestation) into the relatively lush green metropolis that we see today was no small feat.

Situated right across from my primary school, Bing Tau Fa Yuen is an essential part of my childhood memories. Going to Bing Tau Fa Yuen (兵頭花園) to check out the howler monkeys, orangutans, peacocks and even jaguars was a small after-school treat for me as a child. Every spring, Azalea (杜鵑花) would flourish across the park, attracting a large crowd to take selfies. Many years have gone by and the neighborhood has significantly transformed since my childhood’s time. Though the annual blossom at Bing Tau Fa Yuen is one of the few things that could remain unchanged throughout the years.

Hong Kong Botanical Garden and the slope of Victoria Peak in the 19th century. [Album of Hongkong Canton Macao Amoy Foochow, photograph by George Ernest Morrison, 1870’s, Public Domain]
Today, behind Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, Victoria Peak is almost completely concealed by highrise residential towers. [Junction of Garden Road and Upper Albert Road, 2021]
The subtropical climate of Hong Kong is suitable for a wide range of trees and plants to flourish. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens near Glenealy, 2020]
At the Glenealy entrance, the roughly 100 year old White Jade Orchid Tree (Michelia x alba 白蘭樹) is about 34m tall. It is one of the tallest trees in Hong Kong. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens near Glenealy Entrance, 2021]
Beyond the Gardens and Upper Albert Road, the business district of Central is just a stone throw away. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens at Upper Albert Road, 2021]
Renamed as Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, the park is also well known for its animals, including monkeys, apes, birds, and reptiles. The renowned Siu Fa, a jaguar who lived in the Gardens for 20 years until her death in 2008, was the last big cat kept at the park. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2020]
With the spatial limitation of the Gardens, keeping large mammals such as the Bornean Orangutans is controversial. As awareness of animal welfare has risen in recent years, let’s hope the authority and zookeepers would soon shift their efforts from confining exotic animals to conserving local wildlife and natural ecosystem. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2020]
There are also a number of cages of birds on display, including a small group of American Flamingo. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Apart from animals and birds, the Gardens is much more popular for its seasonal flower blossoms. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Different types of Azalea (杜鵑) blossoms transform the Gardens into a colourful paradise in March. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Different species of Hibiscus (大红花) can be found all over the Gardens. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Commonly known as pinkball, Scarlet Dombeya (吊芙蓉) is a highlight at the Gardens in early April. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
It’s just flowers everywhere in spring at the botanical garden. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Native to South America, the Red-veined Abutilon or Red-vein Chinese-lantern is commonly used in horticulture. The flowers are also edible, raw or cooked. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Every visitors love the Scarlet Flame Bean or Brownea coccinea. Native to Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela, Scarlet Flame Beans are now cultivated in many tropical countries. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Late March and early April is the best time to check out the Scarlet Flame Bean. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Away from the flower beds and bird cages, an old stone wall tree stands quietly near Robinson Road. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Built in 1866, the Pavilion between the Fountain and the bird cages is the oldest structure in the Gardens. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2020]
Even if one is not after the flowers or animals, Bing Tau Fa Yuen (兵頭花園) is a great place to just sit down, relax, and do nothing. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
The centerpiece of the Gardens is undoubtedly the Fountain. The fountain that we see today is the 5th generation that was erected in 2010. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Built in 1868, the first generation fountain was a landmark and a well known tourist attraction of Colonial Hong Kong. The Victoria Harbour and Governor House once dominated the view behind the fountain of the Botanical Garden. [Photo by Lai Afong, 1860-1880, public domain]
The Fountain was once a well known landmark of Hong Kong frequented by tourists. [Old postcard of the Fountain, copyright expired, 1900’s]
Sometimes, art installations would be set up at the Fountain Terrace, such as this bamboo structure designed by architects Impromptu Projects from Macau [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
The Fountain has become a peaceful landmark in the Mid Levels. Original fountain was built in 1864, and has been altered subsequently with the last renovation in 2010. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2020]
Spring is the best season to visit the Gardens due to the annual blossoms of Azalea (杜鵑花). [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
At the heart of the Gardens, a grand stair lead visitors from the fountain to the statue of King George VI. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Sculpted by Gilbert Ledward, the bronze statue of King George VI, father of the Queen Elizabeth II, was constructed to commemorate the centennial of the British Colonial Hong Kong. The statue was commissioned in 1939 and erected at the Gardens in 1958 after disruption from WWII. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
A greenhouse near Garden Road is home to a number of dedicated plants. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Erected in 1928, the Memorial Arch was dedicated to the Chinese who lost their lives during WWI. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
The 100-year-old Stone pillars mark the entrance of the Gardens. [Upper Albert Road entrance, Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
The same old stone pillars marked the park entrance 120 years ago in this photo. [Old postcard, copyright expired, 1900’s]
Across from the entrance stone pillars stands the former Governor’s House and the skyline of Central. [Upper Albert Road entrance, Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
The former Govrenor House now stands silently across the street from the Gardens. [Upper Albert Road, Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]

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