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.
The Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya is probably the second most popular attraction in or around Kandy after the Temple of the Tooth Relic. Lying at 5.5 km west of Kandy, the 147 acres garden was established in 1821 by Alexander Moon to house coffee and cinnamon plants. In 1843, plants from other gardens including the London’s Kew Garden were transplanted to Peradeniya to establish the Royal Botanical Gardens.
The Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya is one of the about 230 tropical botanical gardens in South or Southeast Asia. Before 19th century, botanical gardens in Europe were mainly designated for scientific studies and classification. During the 19th century as colonialism extended to the east, botanical gardens were established by the Europeans in Asia as a research facility to study not only the science of plants, but also the techniques and economy of agriculture. The Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya had contributed to the agricultural development of Ceylon, the former British colony in Sri Lanka. Today, it is a lovely park that opens for all who pay the admission.
The Royal Botanical Garden at Peradeniya is a pleasant park frequented by visitors of all ages, even for those who have little knowledge in botany and horticulture.
One of the first plants that caught our attention was Amherstia nobilis, or Pride of Burma, near the Great Circle.
The Great Circle was the first large lawn area we reached in the garden. Surrounding the circle were groves of different tropical trees.
We could hear strange noises coming from one of the groves. As soon as we walked closer, we discovered a large group of Indian flying foxes on the tree canopies.
The trees in the garden provides perfect resting spots for the bats during the day.
Apparently the bats were resting, but they often moved around and communicated with one another.
When a few of them took off in the air, we could appreciate the large wing span of the flying foxes.
With a wing span ranging from 1.2 – 1.5m, the Indian Flying Foxes are one of the world’s largest bat.
While the bats were busy pushing one another for a better spot, two cows had the entire grass field to themselves.
It was a unique experience to see so many trees were occupied by the resting flying foxes.
The three Royal Palm Avenue are probably the most recognizable scenes of the garden.
Stretching their branches like myriad of open arms, the Giant Java Fig Trees are the favourite photo spots for many.
The Giant Java Fig Trees occupy a large area of space among themselves.
Near the Giant Java Fig is another amazing giant.
Built in 1931 by the British, Peradeniya Sangili Palama is a suspension bridge that lies across the Mahaweli River.
Back to the Great Lawn, we stopped by another famous Giant Java Fig Tree.
Some called this the largest pruned tree in the world.
An interesting study on grass species from around the world.
It wasn’t really crowded so we had a good 2.5 hours of relaxing time at Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya.