The Royal Botanic Gardens in Sri Lanka are just outside the popular tourist destination of Kandy and easy to reach by tuk-tuk from any of the nearby hotels. It’s a lovely place, well laid out, and the map you get at the entrance is easy to follow.
I’ve read that the orchid house is most popular but it didn’t hold my attention, perhaps because I recently visited the one in Singapore and that has to be among the best in the world. Besides, when you have trees like they do in Sri Lanka, why mess around with orchids.
That’s why the fernery garden is my favourite, not because of the ferns but because of the trees that grow there. It’s also an intimate garden with intersecting paths shaded by these majestic trees that are heavily draped in vines. For those into ferns, the collection includes about 100 indigenous and exotic species.
There are three palm avenues and they are magnificent. The palms in the Cabbage Palm Avenue are over 21m in height and lined up just perfectly. Some of the 200 species of palms in the Garden are quite decorative. The double coconut palm is from the Seychelles and produces the largest seed in the plant kingdom.
As I was walking down the road towards the Great Circle, I started to notice young couples standing or sitting behind trees on either side of the road. This continued as I went along the palm avenues and it finally occurred to me that this was where young Sri Lankans ‘hang out’ in this relatively conservative society.
There’s a Great Lawn with an enormous Java Willow (or Java Fig tree) in the centre that looks like a big umbrella. Families were relaxing and playing games in this space. Bordering the lawn is an avenue of Cooks pines. Across the road from the lawn are trees that are so enormous that even their roots seem to have outgrown the space.
There’s a lake with marsh plants, a spice garden with cinnamon, pepper, cardamom and nutmeg. The flower garden has a curving path of colourful annual coleus. Nearby are flowering trees that come into bloom at various times of the year. I was most impressed by the greenery behind them—so lush and reaching such amazing heights.
In this tropical climate, plants grow quickly. There’s a giant bamboo from Burma in the bamboo collection and its new shoots grow about 30 cm (almost a foot) a day. It would be a full time job just maintaining its size.
I loved the Gardeners’ Memorial. It is in a sheltered place and you walk down a rather ceremonial road to reach it. Sitting in it made me feel that I was part of a worldwide community.
Here are some of the featured highlights of the garden:
– Double coconut
– Ebony collection
– Palm collection
– Cycad collection
– Bamboo collection
– Medicinal garden
– Giant bamboo
– Rock border
– Gardner’s memorial
– Java Fig tree
– Cook’s pine avenue
– National herbarium
– Ficus collection
– Royal palm avenue
About two million visitors go through the gardens every year. There are 4000 species under cultivation on 147 acres (59 hectares). The gardens are open 365 days/year from 7:30 am to 5:00 pm.
Source: Guide Map, Royal Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
Riding the buses 2013