The gardens were begun in 1859 and carry the hallmarks of Victorian garden design—gazebos, pavilions, and ornate bandstands included. This is still one of the world's great centers of botanical scholarship, attracting international scientists to its herbarium and library; the gardens' work on orchid hybridization and commercialization for export was groundbreaking. Botanist Henry Ridley experimented here with rubber-tree seeds from South America; his work led to the development of the region's huge rubber industry and to the decline of the Amazon basin's importance as a source of the commodity.
Spread over some 128 acres, the grounds contain a large lake (with black swans from Australia), masses of shrubs and flowers, and magnificent examples of many tree species, including fan palms more than 90 feet high. Don't miss the 10-acre natural remnant rain forest. Locals come here to stroll along nature walks, jog, practice tai chi, feed geese, or just enjoy the serenity. The gardens are trisected into three different zones, each with its own identity and attractions. The ecolake extension at the Bukit Timah side of Cluny Road is a lovely open site with interesting displays of commercial, culinary, and medicinal crops and herbs.