This Garden still beckons
From tourists to lovers, the historic Peradeniya botanical gardens draws record crowds
By Apsara Kapukotuwa
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya-a "must-see" tourist attraction en route to the historic city of Kandy, remains one of the country's most popular landmarks. Occupying a horseshoe-shaped peninsula totalling 147 acres around which flows the Mahaweli river, the Gardens has this year already netted in a record revenue.

With about 4000 species of plants, the Peradeniya Gardens, as it is more popularly known, attracts more than 1.2 million visitors a year. The Gardens continues to receive a positive response from foreign visitors who take maximum benefit from it, says its director, Dr. D.S.A. Wijesundera who feels local tourists are not fully aware of its importance from conservation of flora to educational aspects, to research and documenting the national herbarium.

A little known fact is that the maintenance of the Sri Maha Bodhiya is done by the Gardens' staff. About 15,000 people are trained each year in areas ranging from plant conservation to research and floriculture, Dr. Wijesundera said.

“We have recorded the highest income this year -in the region of Rs. 100 million. As the number of visitors has increased, so have the facilities. Toilets are being repaired and a new toilet has been built for foreigners,” the director said.

Having been told by an Indian couple that the toilets within the grounds had no doors and were in a bad state, I was pleasantly surprised to notice that they were in much better condition than one could expect in a place that has 2000 visitors a day. We later discovered that there had been as many as 6000 people in addition to the usual turnout since a garment factory had brought its employees on an outing the previous day.

Drinking water fountains are coming up all over the Gardens (with hot and cold water) and the National Herbarium is now being expanded, Dr. Wijesundera said. In addition, an auditorium is being built as an academic building for the School of Floriculture and Landscape Design, which will be established before the end of the year. The school hopes to conduct a fully fledged diploma course shortly.

The Gardens have long been a favourite haunt of lovers who take refuge in its many shady nooks and corners. There were many couples when The Sunday Times visited last week but their behaviour was considerably better than one was accustomed to in previous years. The larger number of 'watchers' employed by the Gardens' administrators, who are heard whistling whenever they spotted any 'troublemakers' could be a reason for this.

But for all the checks and many notices reminding visitors that it was a place that is open for the public to enjoy the beauty of nature and that improper conduct is liable for punishment, there are some unexpected 'sights' as when we chanced upon an employee of the Gardens taking a midday nap in the middle of the road near the Students' Garden.

Of course there was much to feast our eyes on too. The famous Orchid House is now under renovation and its prized collection is housed nearby in Orchid House 2. Here we could see the largest orchid in the world, which produces flower spikes upto 2.5 m long and the Green Orchid among its fascinating display of exotic blooms.

The Fernery, the Great Lawn (whose unique feature is the Java Willow which occupies the centre like a giant living umbrella) and the Spice Garden (which still has some of the oldest nutmeg trees planted in 1840 still bearing fruit) are among the other 'must see' attractions at the Gardens.

The once popular suspension bridge, however, was not fully open to the public and the sentry would only allow us to go halfway as the wooden planks were rotted at certain places. Even though a counter had been earlier opened on the other side of the Mahaweli to allow people in from that end, poor returns have resulted in that entryway being closed.

Of the 2117 Botanical Gardens in the world, fewer than 10 are named as Classic Botanic Gardens and Sri Lanka's Peradeniya Gardens is one of them.

Back to Top  Back to Plus  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.