Adventures in Boots – The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kandy, Sri Lanka – February 2017

The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kandy, Sri Lanka 

 The second city in Sri Lanka is dusty, dirty, noisy & difficult to navigate so a visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kandy was a most welcome relief. Not so much a botanic garden in the sense that we would recognise here in the British Isles, more of an arboretum.

The trees were magnificent, huge & exotic. They far more captured my attention than the colonial styled formal flower beds of which there were a few rather undaunting pieces. I’m not a fan of symetrically designed planting arangements-we do it well in this country but I don’t favour them over trees & more natural, wilder-styled planting.

Various visiting dignitories have planted many auspicious trees over the years here, but the tree that stood out for me was the appropriately named cannon ball tree Couroupita guianensis that may have been planted by King George V & Queen Mary in 1901. The fruits are the size of and resemble a galia melon but weigh like a canon ball.


A cannonball fruit

Do not stand under these trees in high winds. It has a flower that when opened reveals a tiny stupa like appearance & is  known as the stupa  flower.


A stupa flower, flower from the canon ball tree

There are vast avenues of palms, some being replanted, huge ironwood trees, humungous teak trees & a huge Javan fig tree that stood splendidly on the main lawn in all its glory proudly taking up 2,500 m2. The gardens are in excellent shape, the plants & beds in very good order-Sri Lankan gardeners habitually sweep up leaves every day. We travelled around the gardens in a buggy with a guide who stopped frequently to talk about salient specimens. We were shown the massive fruit bats hanging in the conifer trees & a resident water monitor that hangs out in the river beneath the suspension bridge & many birds which make their homes on the vast estate.


Huge Java fig (Ficus benjamina) that occupies the centre of the Great Lawn

There have been royal gardens in Kandy since the 14th century when a king held court near the river adjacent to the current 150-acre site. Once the British were given the Kingdom of Kandy designs began to form the start of the botanical garden as it’s seen today, under the guidance of Alexander Moon. Originally coffee, cinnamon & spices were grown but the garden now has in excess of 4,000 specimens of plants, trees, palms, orchids & medicinal herbs. The garden has thrived under various superindentants for nearly two hundred years & now yields 2 million visitors a year. The entrance is £8 for tourists but just £1 or so for locals. Our visit was one of the highlights of our three week tour around the island of Sri Lanka.


Me crouched in the buttress roots of a mahogany tree

TTFN, next time the garden of Geoffrey Bawa in Bentota, Sri Lanka. 07708 643313 do drop me a line with any garden enquiries.