Article: Leonie Twentyman-Jones, Photos: Margaret Richards.
How magical it was to travel through a country where there is abundant water, friendly, kind and gentle people (somewhat bemused nevertheless by seeing ‘mad’ white people walking through their villages, along fertile meticulously terraced vegetable beds and rice paddies and in amongst tea plantations, when they could have travelled in the ubiquitous three-wheeled ‘tuk-tuk’), and surrounded by luxuriant vegetation. We came home with wonderful memories full of intense colours – vibrant greens, blues, purples, oranges and yellows, and all shades of red from deep carmine to delicate pink – reflected in their plants and birds, and echoed in the fabrics worn by the people as well as their brightly painted homes.
The Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens near Kandy, capital of the Hill Country, and the largest and finest gardens in Sri Lanka, covering almost 150 acres, give one a wonderful overview of the local and foreign plant and tree species which flourish in the country. The history of the site dates back to 1371 when an early Kandyan king built his royal residence there. During the 18th century a later king established a pleasure garden for the nobility and after the last Kandyan king was defeated by the British in 1815, the gardens were transformed into a botanical garden. They were developed and expanded by various 19th century British botanists including Dr Henry Trimen, the younger brother of Dr Roland Trimen, zoologist and head of the South African Museum in Cape Town in the 1870s. During the 20th century their work was continued and further developed by noted Singhalese botanists.
Highlights of the gardens include an orchid house filled with more than 300 different species; over 200 species of palms including three magnificent palm avenues; a spice garden including cinnamon, pepper, cardamom and some of the oldest nutmeg trees planted in 1840 and still bearing fruit, as well as all spice and bay leaf trees; a bamboo collection including the giant bamboo of Burma (Dendrocalamus giganteus) whose new shoots grow about 30cm each day; a beautiful flower garden with a border of striking coleus varieties; a lake covered in different varieties of water lilies, including the Blue water lily (national flower of Sri Lanka) with Nile papyrus along its edge; the Great lawn with an enormous Java Fig tree (Ficus benjamina) in its centre ; and numerous trees from all over the world, including some spectacular flowering trees like the Rose of Venezuela (Brownea grandiceps). What a special garden for both locals and visitors to enjoy.