Peradeniya Botanic Gardens

Set 6km southwest of Kandy in a circle in the Mahaweli Ganga lie the extensive Peradeniya Botanical Gardens .The largest and finest gardens in Sri Lanka, covering almost 150 acres and stuffed with a bewildering variety of local and foreign tree and plant species. The history of the site dates right back to the fourteenth century, when Wickramabahu III established a royal residence here.

There are around ten thousand trees in the gardens. Lots are labelled . There’s a fine collection of orchids and a stately avenue of royal palms that was planted in 1950. A major attraction is the giant Javan fig tree on the great lawn. Covering 2500 sq metres .

The area around the entrance is largely given over to small-scale flora, including an orchid house, a flower garden and a tiny and rather unimpressive Japanese garden.

Running from the entrance, the principal thoroughfare, stately Royal Palm Avenue, bisects the gardens, heading in an arrow-straight line from the entrance to the Mahaweli Ganga at the far northern end, via the Great Circle at the centre.

The eastern side of the Great Circle is dotted with a sequence of memorial trees planted at various times by assorted international VIPs.

To the west of the avenue stretches the Great Lawn, home to Peradeniya’s most majestic sight.A huge Javan fig whose rambling roots and branches create a extraordinary natural pavilion. Running along the southern side of the Great Lawn, Double Coconut Palm Avenue is flanked with coco de mer trees, though their massively swollen coconuts which can weigh up to 20kg and  are the world’s largest and heaviest fruit.

There are also a few stunning kauri pines here from Queensland .A long line of strangely twisted Cook’s pines run along the east side of the lawn. The northern half of the gardens has an altogether wilder quality, and the trees here are home to enormous populations of fruit bats, which hang in ominous clusters from the branches overhead.

At its northern end, Royal Palm Avenue curves around to the right, following the bank of the Mahaweli Ganga.A pleasant circuit leads right round the edge of the park, following the river through some of the gardens’ most peaceful and shady areas to reach Cabbage Palm Avenue, lined with West Indian cabbage. Palmyra Palm Avenue leads off to the left, lined with very tall and slender Palmyra palms with their typically spiky tops, a familiar sight to anyone who has visited the Jaffna peninsula, where they are the main palm species, though they’re relatively uncommon elsewhere in the island.

South of here is a stunning group of Java almonds, whose huge buttressed roots line the side of the path. Returning to Cabbage Palm Avenue and continuing south brings you to Cannon Ball Avenue, lined with beautiful cannon ball trees, covered in creepers from which hang the characteristically large, round fruits. Beyond here, the avenue curves around away from the river, before returning you to the Orchid House and entrance.

South of the Great Lawn lies a small but picturesque lake, covered in waterlilies and overlooked by a classical rotunda and an vast bunch of giant bamboo. Continuing south brings you to a moralizing but dull little area of carefully laid out medicinal and aquatic plants, plus various types of grass. Next to these is a line of far more striking , identifiable by the unusual criss-cross bark pattern at the foot of the trunk and by their  huge leaves .Beyond here, at the southernmost edge of the gardens, is the pretty little Students’ Garden, surrounded by weird cycads and ferns.

Getting there

Bus 644 (Rs 15) from Kandy’s clock tower bus stop goes to the gardens. A three-wheeler from Kandy is around Rs 900 return; a van is around Rs 1500.

If food is more a priority than love then you’ll find an overpriced cafeteria (mains Rs 550 to 1000) about 500m north of the entrance, serving Western and Sri Lankan food on a roofed veranda. A better option is to stock up on picnic items.

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