Persatuan Sahabat Kebun Botanik Pulau Pinang Friends of the Penang Botanic Gardens Society

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The History of the Friends of the Penang Botanic Gardens Society

The Friends of the Penang Botanic Gardens Society (FOPBGS) is a registered Non-Government Organisation, established in 1995. Our aim is to increase public appreciation and education of Plants and the Environment. The Society promotes horticultural activities, scientific research and conservation of plants and the environment, at the Penang Botanic Gardens.

Our Staff

We have an experienced and dedicated group of volunteers and administrator. Each strives to create a supportive and challenging atmosphere to encourage everyone to participate.

The History of the Penang Botanical Gardens

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Views from the past...

Entrance to the Botanical Gardens

Entrance to the Botanical Gardens

The history of the Penang Botanic Gardens (also commonly known as Waterfall Gardens) is closely linked to the economic activities of the early European Colonialists, not only in Asia but globally. Fruits and spices of the east became important economic proudest to the European powers and the need to stock the seedlings of these products for commercial growers led to the establishment of the Botanic Gardens.

In Malaysia, the first garden to be established was at Penang in 1796, ten years after Penang was established as a trading port of the East India Company. Thousands of seedlings from all over South East Asia were imported and grown, and when these matured, they were exported to provide planting stock.

Our present gardens though, are not on the original site of the first gardens. The then Lieutenant Governor, Colonel Farquhar sold off these first Penang Gardens on impulse in 1804 for $9656. In 1822, Sir Stamford Raffles, either just before or just after he founded the Singapore Botanic Gardens (near Fort Canning), opened the second Penang Botanic Gardens under the charge of George Porter, a schoolmaster. However in 1834, Governor Murchison, "who took no interest in gardens or agriculture", sold them once again for 1250 rupees "because his wife could not get enough vegetables from the gardens to diminish her cook's bills" (Ridley, 1910).

Water Lilies

Water Lilies in the Gardens 

In 1884 Nathaniel Cantley, Superintendent of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, established the present Botanic Gardens and Charles Curtis was appointed the Assistant Superintendent. The Botanic Gardens Department, was, in its inception, administered by the Gardens and Forests Department of the Straits Settlement. It was engaged mainly in the cultivation of essential commercial plants, inspecting crops and advising the planting community. When all work connected with economic crops and forestry were taken over by the Agriculture and Forestry Departments, Curtis made himself responsible for the layout of the Botanic Gardens. He remained with the Gardens from 1884 until 1903.

In 1910 the Penang Botanic Gardens had an extensive collection of rare beautiful plants, all attributed to the considerable efforts of Curtis. Several plants were named after him to honour his contribution to the Gardens.

The original attraction of the Gardens — The 400ft Waterfall

The original attraction of the Gardens
— The 400ft Waterfall

In the same year, the Gardens were threatened by a proposal to turn the valley in which it was located in to a reservoir. The Gardens were handed over to the Municipality for this purpose. Luckily the plan was abandoned before much harm was done and they were returned to the Government in 1912.

During the period 1910 - 1921, much of the effort of Curtis and his succeeding Superintendents was left to deteriorate. However, the herbarium collection increased and more time was directed to horticulture and botanical work. Flippance who was once appointed Assistant in 1921, was faced with the formidable task of relaying the gardens, in addition to his advisory role on roadside trees and other planting work in the municipal area. The work of the Gardens Department began to extend to ornamental planting of Georgetown, the Governor's Residence as well as the gardens in Penang Hill. A fine formal garden was established in 1936 in the Waterfall Gardens. Flippance remained Assistant Curator until 1937.

The war took its toll on the Gardens. Although some of the Asian Staff remained with the Gardens during the Japanese occupation, lack of funds and direction, together with the accumulation of war debris, left the Gardens in a very bad state. The Japenese excavated tunnels near the lily ponds and turned them into ammunitions works and storage facility.

Upon British reoccupation in 1945, much restoration and cleaning up had to be done. As part of the post war reorganisation, the Penang Botanic Gardens was divorced from its parent establishment in Singapore and, in 1946, the Gardens administration passed from Singapore to the Federation of Malay States. Today, the administration of the Gardens is the responsibility of the Penang State Government under the Pejabat Kebun Bunga (Penang Botanic Gardens Department). Under the direction of F.S. Banfield and the remarkable group of Malaysians who served through the war years, the Botanic Gardens was restored to its original splendour. In 1956 Mr. Cheang Kok Choy was appointed the first Malaysian curator of the Gardens. The current Director of Botanic Gardens Penang (2007) is Ms. Nor Wahida bt. Hassan following the retirement of Mr. Lim Boon Tiong.

... And Today

Botanical Gardens Today

Botanical Gardens Today

Today, the Gardens' main objectives include conservation programmes, provision of a clean, safe and conducive public recreation environment, education and raising of public awareness in the appreciation of nature and gardening. In the research area, the Gardens also collaborate with others in the development and implementation of botanical and ecological research programmes both nationally and internationally.

As the Botanic is a must on the tourist trail, yet another mission of the Penang Botanic Gardens Department is to provide visitors with programmes that focus on the historical and cultural heritage of the gardens, the plant collections, natural landscape and rich diversity of flora and fauna. Lastly, as a service to its clientele, it aims to provide professional advice related to botany, taxonomy, horticulture and landscaping.

The Formal Gardens

The Formal Gardens

There is also ongoing expansion taking place. Improvements in the infrastructure include better toilet facilities, an environmental friendly transport systems, a visitor's centre, a bamboo park and an eco-stream.

It is the common wish of the Botanic Gardens Department and FRIENDS to collaborate to promote the interests of the Botanic Gardens and the educational programmes on the environment to the public.

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Friends of the Penang Botanic Gardens Society