Botanic Gardens in excellent shape in the 1970s

Sunday's report ("The man who saved Botanic Gardens") had Dr Kiat W. Tan saying that the Botanic Gardens was in a sorry state back in the 1970s, that there was talk it would be sold to developers and that its herbarium was up for sale.

As commissioner for parks and recreation then, I looked after the Botanic Gardens from 1974 to early 1983.

During that period, the Botanic Gardens was in excellent condition.

The grounds were looked after by experienced staff, some of whom had started working during the colonial period.

I also set up an office there and I would spend my mornings there three times a week, going round with staff to look around and to make sure things were all right.

During that period, I also planted species of keruings and merantis along the road leading to the entrance of the Gardens from Napier Road.

One of these, a white meranti from the north of Malaya, was nominated as a Heritage Tree of the Botanic Gardens.

To ensure the big, old trees in the Gardens were safe, I initiated the installation of lightning conductors for these trees.

Incidentally, at the time, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew used to take evening strolls in the Gardens.

If I had left the Gardens in a sorry state, he would not have given me an accolade in his memoir From Third World To First: "A key implementer of my green policy was an able officer, Wong Yew Kwan, a Malaysian trained in silviculture."

As for the herbarium, it was also well looked after by experienced officers.

The herbarium was known worldwide, and famous herbaria in England and other parts of Europe would borrow our specimens for their study of tropical plants.

It is not true that the Botanic Gardens wanted to sell its herbarium.

Wong Yew Kwan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2015, with the headline 'Botanic Gardens in excellent shape in the 1970s'. Print Edition | Subscribe