The Royal Botanical Garden or simply Peradeniya Gardens is a leading tourist attraction in Sri Lanka and considered one of the most beautiful gardens in Asia. It is located just a few kilometers near the city of Kandy, which is known as the spiritual heart of Sri Lanka and is the home to a tooth of the Buddha. Peradeniya Gardens attracts visitors with its amazing collection of orchids, spices, palm trees and medicinal plants. Including the National Herbarium, the botanical gardens cover a wide area, about 147-acres wide, at 460 meters above sea level. It is maintained and overseen by the Division of National Botanic Gardens of the Department of Agriculture.
There is a rich history behind this famous garden. Its beginnings date as far back as the beginning of the reign of King Wickramabahu III in 1371. He set his courts at Peradeniya near the Mahaweli River. Peradeniya is a small town located on the A1 main road connecting Kandy and the capital city of Colombo. The town attracts local and foreign tourists not only for the botanical gardens but also the Mahaweli River, rich vegetation on the Hill Country, and several old colonial buildings including the University of Peradeniya, the second oldest university in the country.
After the reign of King Wickramabahu III, the succeeding kings, King Kirti Sri, King Rajadhi Rajasinghe and King Wimala Dharma continued to establish the importance of Peradeniya by constructing several structures and a temple. These, however, were destroyed by the British when they took control of the Kingdom of Kandy. In 1821, groundwork for the botanical gardens was set in place by Alexander Moon, and officially the Botanical Garden at Peradeniya was established in 1843. The first plants that graced this important garden were imported from the Kew Garden in Colombo and the Kalutara Garden in Kalutara. It was named The Royal Botanic Garden of Peradeniya.
In 1844, management and expansion of this independent garden were done by George Gardner, the garden superintendent until he died in 1849. A certain George Henry Kendrick took over the responsibility and allowed the garden to flourish even further. In 1901, King George V and Queen Mary visited the gardens and in it planted the Cannonball Tree, which is now one of the most important trees still standing there. It earned its name because it bent over with its fruits that look like cannonballs. In 1912 the garden was turned over to the care of the Department of Agriculture, which is also based in Peradeniya until today. In World War II, the gardens was used as headquarters for the Southeast Asia Command as led by Lord Louis Mountbatten, supreme commander of the allied forces that represented South Asia. Fortunately, the gardens were not damaged by the war.
Today, Peradeniya Gardens proudly welcomes and entertains hundreds of visitors that regularly come each day. Its attractions include the River Drive, Double Coconut Avenue, Cook’s Pine Avenue, Royal Palm Avenue, Palmyrah Palm Avenue, Cabbage Palm Avenue, Spice Garden, Orchid House, Great Circle and an abundance of tropical plants such as palms, bamboos, screw-pines, epiphytes, and about 4,000 labeled species of plants, which include a bizarre-looking snake creeper.