Botanic Gardens head fusses over the plants
Singapore Botanic Gardens director Nigel Taylor plays detective and uncovers interesting facts about the national landmark sleuth Gardens
The position of "director" brings to mind someone in top management, issuing instructions from an air-conditioned office.
But Dr Nigel Taylor, 59, director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, has no qualms getting dirty on the job.
Dr Taylor, who joined the Botanic Gardens more than three years ago, is always asking, "Why?"
Driving a buggy around the grounds, he will wave cheerfully to his staff gardeners. And it is not uncommon to find him on his knees, fussing over a germinating seedling.
He told The New Paper on Tuesday that he knows the Botanic Gardens so well, he believes he can navigate its paths blindfolded.
Dr Taylor is a former curator at Kew Gardens in London, which holds the world's largest collection of living plants.
He is so passionate about the Botanic Gardens, he has been acting like a detective, digging up information that even long-time employees are unaware of.
Last year, he uncovered the true colours of Burkill Hall, long believed to be a colonial black-and-white bungalow.
He said: "It is actually an Anglo-Malayan style plantation house, but had been wrongly painted by the Public Works Department since the 1960s.
"The exterior is supposed to be completely white."
Dr Taylor was fielding a media query on black-and-white bungalows and had wanted to be sure he was giving accurate information.
But his research showed that the historic building had different architectural features compared to a black-and-white bungalow. Old photographs confirmed the house used to be white.
While both types of houses have an overhanging roof, the external wall of Burkill Hall is further from the edge of the roof, leaving a large porch that would shelter the plantation owner from the tropical weather.
Dr Taylor presented his case to architectural historians and looked for surviving examples of a plantation house in the region.
Books and postcards pointed him to various locations in Singapore and Malaysia, but he was out of luck, leading him to believe that Burkill Hall is the last of its kind.
Burkill Hall, built between 1867 and 1868, is named after the Botanic Gardens' former directors Isaac Henry Burkill and his son Humphrey Morrison Burkill.
Its matching verandahs and high ceilings create a wind corridor on the top floor.
Dr Taylor said Burkill Hall's original whitewashed walls will return when it is repainted later this year.
The house is not the only mystery he has solved in his work at. Others include the origins of a strange arrow in the middle of Symphony Lake.
How did he manage to solve so many mysteries? He said: "There's no magic to it. You just have to be a bit of a sleuth."
Did you know?
Prisoners-of- War Brick steps
The worn-down red bricks of this staircase look out of place against the immaculate landscape and Dr Nigel Taylor was on the verge of replacing them when he learnt of their significance.
The bricks had been handmade by Australian prisoners of war who were held in Changi during World War II.
Small arrows can be seen on the bricks, a symbol of their passive protest, letting the outside world know that they were being detained by the Japanese.
Arrow at symphony lake
When Dr Taylor first joined the Botanic Gardens, he chanced upon a mysterious arrow in the middle of Symphony Lake.
He pored over annual reports and found a photo in December 1979 with a sign explaining the arrow’s origins. The sign has since disappeared.
In 1914, the Royal Meteorological Society in the UK and Carnegie Institute in the US picked various spots across the world in a study on the earth’s magnetism. The arrow marks one of the spots picked by the researchers and points towards Greenwich, London.
The massive Cannonball trees look at home in the Ginger Garden but they are actually “stolen” goods.
In 1934, Botanic Gardens assistant director E J H Corner was returning from home leave in England when the ship he was on had an eight-hour stopover in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
He visited the famous Royal Botanical Gardens of Peradeniya and took three Cannonball tree seeds from there.
Dr Taylor learnt this from the annual reports and the former assistant director’s biography. Dr Taylor believes the Cannonball trees along Tanglin are also from the stolen seeds.
Many people know about the swans at Swan Lake, but not of other creatures that once lurked in its waters.
In 1892, a gardener drawing water from the lake was attacked by a crocodile, which seized his arm. It turned out to be a British colonel’s pet crocodile that had escaped from the British barracks opposite the Botanic Gardens.
The lake, which was added in 1866, had to be drained to catch the crocodile. But by the time the water was drained, the crocodile had disappeared.