The air is dense and humid in this green and tranquil place. I pass a glassy lake flanked by lawns and broad-leafed trees. Now I find myself in a garden of vivid orchids, approaching a serene colonial house whose windows are framed by Asian screens and shutters.
Where am I? In the heart of the pristine, 74-hectare Singapore Botanic Gardens. In more than 150 years of existence, this urban oasis has become one of the world’s centres of expertise for breeding hybrid orchids, survived the interference of Japanese wartime occupiers and been listed as a World Heritage spot.
It’s also developed a reputation for being a charming events venue. The structure ahead of me, Burkill Hall (main image, courtesy National Parks Board), named after a former director of the gardens, is becoming hugely popular as a place for corporate functions, product launches and weddings, say marketers.
The only surviving example of an Anglo-Malayan Plantation style house in the city, with high ceilings, wide eaves and broad verandas on the first floor, it overlooks the National Orchid Garden, where new hybrids and clones of orchids and ornamental plants are displayed. Level one can accommodate 80 people, and level two can take 100.
Nearby, with a capacity for up to 180 guests in seminar-style seating, the Function Hall is used mainly for conferences, workshops, exhibitions and retreats.
Each booking here must be made for a minimum of four hours – including time for catering and setup and tear down.
In addition, a function room can host up to 50 seated seminar-style.
Part of the facility’s charm is that it’s a significant spot in the history of Singapore and the region, and the serenity of the gardens belies their tumultuous history. Within a few days of the Japanese occupation, which lasted from 1942 to 1945, Professor Hidezo Tanakadate of Japan’s Tohoku University assumed control of the property and asked some of the senior staff to resume their work. Other staff were not as fortunate, and were sent to work on the Siam-Burma railway. (Image above courtesy National Parks Board)
In addition, a tour of the orchid gardens makes for a genuinely interesting pre- or post-conference activity. Orchids, bred here since 1928, are among the world’s most complex and ubiquitous plants, growing wild on every continent except Antarctica. Some orchid blooms have a perfume-like scent; others stink like rotting meat. One can grow to weigh two tons; another has flowers smaller than a pinhead.
USD 400 an hour
The rate for Burkill Hall and the other venues is extremely reasonable. The hourly cost of hiring the hall, including 7% GST, is just S$560 (USD 400) an hour, for a minimum of four hours, and the other venues are available for less.
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