Do you know the largest children’s garden in Asia is found in Singapore in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Singapore Botanic Gardens? The Jacob Ballas Garden has just doubled in size last November to claim the title with a two-hectare extension, bringing the park to four-hectare in size now.
The new extension includes attractions and programmes geared towards youngsters up to 14 years old, enabling them to learn about a range of eco-systems. Prior to the extension, the Garden catered to children up to 12 years old. I went to explore the garden with my son Asher when the expanded garden was newly opened.
This is a great place to visit for parents with young kids. Everyone gets to enjoy nature together while learning a thing or two about the natural world we live in. Best of all – admission is free. Great place for both locals and tourists.
The garden is named after the late Jacob Ballas, a pillar of the Jewish community in Singapore, a successful stockbroker and well-known philanthropist. The Jacob Ballas Garden first opened to public in 2007 and is popular with parents and their young kids. The garden was launched to provide a place for children to play, explore and have fun while learning about our natural heritage and the importance of plants and the environment to human life.
The garden, which is Asia’s first children’s garden, was made possible by a S$3 million contribution from the estate of Jacob Ballas and a group of friends which was matched by the government of Singapore. Since then they have continued to support the maintenance of the garden and also contributed an additional S$1.9 million for the extension last year to mark the tenth anniversary of the opening.
The new two-hectare extension in the garden is designed to help the young understand the ecology of plants through nature play and experiential learning. The extension comprises four new zones which allow children to experience and learn about different eco-systems: Farm, Forest, Steam and Orchard. This is in addition to the current four existing zones of Play, Grow, Explore and Learn. Details:
Children can enjoy the views from the tall tree houses nestled amongst the giant banyan tree and glide down the flying fox towards the forest floor. Here, they get to learn about forest and their inhabitants.
Asher loves this zone and didn’t want to leave if not for a coming downpour. There are lots of interactive play here and kids can run around here for hours.
The zone has inclusive play equipment for children with special needs like the wheelchair trampoline. There is also a percussion play which encourages interaction between children of all ages.
As a recommendation, leave this as a last stop when visiting the garden so that your kids can spend all the time they want here.
Take a walk in the canopy along the overhead bridge by the Orchard and enjoy the unique foliage of the fruit trees there. Visitors can look out for cocoa, tea and coffee plants and find out how their favourite beverages and desserts are processed.
These include the Liberian Coffee (Coffee liberica), one of the common species of plants grown to produce coffee beans, and fruit trees like Garcinia macrophylla, a relative of the mangosteen, which produces edible yellow fruits.
Visitors can ramble along the stream and spot the animals and plants that live here. They can discover the clever adaptations that allow these species to make their home in the stream.
Plants found along the stream include the Putat (Barringtonia macrocarpa), which can be found in swamp forests and beside streams from Indochina to western Malesia, and the Simpoh Air (Dillenia suffructicosa), a shrub with large leaves and flowers that grows along forest edges, streams and in marshes, secondary forests and swampy grounds.
Visitors have the opportunity to get up close to the fruits and vegetables growing here and discover how these edibles are harvested and brought to our tables. They will also get to find out how our food is transported and what they can do to reduce their environmental impact by growing their own food and making their compost at home.
Edibles grown in this area include the Butter Fruit (Diospyros blancoi), a relative of the common persimmon. Its fruits are edible and have a flavour that some compare to butter or creamy cheese.
Children get to explore a living playground at the Maze. They can also cool off at the water play area and have fun at the sandy playground.
Children can observe pollinators at work amidst varied and colourful edible plants. One example is the Chinese Olive Tree (Canarium album), which is native to eastern Indochina and the Philippines. It is cultivated for its edible fruits which are dried and preserved for consumption.
This area comprises a swinging suspension bridge, waterfall and a secret cave. Visitors can enjoy a bird’s eye view of the garden from the tree house and walk through a Frangipani grove.
This is another zone which kids can play for hours and refuse to leave. I really like how the treehouse play slide is integrated in design with the actual trees growing there.
Seek inspiration from nature and create art in the nature play pavilion. Visitors can find out more about the amazing world of plants and learn about processes such as photosynthesis through observations.
If you are looking to reconnect with nature in urban Singapore with your little ones, the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden, Asia’s largest children’s garden is the place to be!
Location: Singapore Botanic Gardens
Opening Hours: 8am to 7pm (last admission at 6.30pm)
Closed on Mons (except when it falls on a designated public holiday)
Admission: Free (open to children up to 14 years old)
10-min walk from Botanic Gardens MRT Station (Circle/Downtown Line)
Alight at “NUS Bukit Timah Campus” bus stop along Bukit Timah Road or “after Kheam Hock Road” bus stop along Dunearn Road. It is a 5-min walk from the respective bus stops.
Bus services along Dunearn Road and Bukit Timah Road: 48, 66, 67, 151, 153, 154, 156, 170, 171, 186
From Dunearn Road – At the Dunearn-Kheam Hock Road junction, turn right to enter NUS Bukit Timah Campus. Turn right into Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden after car park gantry.
From Bukit Timah Road – At the Bukit Timah-Kheam Hock Road junction, turn left to enter NUS Bukit Timah Campus. Turn right into Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden after car park gantry.
Limited parking lots are available at Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden and NUS Bukit Timah Campus.