Sunday, 10 March 2013

Taipei Botanical Gardens

Xiaonanmen is a small, unimportant station on a tiny, three-stop MRT line near central Taipei. No shopping malls, restaurants or large businesses exist nearby. Yet many expats find themselves there because it's the closest station to the National Immigration Offices, where Alien Residence Certificates are renewed.

Which makes the relative anonymity of Taipei Botanical Gardens, which are a two-minute walk from Xiaonanmen Station, all the more of a puzzle. Taipei doesn't seem to consider its gardens of major interest, for I'd never heard of them or seen mention on expat, tourist or government websites, and it was only through active searching that I learned of their existence. Such obscurity is unjustified. Though small, the gardens are a delightful, interesting and refreshing oasis in the heart of the city.

Charmingly old-fashioned, cast-iron turnstile entrances lead in from several sides, and broad walkways take  visitors on to smaller, winding paths serving all the nooks and crannies of this diverse site. In keeping with a botanical garden's purpose, there's a huge range of plant species. Crop plants such as coffee, wheat and corn make up one area, while others consist of plant families such as bamboos and succulents.

As always, I was on the look out for flowers, and I wasn't disappointed. Gorgeous, unusual, richly-coloured blooms, that can only be seen in greenhouses back home, were bursting forth in response to the mild spring weather. The water gardens were still bare, but held the promise of masses of summer lotus and water lilies.

It's hard to describe, but there's a 'green' smell to such places, and this was at its strongest along the shaded, meandering walkway through the fern and woodland area. Prehistoric in imagery, it's easy to lose sense of time here. Seating areas allow people to pause and absorb the atmosphere. Though the gardens were fairly busy the day we went (Sunday), there was still plenty of room to just stop, sit down and take it all in.

Here's a flavour:

A few of the beautiful blooms.

A variety of hibiscus, I think. The droopy petals are a feature, making the flowers look like delicate ladies' handkerchiefs.

Tree-lined walkways lead in from the entrances.
Breadfruit tree.

Fruit of this tree below.

I have a special place in my heart for bamboo. It's tough, useful, graceful and soothing to the eye.

Worth at least two hours of time, the gardens also merit return visits as new seasons bring new flowers, fruits and scenes to behold. Maybe it's no mistake that Taipei Botanical Gardens aren't heavily promoted. Maybe it's just that those in the know want to keep this pleasant secret to themselves.

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