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About 6km (4miles) southwest of the town centre at peradeniya on the Colombo highway, close to the banks of the Mahaweli Ganga, these gorgrous gardens were first planted and laid out for king Kirthi Sri Rajasingha (1747-1780) and cover some 60ha (150acres) of trees lawns and flowering shrubs, including a 20-ha (50acre) arboretum of more than 10,000 trees. Under British rule, the royal park became a botanical garden in 1821 and is the largest of Sr lanka's three main botaincal gardens. Here, exotic crops such as coffee, tea,nutmeg, rubber and cinchona (quinine) - all of which later became important to Sri Lanka's economy - were tested. Sights include a palm avenue planted by the British in 1905. Another British import was the enormous spreading Java fig which sprewls across the lawn, grown from a sapling brought from the East Indies. The gardens also have stands of towering bamboos from Burma, Japan China and the East Indiaes, and a fine collection of orchids from Sri Lanka and further afield. In the centre of the gardens is an artifical lake in the shape of the island of Sri Lanka, beside which a white- domed rotunda commemorates George Garder, superintendent of the gardens in the mid 19th Century.