It was one of a number of botanical gardens established in Asia by European colonial powers (for example, Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden, Bogor Botanical Gardens, 1817).
Sebastián Vidal was the best known director of the garden. He came to the Philippines in 1871 to work in the forestry service (Inspección General de Montes). He was director between 1878 and his death in 1889. His obituary in Popular Science Monthly described him as "practically a pioneer in the investigation of the Philippine flora". (In fact, a flora of the archipelago had been published by Francisco Manuel Blanco, but it was unsatisfactory). For his publications on Philippine flora, Vidal not only collected specimens, but also studied Malesian flora held in European herbaria, such as the Kew herbarium.
The American occupiers of Manila decided that the site was not suitable for a botanical garden and was more suitable for a public park. In 1913 it was renamed after John C. Mehan, who was in charge of Manila's parks and sanitation.
The Garden is the open space off Liwasang Bonifacio (across the Philippine Post Office Main Building), bounded by Taft Avenue, LRT Central Terminal, the Metropolitan Theater, and Manila City Hall. Inside the Garden are structures such as the Lawton Park n' Ride building and the Universidad de Manila.
- During Vidal’s absence in Europe in 1882-83, the position of Director of the Botanical Garden was filled temporarily by Don José Baranda. Vaccinium barandanum Vidal was named after him.
- Obituary: Señor Don Sebastian Vidal, "Popular Science Monthly"/Volume 36/January 1890/Obituary Notes --- Wikisource, The Free Library
- "Vidal y Soler, Sebastian". Cyclopedia of Malesian Collectors. Nationaal Herbarium Nederland. Retrieved July 15, 2012.
- Honoring the Past. Jimena, Fedelyn. UP Forum Online. July 02, 2002.