The Royal Botanic Gardens - Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden was established in 1670 and during the 20th century they acquired three Regional Gardens.

Namely: The mountainous Benmore in Argyll, Dawyck in the wooded hills of the Scottish Borders, and Logan on the Gulf Stream-warmed southern peninsula of Dumfries & Galloway.

Together they represent one of the world’s largest living collections of plants.

The Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh is a seventy acre oasis about a mile outside the city centre.

Most tourists are aware of Prnces Street gardens when they visit Edinburgh but are not always aware of the existance of this Garden.

This is quite sad really because this garden in tourist terms it can be said is right up there with Princes Street Gardens, The Castle, and Holyrood Palace making them well worth a visit.

Admission to the gardens is free, although there is a charge to get into the glasshouses.

Throughout the year there is usually a varied programme of events taking place, for example, walks, talks, exhibitions, drop-in activities, short courses and cultural events, meaning it could be worth your while checking on line if you are planning a visit to the city.

May I suggest that if you get the chance to visit the gardens, that you get a map of the gardens at the reception desk, visit the cafe, buy yourself a drink, and sit and study the garden layout for ten to fifteen minutes.

Plan yourself a route that fits in with all the must see areas, then if you have time after seeing these, you can then fit in the areas that you missed.


The Garden Plan


History of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh dates back to 1670, when it began as Scotland's first physic garden on a patch of ground in Holyrood Park that was no bigger than a tennis court.

Doctors Robert Sibbald, and Andrew Balfour leased their first plot near Holyrood Abbey with the help of local physicians.

From a site at the head of the Nor' Loch, now the site of Waverley Station, the Garden relocated out of the city centre in 1763 to a greenfield site on the ancient high road to Leith.

The final move to Inverleith in 1820 took three years to complete.


The Garden Tour

Alpine House

The Alpine collection here is one of the best in the world, and includes a wide range of plants from many mountainous regions of the world.

The Alpine House was built in the 1970s to cater for some alpines that need conditions that cannot easily be created outdoors.

The building is surrounded with unheated frames and alpine troughs filled with plants.

There is also a drystone wall that is planted up with trailing and cushion-forming plants that thrive in the crevices formed in the wall.

Since my visit to the gardens,the construction of the New Alpine House began in December 2011 in the area that formerly held the Hamamelis beds.

The original stock of Hamamelis has now been relocated to the opposite side of the path.


Chinese Hillside

Work began on the Chinese Hillside in 1993, the aim being to provide a conservation and educational amenity for the students.

The Hillside was formally opened by HRH the Princess Royal in May 1997.

The garden is situated on a slope to the south of Inverleith House, and gives excellent views of Edinburgh Castle.

The garden includes winding paths, a waterfall which tumbles into a pond at the bottom, and a T'ing (small traditionally styled Chinese pavilion), which sits on the water's edge.

As you look over the pond from the T’ing, you can see an an estimated 16,000 plants including an outstanding collection of Chinese plants.

The planting appears to be quite randomly planted as they have been allowed to drift throughout the site, rather than being planted out in self-defined areas.




I suppose it could be said due to the number of trees in the garden as a whole, that the entire garden could be called an arboretum.

But in fact it is area that was the former grounds of Inverleith House in the south west of the garden that is known as The Arboretum.

Many of the trees in this area were initially planted to teach forestry students and as a consequence are grouped in botanical families.

Along the western boundary is the Pinetum with the many conifers that represent many centuries of exploration; as well as the current conservation programme.

There is an oak lawn with about 35 species of the family fagaceae, and the horse chestnut family (sapindaceae) on the lawn beside Inverleith House.

Towards the South of the garden, there are a number of poplars, including balsam poplars with their strongly-scented spring leaves.

In autumn there is the spectacular blaze of colour from the Maples.

Further south still, are alders, hazels and the birch lawn, with its collection of birches.


Peat Walls

The terraced Peat Walls were constructed in 1939 for plants that like moist, acid soil conditions.

These were copied from those created by the McDougall brothers, at Logan Botanic Garden for their Sino-Himalayan plants a few years before.

The peat blocks, which are taken from a low-grade sites, are usually replaced every 15 years.

A renovation programme was set up initially in 2010, then in the winter of 2011, construction work began using peat blocks obtained from Scandinavia, which would otherwise have been used for power generation.

This work has currently resulted in a lack of plants in this area but it is hoped this will be rectified in due course.


The Scottish Heath and Woodland Garden

The present Heath Garden was planted in 1997 to replace a heather garden that was first established in 1935.

The new garden was designed to contain native plants to create a natural haven for wildlife in a realistic Scottish countryside setting.

A lochan was created using a rubber liner and peat blocks were used to create a more natural looking effect.

A simulated abandoned croft was built in 1997 utilising some recycled material from the old heather garden.

Plants were obtained from a variety of sources and several of the large trees and shrubs were kept from the previous design, even though they were not native.

The Garden has mass plantings of upland plants such as Calluna vulgaris, that are commonly found growing together in the Scottish hills.

As a direct contribution to science, some of the plants in this garden are being used in a Garden-wide Phenology study that records the date and month when each plant flowers and sets seed.


The Demonstration Garden.

These gardenens are the outdoor hub of the education programme, where practical, horticulture-themed learning sessions to local schools are held.

It also holds community gardening projects such as the Edible Garden, which actively involves people of all ages in hands-on horticultural education.


Endangered Species






Poisonous Plants




Carpet Bedding








Ponds & Wlidlife

The Schools education programme is currently in great demand, but is being hindered by a lack of an all-weather facility for shelter.

A project is underway to reconstruct the historic Botanic Cottage* from original materials, and transform it back into such a facility.


The History of the Botanic Cottage

In 1763, Professor John Hope - the sixth Regius Keeper of RBGE, King’s Botanist, and Professor of Materia Medica at Edinburgh University- established a new Botanic Garden on Leith Walk, to replace the Physic Gardens of the old town.

Surviving documents show that the Botanic Cottage, as it was named on the First Edition Ordnance Survey map, was designed by John Adam, eldest of the Adam brothers,and extended in the 1780s by James Craig, author of the 1767 plan for the New Town of Edinburgh.

From 1764 to 1821, The Botanic Cottage was the gateway to the previous RBGE site on Leith Walk, and provided accommodation for the head gardener.

It was here that Professor Hope taught many young students about the emerging science of botany.

Due to expansion in 1820, the collections were moved to the current RBGE site at Inverleith and the cottage fell into disrepair, becoming faced with demolition in 2008.

However tireless campaigning by local people - including the Friends of Hopetoun Crescent Garden, and conservation architect James Simpson OBE - led to the creation of the Botanic Cottage Project Group, which saved the cottage from demolition.

The Cottage was carefully dismantled and the materials placed in storeage.

Once the Botanic Cottage has been reconstructed, it will once again be used for the purpose of learning.


The Queen Mother's Memorial Garden

This garden opened in the summer of 2006 as a fitting tribute to a much-loved royal,and has been imaginatively planted to present seasonal sights for its visitors.

Prior to this, this garden was known as the Winter Gardens.


The Winter Gardens as they were.


The New QM's Memorial Garden


The Victorian Temperate Palm House

The first Tropical Palm House, was built in 1834 at a cost of £1,500, and some 28 years later the extension, or Temperate Palm House, was built by Robert Matheson with a Parliamentary grant of £6,000.

The Temperate Palm House measures 15.24 m (50ft) to the top of the stonework, with each glass dome 3.35 m (11ft) giving a total height of 21.95 m (72ft), the tallest of its kind in Britain.

Adjacent to the Palm house is the Glasshouse and The Fossil Garden and behind these the many buildings that form the Educational area of the garden.


These include the Science Building, Herbarium, Lecture & Conference Theatres and the Library.


Fossil Garden


A few of the Buildings


Azalea Lawn

This is an area of the garden that is seen at its best at certain time of the year, I was lucky enough to to visit at such a time as you can see here:


Herbaceous Border

The Herbaceous Border is 165m long and is backed by a beech hedge,that is now over 100 years old and consists of more than 150 individual trees.

The trees were originally planted as part of a mixed deciduous boundary to separate the Garden from the land beyond, which was then grazed by cattle.

Due to an influx of Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) the borders are being emptied and replanted as this is the only way to get to the 'root' of the problem, if you will pardon the pun.

The plan is to tackle the border in four sections, rather than denude the area entirely!

The worst affected section will be dealt with first then work will progress.

This will entail leaving the section fallow and then kill off the bindweed as it emerges.

Eventually the whole border will be replanted with plants that will primarily give masses of colour in the months of July and August, as this is when a large number of summer visitors come to the Garden.


The Rock Garden

James McNab built the first rock garden at Inverleith in 1871, when the garden's alpines were cultivated in pots.

In those days; rockeries were popular garden features, but rock gardens, designed for true alpines, was something new.

In 1914, a new Rock Garden was completed using rock from the Callander area of Perthshire, and red sandstone from Dumfries.

In 1933 the scree bed was built across the lawn in front of the Rock Garden.


Upper Rock Garden

Lower Rock Garden

The rock garden contains around 5,000 species that give all the year round interest.

The water from the Rock Gardens flows through the Arboretum into a large lake as seen here.






The Pond

To conclude the virtual tour I thought I would finish with a few pictures that I took as I progressed from area to area.

In conclusion:

As with many gardens I have visited, they are consistantly in a state of flux, and may have changed somewhat since my visit, plus the fact, the time of the year can make things look a lot different.

So I suggest you try a visit by yourself, I am quite sure that you won't regret it!

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