St Andrews Botanic Gardens


The gardens were founded in 1889 by a group of enthusiasts led by Dr John Wilson.

The original garden was in the precincts of St. Mary's College and was quite small in terms of Botanic Gardens, at about 0.1ha (0.25 acres).

Having said that, plants were grown in a variety of soil and climatic conditions in other parts of the University.

Initially the gardens consisted of 78 regularly-shaped beds laid out according to the Bentham and Hooker plant classification system.

By 1960 these gardens had increased in size to around 2.8ha (7.8 acres), then in 1960 the gardens were re-located to their present site when 18.5 acres (7.5ha) of land became available.

The Curator Bob Mitchell, and retired Head Gardener Jim Mackie, have been responsible for the design and development of the garden since 1962.

In 1987, the garden was leased to the Local Authority and they have been responsible for its management ever since.

The Garden is recognised and registered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and Botanical and Horticultural Education.

Within the curtilage of the garden there are now around 8000 species of ferns, herbaceous plants, shrubs and trees.

Some of these plants are native to Scotland, but most of the plants come from other regions of the world.

Those grown outdoors are hardy and have been cultivated quite successfully in St Andrew's climate, which to anyone who has watched the Open Golf Tournament on television, will be aware of the wet and windy weather that is quite common to this area.

The more tender plants grown in the gardens are generally protected from these weather conditions in greenhouses.

There are various soil types on the site from the clay loam in the upper part of the garden to the magnesian limestone in the rock garden area.

The area around the Kinness Burn is sandy with some gravel.

It is these soil conditions that have dictated the design of the gardens.

The aim at St Andrews Botanic Garden, is to create an amenity in which to relax and enjoy the beauty, while also providing a scientific garden for teaching and research purposes.

The Tour

On entering the gardens one can find an information board with a map of the garden on it.

I took the liberty of photographing this map which you can see here: (click on it to enlarge it)

After studying the map I made a mental plan as to how I would tour the gardens, and basically decided that I would go round it in an anti-clockwise direction.

This meant I would initially walk down the main access road that was lined with the Herbaceous border on the right and the Order beds on the other.

The herbaceous and island borders are filled with a mixture of ornamental and bulbous plants.

Although they are designed for all the year round interest, they are considered to be at their best in midsummer up until the first frosts of autumn.


The Peace Gardens

A little way along the herbaceous border I turned right into these gardens.

These gardens are formed of many island beds and woodland glades, that are indeed peaceful to meander through, and are a fitting tribute to their purpose!

The Gardens were constructed to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the United Nations.

The dedication took place on 26th January 1996.



Leaving the Peace Garden I then entered the Glasshouse complex.

The complex is split into seven areas to cater for needs of various plants from around the world.

These areas are:

The Alpine House, The Corridor, The Mediterranean Climate Zone, The Orchid House, The Plant Display House, The Succulents House, The Temperate House.

Add to this The Teaching Glasshouse which is out of bounds to the general public.

As hinted earlier when discussing the local weather, these greenhouses are essential to the needs of the gardens to allow the plant stock to flourish in this part of Scotland.

The greenhouse also gives the visiting public somewhere to shelter during inclement weather.

The Alpine House

It can be said that many of the plants grown in here could survive outdoors in this garden as can be seen in the Rock garden area.

However there are some species that, although they than can withstand low temperatures, they may not survive the wet winters of this area.

Another factor is: some varieties, many of which can be found in this alpine house, prefer the constricted root situation produced in troughs, pots and island beds.

The Corridor

This is basically split into two, the Warm Temperate Section and the Cool Temperate Section.

Warm Temperate Section

In here there are climbing plants such as Bougainvillea,and several species of Passiflora (Passion Flower) climbing up the walls, and underplanted with Hibiscus,Begonia, Cuphea, Clivia, Geranium, Plectranthus and Salvia.

Cool Temperate Section

In here, as in other houses, this is filled with a wide geographical range of plants.

These include; Phyllocladus trichomanoides from New Zealand, Actinidia arguta from South east Asia, Brugmansia sanguinea from South America, and Hypoxis and Eucomis from South Africa.

The remainder of the corridor is filled with mostly south-east Asian plants.

There are Camellia and rhododendrons as well as other species which are not hardy on the east coast of Scotland, hence them having the protection of a greenhouse.

Among the other plants grown in this greenhouse are: Magnolias, Clethra, Fuchsia and Crinodendron.

Many of these plants are very floriferous and highly scented.

The Mediterranean House

The plant collections in this glasshouse are predominantly bulbs and annuals which are currently being developed to show the similarities between the six geographic zones which have a Mediterranean climate, for example:

The Mediterranean coast, California, Central Chile, Cape Province,and the South-east tips of Australia.

The Orchid House

This house contains both terrestrial and epiphytic species, these include: Cycads, Palms, Gingers, Begonias, Anthuriums and Ferns.

The epiphytic collection of Orchids, Bromeliads, Gesneriaceae and ferns are displayed permanently on artificial trees which are misted regularly.

Bromeliads are placed as a ground-cover around the trees to benefit from the humidity.

Generally you will find some variety in flower all the year round.

Tropical Section

This glasshouse contains typical rainforest plants such as: Bananas, Bromeliads, epiphytic plants,and tropical ferns, plus hanging baskets containing several genera of Gesneriaceae.

The Succulents House

This house has been planted geographically, and represents: The New World (North, Central and South America) and The Old World (predominantly Africa, Madeira and the Canary Islands)

The Americas bed contains mainly Cactus but also Agave, Puya and Yucca, with their familiar fleshy stems and leaves and spiny or hairy, cushion or columnar shapes.

The Africa and Atlantic Island beds contain plants such as Aloe, Euphorbia, and Haworthia.


The Order Beds

These are laid out laid out according to the Cronquist classification.

That is: Plants from the same botanical group are grown together to display the characteristics they share, and to demonstrate accepted theories about evolution in flowering plants.

To demonstrate this flowering plant families are laid out into five beds and are divided by broad paths for easy access.

An illustrated display board situated in the area explains the principles in simple terms.


Demonstration Garden

This area is divided into four sections and is currently being developed as part of the ongoing series of regular Botanic Garden adult education demonstrations.

When completed, visitors will be able to note the content of the modern town garden with its wide range of plants from around the world, and compare the medicinal, culinary, and dye plants of the 17th century.

A box hedge delineates the area.


Herb Garden

The physic herb garden was created in 1996 by Bob Mitchell and the herbalist Zoe Capernaros.

It is filled with medieval herbs from the 15th and 16th centuries, and they are laid out in the form of the Scottish flag - The Saltire.

Bed 1 - Dye Plants

Dye plants from times past indicate the source of colours produced by various methods including the use of alum as colourings for the wools used in the weaving of cloth.

Beds 2,3,5 & 6 - Medicinal plants

These include Yew hedging, which is the plant that provides the drug Taxin now used as a treatment for cancer.

Bed 4 - Culinary plants

A selection of 17th century native culinary plants used by the country people.

Beds 7 & 8 - Strewing and Pot-pouri

As the names suggests these are plants grown for their scented properties.

The collection is based on the 1670 Physic Garden, and is the precursor of The Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh.

Since 2002 its upkeep has been done by a working group of Friends of the Botanic Garden.


Specialist Borders

In recent years, two geographical borders have been planted.

The China Border contains the bulk of the woody material collected by the 1981 Sino-British Expedition.

The Chile Border contains a broad representation of the unique Chilean flora and is now being supplemented with herbs and bulbs.


The Vegetable Garden

For some reason or another I didn't take any pictures of this area, so I guess it would suffice to say that it is laid out in typical allotment fashion.

The individual beds are laid out in a manner to teach the students how to do rotational cropping.

Similarly, they demonstrate how best to use the garden plot to feature modern varieties of vegetables suited to northern gardens.


The Fruit Garden

This garden contains varieties of soft and top-fruit best suited to northern climes.

They are grown in a manner to display different methods of growing and training.

Pruning and training are offered as a garden demonstrations in the appropriate season.


The Rhododendron Gardens

The woodland garden is developed on a steeply sloping terraced bank.

This collection of plants includes many Asiatic calcifuges(lime haters) and are planted in this particular area because it was found that the soil conditions in this area were deemed suitable for such planting.

The collection contains approximately eighty dwarf Rhododendron species.

Larger species of hybrids and species Rhododendron are to be found on the flatter ground to the north of the peat bank.

Together these areas provide flowers from February to November though the best months are May to early July.


Heath Garden

The heath garden contains a wide range of heaths and heathers to give flowering all year round.

The smaller species are set against taller plants some of which grow upto seven feet tall.

There are also many small conifers such as Juniperis communis Hibernica the Irish Juniper.


The Rock Garden

The rock garden contains over 2,500 alpine plants, most of which are at their best in spring.

Most of the collection come from mountainous regions of the world although a few are native Scottish species.


The Scree beds

The limestone scree is home to a number of saxifrages and androsaces.

Added to these, are a number of other species that are suited to these growing conditions.

These help to give 'all the year round' interest.

The main scree is at its best in May and June when mats of Penstemon menzesii are covered with purple-blue flowers, and yellow Onosma and purple Edraianthus grow in the drier areas.


The Water Garden

The Water Garden comprises a series of falls, pools and ponds starting in the rock garden.

Within the main pond is a small island, around which grow water lilies and the tiny yellow Nymphoides peltata.

These add colour to the pond, then add to this the sound of water splashing on the rocks and you have an ideal place to just sit and watch the world go by!

Tall Gunnera manicata from South America,and species of Taxodium from south-east USA surround the pond.

These also and provide a range of habitats for flora and fauna that abounds the area.

...........and that concludes the tour of St Andrew's Botanic Gardens.

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