Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Having returned from one of the most southerly points of the UK only a couple of weeks previously, Phil and I then journeyed up north and over the Scottish border to spend a week in the beautiful city of Edinburgh working at the Royal Botanic Garden in Inverleith.   THE BEAUTIFUL CITY OF EDINBURGH IMG_2483 IMG_2484 IMG_2434 IMG_2433


Haggis: a surprisingly tasty breakfast treat…


Edinburgh Castle at night

Founded as a physic garden in around 1670 the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is the oldest botanic garden in the country after Oxford Botanic Garden. Originally located at Hollyrood, the gardens have over the years been relocated to a number of locations across the city before finally being established at their current site in Inverleith. Together with it’s 3 sister gardens, Botanic Garden Benmore (Argyll), Logan Botanic Garden (Wigtownshire) and Dawyck Botanic Garden (Peeblesshire), the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has a plant collection of over 40.000 different plants, representing nearly 7% of all known plant species. Situated about a mile north of Edinburgh city centre the site at Inverleith is 31 hectares in size and alone contains some  17,000 plant species. The garden comprises a world-famous rock garden, a renowned alpine courtyard and alpine house, a heath garden, a peat garden, exotic glasseshouses, a classic herbaceous border, an extensive arboretum, a rhododendron walk, a winter garden, a fossil garden, and a cryptogamic garden. (NB: cryptogams are plants which do not produce seeds, such as lichens, fungi, algae and ferns). As you will see from Phil’s latest blog, we are fortunate to have spent last week working at the Inverleith site of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, working predominately in the Rock Garden and Alpine areas. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has a long history of alpine gardening, due in part to Scotland’s mountainous landscape and indigenous alpine flora. The site at Inverleith is ideal for the cultivation of alpine plant species from mountainous regions around the globe as the garden is effectively built on a raised beach with resultant light, sandy, free-draining soil; there is also a surprisingly low average rainfall of just 640mm per annum. Two areas of the garden are dedicated to the display of alpine plants: the Rock Garden, and the Alpine House and Courtyard. Built by James McNab in 1870, the first rock garden was a terraced north-facing slope divided into some 4,000 compartments by stones harvested from the old boundary walls. The sections were planted with alpine plants arranged either by their genus or according to their geographical origin, while the rock crevices were reserved for alpine species that require a cool root run and particularly sharp drainage. McNab’s rock garden soon became a popular visitor attraction. However, it was heavily criticised for being too artificial by Reginald Farrer and other eminent alpine enthusiasts. Rebuilt between 1908-14, the current rock garden comprises 1 hectare of mounds and gullies filled with conglomerate rock from the Callander area of Perthshire, and red sandstone from Dumfries. Intersecting the rock garden is a spectacular mountain stream and scree slope, built in 1933, thus providing a variety of habitats for the cultivation of over 5,000 different plants from mountainous, arctic and rocky habitats around the world.   THE ROCK GARDEN ??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? The Alpine House was opened in 1977 and is a timber-framed glasshouse designed to provide the cool, airy conditions necessary for the cultivation of rare, diminutive and hard-to-grow alpine species all year round. The alpine house features sand benches into which terracotta pots planted with alpines are sunk; further pots of alpines are grown behind the scenes to enable the display to be changed regularly to keep it looking fresh and interesting for visitors. Surrounding the alpine house is a paved terrace dotted with stone troughs, each filled with alpine plants from a specific corner of the globe. The hard lines of the troughs are softened by ‘puddle planting’ of matt-forming alpines at the base.   THE ALPINE COURTYARD AND ALPINE HOUSE 20141017_144214 20141017_144242 20141017_144224 20141017_143725 20141017_144425 20141017_144412 20141017_144352 In spring 2013 a new glasshouse for alpine plants was created next to the alpine courtyard to enable the horticulture team to grow a wider range of species that are in decline in habitats around the world. It is the first alpine house in a British botanic garden dedicated to growing alpine plants in tufa (limestone), which emulates the natural rock faces in which many alpine plants grow and so is thought to increase their chances of survival in cultuvation.   PLANTING IN AND AROUND THE NEW ALPINE GLASSHOUSE 20141017_144110 20141017_144046 20141017_144028 20141017_144023 Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh was originally tied to the medical faculty of the University of Edinburgh until the 1800s when it began to develop an independent programme of scientific research. The gardens boast an extensive horticultural library and herbarium which developed from the early 20th century onwards to house the great many plant materials and records sent back from plant hunting expeditions around the world. The library holds nearly 100,000 books and a vast collection of prints, photographs and manuscripts, whilst the herbarium contains over 3 million pressed herbarium specimens and many dried or bottled seeds. Phil and I were fortunate to be given a tour of both facilities during our week in Edinburgh…   TOUR OF THE HERBARIUM ??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????   ELSEWHERE IN THE GARDEN ??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? IMG_2326


  1. Douglas Needham

    Thanks for posting the images from RBGE. What a spectacular view you had from the top of the glasshouse! I hope you had the opportunity to meet with the RBGE students and the RHS Interchange Fellow. See you soon. Doug

    • rhiannonharris2014

      RBGE was a fantastic experience – the glasshouse was just as impressive inside as out. Sadly, while we met a number of RBGE students we didn’t have the opportunity to meet the RHS Interchange Fellow. Look forward to meeting you soon.

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