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The Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh was founded in 1670 as a physic garden. First located beside the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the gardens were moved to a number of different places before, between 1820-23, settling on the space they now occupy at Inverleith, one mile north of Edinburgh city centre. In 1699 the gardens received their royal charter which recognized their importance as a centre for plant study and education. The garden of mostly sandy soil is spread over 70 acres and has a collection of more than 34,000 plants. Its main purpose is that of a scientific research institution for conserving plant life.
Ten glasshouses provide homes for warm temperate and tropical regions plants. Landscaping mimics a variety of habitats including a Canary Island hillside, an Amazon rainforest, and a South African desert.
The temperate palm house (1858) and tropical palm house (1834) house a large range of palms. The peat and tropical rock houses have plants that include African violets, gingers, and the world’s largest collection of Vireya rhododendrons. An alpine house and courtyard protect mountainous plants.
A 541 foot long herbaceous border is located beneath a huge beech hedge. A Winter Garden has shrubs, bulbs, and perennials. Nearby Mediterranean plans have silver foliage. A Chinese collection of plants is sited on the south slope of Inverleith Hill. In the Demonstration Garden beds plants are grouped by themes: herbs, medicinal plants, annuals, award winners, and specific forms of flowers. A wild area contains ferns, mosses, lichens, and fungi.
The arboretum has 2000 specimens of trees scattered from the west gate of the Gardens to the slopes of Inverleith Hill. There are oaks, maples, rowans, limes, and conifers. Cotoneaters, honeysuckles, holly, rhododendrons, magnolias, and eucryphias are established in the copse.
A rock garden has a stream and scree slope and provides a habitat for 5000 mountain, arctic, and Mediterranean plants. In the heath garden is a collection of relatives of Scottish heather. A woodland garden provides a sheltered place for large leaved rhododendrons, lilies, primulas, and meconopsis. Conifers help provide the shade. A peat garden in this area is terraced for specialist dwarf shrubs and mountainous plants.
On the eastern slope leading from Inverleith House (five temporary exhibitions per year) are azaleas, lawns, and a pond. In the science buildings are a herbarium that provides a reference collection of over 2,000,000 preserved plant specimens and a library of botanical works comprised of 100,000 books and periodicals. Also in the science buildings is a laboratory for DNA and other botanical studies. Education activities include lectures, workshops, exhibitions, and training.
The Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden (2006) and the John Hope Visitor Centre at the west gateway are the newest additions to the gardens.
Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh
20A Inverleith Row, Edinburgh EH3 5LR
Tel. 0131 552 7171
Open: daily, year round except 1 Jan and 25 Dec; from 10am; Gardens close Nov- Jan 4pm, Feb-Oct, 5pm, March-Sep, 6pm; restaurant open earlier; Glasshouses close Nov-Jan, 3.30pm, Feb-Oct, 4.30pm, March-Sep, 5.30pm, last admissions half hour before closing
Shop; restaurant; café; snack bar; plant sales; metered parking on city streets; buses go from the city centre to the gardens—check with the Visitor Information Centre for exact bus number from where you are located.
Web: Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh
Note: There are four branches of the garden, the other three being at Younger Botanic Garden Benmore, near Dunoon Argyll; Dawyck Botanic Garden, near Pebbles; and Logan Botanic Garden near Stranraer, Galloway.
Photos and text © by Barbara Ballard