Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Palm House at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Palm House at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh

The Royal Botanic Garden is located in the Inverleith district of Edinburgh, a mile (1.5 km) north of Princes Street, at the northernmost extent of the New Town. The 28 ha (70 acre) beautifully-maintained garden is popular with the public but also provides an important research facility, internationally respected for its work on plant taxonomy. The RBGE includes a famous alpine rock garden, together with other themed areas and the Pringle Chinese Collection, reflecting a long-term specialism in the plants of SW China and the Himalayas. The garden also incorporates the Queen Mother's Memorial Garden (opened in 2006), the Scottish Heath Garden, planted in 1997 replacing a heather garden first established in 1935 and the Fossil Garden, established in 1991 and including a tree unearthed in the mid-19th century at Craigleith Quarry and now billed as Scotland's largest fossil.

There are also research laboratories, green-houses, two fine 19th C. palm houses, the newer (built 1858) is the tallest in Britain at 21.5m (70 feet), and a memorial to the 18th C. Swedish Botanist, Carl Linnaeus, by Robert Adam (1778). The RBGE also includes Britain's oldest Botanical Library (with more than 100,000 volumes), an immense herbarium (containing 2 million specimens) and employs more than 230 staff. The garden is run by a Regius Keeper (appointed by the Crown) and a Board of Trustees, and is funded directly by the Scottish Government.

The garden moved to its present location on the Inverleith Estate in 1824. It owes it origins to a 'physic garden' established in 1671 for medical use by Sir Robert Sibbald (1641 - 1722) and Andrew Balfour (1630-94) near Holyrood Abbey, making it the second oldest in Britain next only to Oxford. They planted a second garden at Trinity College Church (where Waverley Station exists today) and the two were combined at a site on Leith Walk by Dr. John Hope (1725-86) in 1763.

Inverleith House and the land immediately around it were not acquired by the RBGE until 1877. The house became home to the Keeper and the land extended the size of the gardens themselves. The house now provides exhibition space, but held the National Gallery of Modern Art between 1960 until 1984.

The RBGE runs satellite gardens at Benmore (Argyll & Bute), Dawyck (Scottish Borders) and Logan (Dumfries & Galloway).

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