Browsing botanic gardens

by James Alexander-Sinclair

I don't often get to go and visit gardens. This is due to a combination of inertia and the appeal of being in my own garden, rather than somebody else's.

Plants growing in a tropical glasshouse at Royal Botanic Gardens EdinburghI don't often get to go and visit gardens. This is due to a combination of inertia and the appeal of being in my own garden, rather than somebody else's. I haven't been to Wisley for years and have only visited Kew about three times in my life. Occasionally I get to go and visit some village gardens but sadly, I don't get out much.

Occasionally, however, the opportunity arises. The other day I got the chance to spend a couple of hours pootling around the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. I was there to give a lecture to the stalwart folk who run Scotland's Gardens Scheme (the Scots’ equivalent of the Yellow Book) and had time to kill before catching an aeroplane home again.

Some might think that botanic gardens are a bit sterile and lack the intimacy and homeliness of a 'proper' garden, but that's the point, really. It's wonderful to see a fabulous tree or shrub and know that somewhere very close will be a neatly engraved label giving more information than you will ever need. Not just the plant name but also, hidden among a string of numbers and letters, the year of introduction, origin, expedition, collector's name etc. Botanic gardens are places not only to indulge one's inner plant nerd, but also to make lists of plants you covet.

I was particularly excited by the glasshouses at Edinburgh. I’m not much good at exotica so it was fabulous to be surrounded by lots of plants of which I’d never heard and which I’m unlikely to ever grow - unless I’m swept away by a desire to emigrate to the rainforest in my latter years. I saw vast elephantine bananas, slightly creepy cycads, cavorting ferns, tall cacti, bombastic bamboos and exotic orchids.

It was a great afternoon and the sun was shining, too — a bit of a result on the east coast of Scotland. The only thing that would have made it completely perfect would have been the company of one of the great plant know-alls, Roy Lancaster or Nigel Colborn.

I must get to more gardens.

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Gardeners' World Web User 07/04/2009 at 19:36

I'm ashamed to confess that despite living in Edinburgh for 4 years and now living only an hour's drive away, I have never been to Edinburgh Botanic Gardens. I have however been to two of it's sister gardens - Benmore and Dawyck - definitely recommended both. Edinburgh is on my 'must see' list and maybe over the next few months we will get around to it. I used to live directly across the road from Glasgow Botanic Gardens in a wee bedsit, but that was long before I was bitten by the gardening bug, and tho I did walk through it on the odd occasion I didn't really appreciate it as I would appreciate it now.

Gardeners' World Web User 07/04/2009 at 20:04

In my youth I made lots of trips to Birmingham Botanic Gardens - via school biology/geography and family trips. It's a great place, futher enlivened at the time by a cockatoo which swore like a trooper.

Gardeners' World Web User 08/04/2009 at 12:22

I always start the year planning to visit lots of gardens but work and wanting to be in my own garden tend to get in the way. I even missed the Edinburgh Botanic gardens when we visited Edinburgh a couple of years ago. Maybe this year I will do better

Gardeners' World Web User 08/04/2009 at 15:17

Even better than visiting Botanic Gardens is to be a volunteer gardener in one. I have been such in the Bristol Botanic garden for some years now and it gives me inspiration, help with tricky problems, and free seeds and plants as well as making lots of very good friends with other gardening enthusiasts. Some very exotic plants I look upon as "mine" now as i have cared for them over the years.

Gardeners' World Web User 10/04/2009 at 19:43

Forget going to Edinburgh BG the one in Glasgow is much better and free to get into! Have a look at The Glasgow Botanic Garden web pages:

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