Edinburgh's Botanic Gardens cover a seventy acre site, yet they are only a mile from the city centre!
The Botanic Gardens' collection is now split between Benmore (near Dunoon), Dawyck (near Peebles), and Logan (near Stranraer), but the main site is in Edinburgh itself. These four gardens each maintain a massive collection of plants. In fact, between them they have the second richest collection of species in the world, according to their website.
The gardens, arboretum and glasshouses began their lives a little more modestly - as a seventeenth century garden for medicinal herbs - a physic garden.
Nowadays, the glasshouses are a major attraction, with the Victorian Temperate Palm House being worth a visit (as the tallest glasshouse in the UK) and other glasshouses being home to mass collections of plants plants ranging from orchids to bananas!
In addition to the glasshouses, this massive site has many special planting areas, being home to a large collection of Chinese plants, the Queen Mother's Memorial Garden, the Rock Garden (full of alpines) and a 165m long herbaceous border and beech hedge. There are some fine specimens in the Scottish Heath Garden, and many rhododendrons and redwoods.
The Botanic Gardens, interestingly, also have an Ecological and Cryptogamic Garden (cryptogamic relates to mosses, algaes, fungi and lichens). And there's also a large, educational fruit garden, part of the Edible Gardening Project, designed to educate the public about the ease of growing their own.
In Spring the rhododendrons, snowdrops and lilacs take a front seat, as do the colourful alpines, peonies, primroses, orchids and the late-season Himalayan poppies. The glasshouses' jade vine is also stunning.
Summertime offers a dazzling display in the herbaceous borders, with beech hedges providing backdrop to some of the best-loved cottage garden flowers. The arboretum's trees flower, the rock gardens are superb and the glasshouse ponds have some wonderful massive-leaved water lilies.
The Autumn is dramatic, with rowan and whitebeam berries, flowering glasshouse bulbs and chillis! And the Winter's drama and sparseness allows visitors space to look for bulb shoots, examine tree bark and to take in the few Winter flowering plants and trees, including cyclamen, glasshouse plants and some of the rhododendrons.
Entry to the gardens is free though a modest charge applies to the glasshouses which helps with the charity's running costs. Open each day apart from Christmas and 1st January, it may nevertheless close at short notice in severe conditions. Do see their website for specific opening times as they vary throughout the year.
There are three places on site which offer food and drink: the Gateway Restaurant; the Terrace Cafe which offers outdoors dining on nice days; and the East Gate Coffee Bar just off Inverleith Row which sells drinks and snacks.
Visitors can further support the work of the gardens in the John Hope Gateway, an incredible new building at the West Gate of the gardens which educates, encourages participation and provides so much information about plants, biodiversity etc, as a front door for one of the world's leading botanic institutions. The shop provides visitors with the usual choice of gifts etc, but also seeds, gardening items and bulbs, and there's even an outdoor plants centre. Profits go to the Gardens.
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