The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh – it sounds impressive and given the complexity of its funding masters (and its structure – RBGE actually comprises four gardens in Scotland), the Edinburgh garden does a jolly good job of fulfilling expectations.
Fact: it’s big – 70 acres. You can spend a good afternoon getting round it – and it’s completely free to go in! You’ll enjoy the walk from the city centre – 30 minutes or so will do it, handy since there isn’t a car park – but it’s fairly easy to get onto a meter on one of the roads that border it and these are free at the weekends.
It has two entrances – a small one on Inverleith Row and the main John Hope Gateway on Arboretum Place. One suspects Disneyworld could teach the RBGE a thing or two about customer flow through the reception building but it’s roomy and outlines the garden’s wide-ranging purposes. And when you’re in, it’s everything you’d expect from an internationally renowned botanical garden. Rock garden; alpines and some spectacular Scottish specialities – an azalea lawn and meconopsis heaven in the woodland garden, as well as elements you wouldn’t expect in this climate such as some towering Echium pininanas whatever you think of them (Elaine wasn’t keen).
Outstanding are the Chinese hillside and 10 glasshouses which cost a good few quid to get in, but boy are they worth it (pictured at top). If you’re lucky enough to pick a quiet period this experience would give even Kew a run for its money, and tucked away behind the glasshouse complex is an area which officiendos of South American plants would consider to be the jewel in the crown of RBGE – the Chilean Terrace, an eclectic collection of stunning and intriguing shrubs and climbers from this corner of the globe.
It has a gigantic beech hedge (we’re talking 8 metres high) – and a stonking herbaceous border while the RBGE’s late autumn beds were a treat for the Growbags in November.
In places more functional than pretty, its size and numerous surfaced paths makes RBGE a favourite venue for picnicking families, undoubtedly attracted also by the tameness of the squirrels. However the huge number of mature trees and mysterious little single track paths, allow opportunities for solitude even on the busiest days.
There are cafes aplenty, guided tours on offer, normally some exhibitions and…..a Growbag must….free toilets.
It’s a very different experience to visiting a perfectly intimate cottage garden but RBGE does a good job balancing its botanical remit with its popularity as a great, cost-free sanctuary for city-bound garden-lovers.
Entry is free. Donations welcomed. Glasshouse entry charge applies.
Hours: Opens 10am every day except Dec 25 and Jan 1. Closes March to September 1800; October and February 1700; November, December January 1600.
Postcode: EH3 5LR.