Royal Botanic Garden ‘too middle class’

How the Botanics could attract a different clientele. Montage: Dave Hamburgh
How the Botanics could attract a different clientele. Montage: Dave Hamburgh
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AN academic from the Capital has been awarded a fellowship worth thousands of pounds to explore ways of making the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) more appealing to the working class.

Dr Jenny Roe, a lecturer at Heriot-Watt University, said she would use the £8000 award to “build bridges” between the world-famous attraction and people in “poorer communities” who are not as likely to visit it.

Botanics bosses welcomed news of the award and said they were already working to make the garden less “intimidating” by offering classes on how to grow 
vegetables.

Leigh Morris, RBGE associate director of horticulture and learning, said: “Vegetables are the giant pandas of the botanic world.

“People from the places we’re trying to reach are less likely to come to a see a collection of rare conifers but they’re extremely likely to come in if it means they can grow carrots and cabbages, and give their kids an opportunity to play and get grubby knees.”

Funded by the Beltane Public Engagement Network, Dr Roe’s six-month study will explore how the Botanics can be made more accessible to communities in nearby districts such as 
Pilton and Leith.

Current research shows most visitors to botanic gardens are middle class and white, and not representative of the populations living next to them.

Dr Roe said: “The Botanics offers a huge health benefit to the people of Edinburgh but it’s not being used by the people who need it and that’s people who are stressed because of income difficulties.

“Of course, if you have a group of children who are having fun and running wild then that’s fantastic, but it also has implications for some of the plants.

“The Botanics is a library of protected species. Through my study, I’m looking to build a bridge and nurture a dialogue.”

RBGE bosses revealed Dr Roe’s research would include initial design work on a new children’s play space in the garden and underpin existing efforts to make it more inclusive.

Mr Morris said: “What we are trying to do is widen social inclusion. This is for anyone who wants to come in and interact with the plants.

“We do not want to alienate anyone. We want to do this in an inclusive way, where we get some of these communities into the garden and encourage them to say what makes them feel comfortable.

“The edible garden, where people learn how to grow food, is one of the things that’s doing exactly that – we’re using it to bring different types of people into the garden.”

Moves to make the Botanics less middle class have been welcomed by political leaders, who said the garden’s profile among low-income communities needed a boost.

Midlothian councillor Alex Bennett, Labour member for Dalkeith and previously chairman of the local branch of the National Union of Mineworkers, said: “It’s something I would support. I haven’t heard of anyone I know being in the Botanics – probably because it’s not promoted enough or because there’s ignorance. People just don’t know what’s there.”