THE Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is close to the hearts of untold numbers of city residents who have grown up enjoying the safe and tranquil haven of the place they know as the Botanics. It also plays a unique part in Scottish life. It is not only one of the country’s top visitor attractions, but also a world-renowned centre of excellence for scientific research and plant conservation.
When the Botanics was founded in 1670, its purpose was as a medicinal garden. James Sutherland, the first regius keeper, gathered plants from around the world for the purposes of research and education. Since then, we have developed it as a well-respected institution. Today, I have the honour of holding the post of regius keeper at a time when the role of botanic gardens in international conservation has never been more crucial; when the Botanics is recognised as leading the crusade to conserve the fragile habitats on which we all depend.
However, we can’t afford to rest on our laurels. We are racing against time to identify and protect the plants around the world, including Scotland. Countless members of the public share our passion and we owe it to them not just to work towards finding scientific solutions but to engage with everyone, whatever their age or ability. Only then can we start to say we have genuinely done our best.
The masterplan we have created for the refurbishment of the north-east corner of the Botanics, which we unveiled this week, will go a huge distance towards that goal. We will be able to allow our visitors access to new areas where they will see many more unusual and endangered plants that we don’t have the space to put on display at present.
On a practical note, we can make the glasshouses much more user-friendly and energy efficient. Outdated research and propagation houses can also be replaced. Together, modern research and public facilities will be fit to match the garden’s world-class status. Our vision also includes a new educational facility to free up space in the main building.
In our bid for this major boost to our facilities, we are lucky to have the backing of our trustees and their chairman, Sir Muir Russell. Having noted the success of the John Hope Gateway visitor centre, he is actively supporting an initiative which, he believes, will take the Botanics to a new level. We are also grateful to the Scottish Government for helping to get this project moving.
It is heartening to see new levels of environmental awareness. Members of the public are demonstrating commitment to growing their own fruit and veg, recycling and becoming energy conscious in the products they buy. Politicians, too, have picked up the torch and are calling for us to be greener in our day-to-day lives. Against this backdrop, such ventures as ours are enormously important.
We are already encouraging engagement and debate through events and special programmes at the Botanics, and the added space and facilities will allow us to do so much more. James Sutherland would surely have shared our enthusiasm. The extra space and improved facility will allow us to give the people of Edinburgh fresh opportunities to explore the world of plants.
Strong roots for the future
THE £40 million revamp of the Royal Botanic Garden will include:
• An overhaul of several ageing, listed glasshouses dating back to 1834.
• Several new state-of-the-art structures being created to replace existing research houses which were built in the 1960s and 1970s.
• The centralisation of all of the Botanics’ research facilities on one site
• The opening of a new Scottish School of Botanics and Horticulture for university and college students and school pupils
• Changes to the Botanics’ glasshouses to open up public access to more of the scientific research that is carried out
• Professor Stephen Blackmore is regius keeper at the Royal Botanic Garden