Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, an Oasis of Biodiversity

I convinced my friend to accompany me to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh where we spent the whole day. Autumn days are short, but not anyone has the patience to accompany me to an oasis full of plants. Luckily, she really liked the place and we had a nice time, despite the cold.

When you live in a country without seasons, you learn to appreciate them. Fall and spring are my favorite seasons, but I usually travel more to the northern hemisphere during the fall. I went to London and Scotland after participating in the inaugural trip of the Norwegian Encore Cruise. My trip to Edinburgh was in November when autumn was in full swing, with leaves of all colors.

This place began as a “physical garden” which means that they grew herbs and medicinal plants. These gardens served to teach botany and were the precursors to modern botanical gardens. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is the second oldest in all of Britain, after Oxford.

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

It is likely that your hotel in Edinburgh is in the Historic Center. To visit the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh you must take a bus to Inverleith Row, which is one mile from downtown. Lothian buses with number 8, 23 or 27 take you right to the east entrance. The gardens have been in this location since the 1820s, when the curator decided to move them looking for more land. Then in 1877, the city of Edinburgh bought the Inverleith House and part of the Cosmo Innes estate, which was opened to the public in 1881. In total, the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh has 72 acres (29 hectares).

The original garden was founded in 1670 near the Holyrood Palace. Dr. Robert Sibbald and Dr. Andrew Balfour devised the concept using the private collection of the recently deceased, Sir Patrick Murray, second Lord Elibank. They got plants from other gardens and came to have between 800 and 900 species. As the space was very small they had to move east of Nor Loch, currently the Princes Street Gardens. But the space was occupied by North British Railway rails and they had to move again. If you travel from Waverley Train Station you can find a plaque commemorating the location on platform 11.

In 1763, they moved to a 5 acres (2 hectares) plot of land west of Leith Walk, far from the pollution of the city. A cabin that had been in the previous site for more than 100 years moved to Inverleith Row between 2008 and 2016


Visiting the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh is free. However, to enter the greenhouses you must pay a nominal entry fee. They serve to protect plants from the harsh Scottish climate. The greenhouses have more than 3000 plants from several countries including Indonesian mountains, Australian forests, Arabian deserts and the Amazon rainforest.

The first greenhouse of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh was built in 1834 to allow the introduction of tropical plants. The temperate palm house was built in 1858. At 72 feet, it is still the tallest in Britain. Inside it has a palm tree that is 200 years old.

In July 2019, the city of Edinburgh approved £ 70 million to fix the garden. They will build a new curved greenhouse with a height of 20 meters. It will have a multi-level corridor to allow more species of plants. Another new greenhouse will be for research and the current ones will have double glazing. In addition, they will build a new sustainable energy center with technology that only exists in Kew Gardens. It will use pumps to remove heat from the ground with power engines and gas boilers to produce heat and electricity.

What plants can you see?

The Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh’s mission is to preserve biodiversity. There are many botanical gardens worldwide trying to achieve the same goal. They have projects on site and elsewhere, which are focused on Scottish biodiversity, plants and climate change and conservation.

The live plant collection of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh has 13,302 plant species. This adds up to 4% of all known plant species worldwide. Between this garden and three other regional gardens (Dawyck, Logan and Benmore) they have almost 273,000 individual plants. I saw some giant cedars that reminded me of the Cedars of God in Lebanon.

Another curiosity was the Rafflesia Arnoldii native to Indonesia. It produces the largest flower in the world with three feet wide and a weight of 15 pounds. It had already bloomed once and they have documented the growth of the plant. Apart they had several carnivorous plants.

The pond of giant water lilies or Amazonian Victoria is one of the greatest curiosities. Their floating leaves can be more than three meters in diameter. I was not impressed since they had no flowers and I had already seen them flowered in the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (SSR) Botanical Garden in Mauritius. I also saw the world record of 3.20 meters in diameter at La Rinconada in Santa Cruz de Bolivia.


The Cryptogamic Garden is quite curious since this type of plant has no flowers or seeds and reproduces by spores. Scottish Heath Garden transports you to the highlands of Scotland. It was started in 1935 with a small loch (Scottish word for lake), moss and old trees.

China is represented in Scotland at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. The Chinese Hillside was created in 1993 and opened in 1997. It provides resources and educates locals, as it has the largest collection of Chinese plants outside of China. It has a small traditional pavilion or T’ing. In addition to waterfalls and ponds with plants ranging from green to orange and brown as a result of autumn. This hillside is the highest point in the garden with beautiful views of the city and the Castle of Edinburgh.

One of the most famous gardens is stone by the wide variety of plant specimens. The herbaceous border of 165 meters long, more than 5,000 alpine plants and the near presence of a beech hedge dating back 100 years, help to add that additional dynamism.

Herbarium, library and amenities

The herbarium of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh has approximately three million specimens, representing between half and two thirds of the world’s flora. It is considered one of the most important collections worldwide. Therefore, it is visited by researchers from all over the world. They exchange specimens with other facilities. And they have received collections from India, North and South America and South Africa.

The oldest specimen was collected in 1697. Therefore, they have more than 320 years collecting. They still receive about 30,000 species per year. Half a million species have been digitized and can be viewed online for free. The library has 70,000 books and 150,000 periodicals. It is the most important specialist collection in botanical and horticultural resources throughout Scotland. You can visit without cost.

The Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh has a shop that sells souvenirs and plants. At the top is the Gateway Restaurant. We were tired of walking so much, so we took the opportunity to eat a dessert and have a glass of wine.

With so much land, it’s easy to find a quiet space for you in the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. Take a book or your camera to explore this collection of plants dating back 350 years.

Other Botanical Gardens

Resources for Travelers

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