Kevin Reid: Everything in the gardens is rosy – so why not set off on the Bonnie Botany Tour road trip?

Kevin Reid, Director of Horticulture at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh with author Martin Dorey and Hamish the camper van
Kevin Reid, Director of Horticulture at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh with author Martin Dorey and Hamish the camper van
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The Royal Botanic ­Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is often described as ‘one organisation in four locations’ having our extensive Living Collection spread across four places, each featuring ­significantly differing ­localised ­climates and associated ­collections.

While this sets RBGE apart from other botanical institutions it does, however, present us with one of our greatest engagement challenges.

To help members and visitors ­experience the sheer diversity of our gardens at Edinburgh, Benmore, Logan and Dawyck, a new route has just been launched for the summer to make it easier to explore their full breadth and discover why RBGE is one of the world’s top four botanic gardens and at the forefront of plant science, conservation and horticulture.

Founded as a physic garden in 1670, RBGE will celebrate its 350th ­anniversary in 2020 and is now home to one of the world’s richest living ­collections, comprising more than 128,000 individual plants and more than 13,500 species built up over ­centuries of global exploration.

Today, we have scientists and horticulturists working in 35 countries and, on average, we are describing three new plant species a month.

At the same time, RBGE is one of Scotland’s leading visitor destinations, last year attracting one million visitors to our four gardens. Now we are working to connect our plants to even more people and the new tour is one way of achieving this. As a camper van enthusiast, I appreciate the freedom of being on the open road and the connection with nature that driving through Scotland’s breathtaking scenery brings.

Combining this with visiting four gardens at the vanguard of conservation through the integration of ­science and horticulture, at a time when 20 per cent of the world’s plants are classed as threatened with extinction, is an effective way of engaging with the wonder of biodiversity.

Our gardens provide a sanctuary for threatened species and make up a unique collection of plants for ­scientific research, conservation, education, engagement and of course, enjoyment. By offering first-class visitor attractions we enable communities, ­families and individuals to enjoy and be inspired by our gardens and to become more environmentally responsible.

The Bonnie Botany Tour covers 380 miles, beginning in Edinburgh and travelling via Loch Lomond and Argyll to Benmore before heading south through Ayrshire and ­Dumfries & Galloway to Logan and finally east via the Borders toward Dawyck before returning to ­Edinburgh.

However, the route can be started and finished from any of the gardens. Also, drivers heading from Benmore to Logan may wish to take the ferry from Dunoon to Gourock and then head to Glasgow before picking up the A77 route along the ­scenic ­Ayrshire coast. At the Edinburgh garden, visitors will see a world-renowned ­collection. The glasshouses are home to more than 3,000 ­species from ten different climate zones, ranging from steamy tropics to arid desert.

Benmore, near Dunoon, in a ­magnificent mountainside setting, has more than 300 species of rhododendron as well as plants from the Orient, Himalaya, and North and South America.

Logan, near Stranraer, is known as Scotland’s most exotic garden because it is home to botanical ­treasures from South and Central America, Southern Africa and ­Australasia rarely seen growing ­outdoors in the UK.

The tour ends at Dawyck, near ­Peebles, home to some of Britain’s oldest and tallest trees as well as plants from Nepal, Chile and China.The round robin road trip takes in not just all four RBGE gardens but provides the opportunity to visit other private and NTS gardens too and is aimed at car drivers, campervans/ motorhomes and, from next year, the coach touring industry.

This botanical and horticultural ‘mini break’ expedition route allows for following in the footsteps of plant hunters such as Falkirk-born George Forrest, who brought back seeds from China in the early 1900s and introduced rhododendrons, primula and camellia to ­British gardens.

The route was picked up by Martin Dorey, presenter of BBC TV show One Man and His Campervan, and ­features in his new book Take the Slow Road, which features more than 300 pages of inspiring places to visit across Scotland.

Our route allows for not only enjoying each of our unique gardens, but also the landscape, attractions, culture, food and drink on offer along the way.

The tour will also highlight recommended overnight stops, courtesy of the Caravan and Motorhome Club, as well as hotels and B&B accommodation with the support of VisitScotland.

Kevin Reid, director of horticulture at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh