First Look: Edinburgh’s Botanic Garden to undergo £70 million transformation

Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden is to undergo a radical multi-million pound transformation to secure the future of one of the world’s rarest living plant collections.

An artist's impression. Picture: Nicoll Russell Studios

Plans for the £70 million project have been revealed at a time when the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s (RBGE)existing glasshouse facilities threaten its ability to maintain its world-class status in conservation and plant sciences.

Extensive refurbishment is required, including both the Grade A listed Victorian Palm Houses, and 1960’s visitor and research Glasshouses, in order to protect the work of the national institution for years to come. The glazing system in the glasshouses is failing and currently incurs a substantial heat loss. There are also issues with the opening vents, air leakage, water penetration and the external canopies are in poor condition.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The Edinburgh Biomes project is the most ambitious of the Garden’s 349 years in operation, aiming to protect its extensive plant collection of 166,000, including many that are endangered or extinct in their native habitats.

Plans for new Glasshouse at Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh. Pic: Nicoll Russell Studios

Without action, the glasshouses at the second oldest Botanic Garden in Britain will become unsafe and unsound by 2025, putting the living collection at risk.

Simon Milne MBE, Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, said: “Our majestic glasshouses and research facilities are critical to the work we do but will only survive a few more years without essential upgrades so action is vital.

“While restoration is a priority, it became clear to us that as guardians of one of the world’s most significant scientific horticultural resources, we have a unique opportunity to do something really very special.

“We have the opportunity to deliver facilities that sustain RBGE as a leader in plant science, horticulture and conservation, and ensure the Living Collection thrives for future generations.”

The proposed site of the new Glasshouse. Pic: Neil Hanna

An integral part of the large-scale project is building of a new glasshouse, costing around £7.5 million, which will provide the new entrance point to the Glasshouse Experience.

As well as creating an environment tailored to suit the 13,300 plant species, the glasshouse will be the home to a herbarium, lecture theatre and other educational facilities.

Rare plants must be decanted and relocated during the work over the coming years with the new glasshouse’s initial purpose including the addition of a specifically-designed curtain allowing two climate zones.

The overall project is anticipated to take seven years to complete with RBGE bosses hoping work can begin next year - in line with its 350th anniversary if plans are given the green light.

Funding from the Scottish Government has helped the project reach this stage. But for the vision to become a reality, other sources of investment are required with a major fundraising appeal to begin in the near future.

The first phase will involve the creation of a new sustainable energy centre that will reduce the carbon footprint of the glasshouses by 12 per cent and state-of-the-art plant health suite to replace its existing facilities at the Nursery to the north of the main garden.