History of the Botanics

The history of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) dates back to 1670 when it began as Scotland's first physic garden on a modest patch of ground at Holyrood Park no bigger than a tennis court.

Original site of the Garden near Holyrood Abbey

Original site of the Garden near Holyrood Abbey

In a turbulent age when Scotland was impoverished by centuries of civil war and both Cromwell and bubonic plague had left their mark on the capital city, Edinburgh still managed to produce the skills, resources and determination to create one of Britain's first botanic gardens.

Two adventurous doctors, Robert Sibbald and Andrew Balfour, who met in France after travelling widely in Europe, leased their first plot near Holyrood Abbey with the help of local physicians prepared to pay for the cost of the "culture and importation of foreign plants''.

The collection of plants expanded with the British Empire. From a site at the head of the Nor' Loch, now the site of Waverley Station, the Garden relocated out of the city centre in 1763 to a ‘green field' site on the ancient high road to Leith.

200-year-old Bermudan fan palm being moved into the Tropical Palm House in 1874. The final move to Inverleith in 1820 took three years and a lot of ingenuity to deliver the entire collection of plants and mature trees using transplanting machines invented by the Curator, William McNab.

As the Garden grew, gaining the grounds of Inverleith House for the arboretum and the former territory of the Caledonian Horticultural Society for the Rock Garden, so did the wealth of plants collected by Scottish plant hunters in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

In a partnership between botanist and gardener, the plant hunter George Forrest introduced more than 10,000 specimens between 1905 and 1932 with the support of the then Regius Keepers Isaac Bayley Balfour and William Wright Smith.

RBGE grew across Scotland during the 20th century, exploring Scotland's variable growing conditions at Benmore in Argyll, Dawyck near Peebles and Logan in Galloway.


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The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)