1670 and all that: a brief chronology

This simplified chronology highlights selected key dates in the development of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and its Regional Gardens, from its founding to the present day.

1670 - Botanic Garden founded at St Anne's Yards adjacent to Holyrood Palace (as a 'Physic Garden' for the cultivation of medicinal plants) by Dr Robert Sibbald (later first Professor of Medicine at Edinburgh University) and Dr Andrew Balfour. The second oldest botanic garden in Britain after Oxford (OBG founded in 1620). Garden size 40ft x 40ft.

1676 - More land leased, attached to Trinity Hospital, today the site of the east end of Waverley Station. The Trinity Hospital Garden is placed under the care of James Sutherland.

1695 - Sutherland undertook supervision of the Royal Garden at Holyrood known as the King's Garden. Edinburgh Council appointed Sutherland as University Professor of Botany.

John Hope, Regius Keeper from 1761 to 17861699 - Royal Warrant of William III appointed Sutherland to be Regius (Royal) Keeper. The first date of a formal ‘Royal' status for the Garden (12 January 1699).

1763 - Collections from Trinity Hospital and Holyrood transferred to site on road to Leith (now occupied by Haddington Place) away from city's pollution. The Leith Walk Garden measured 5 acres. John Hope (Regius Keeper, 1761-86) obtained permanent Crown funding for the Garden. Now separate from the Palace and unified at one site, this is arguably the first ‘Royal Botanic Garden', with Hope as ‘Regius Keeper'.

1820-23 - Robert Graham appointed Regius Keeper (1820-45) and Garden contents moved from Leith Walk site to part of the present site at Inverleith.

1834 - Not long after moving to the present site at Inverleith, Regius Keeper Robert Graham managed to agree a £1500 grant from the Government to build the what is now the Tropical Palm House. It was the largest such structure in Britain when it was opened in 1834.

The Temperate Palm House nearing completion, 18571858 - Temperate Palm House built at Edinburgh, to the present day the tallest in Britain.

1864 - Garden area increased. 10 acres added by acquisition of Experimental Garden from the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society, including their Hall, which was then used as the RBGE Herbarium for the next 100 years.

1876 - 30 acres added to Garden by acquisition of land (later the Arboretum) surrounding Inverleith House.

1888-89 - Under Isaac Bayley Balfour (Regius Keeper, 1888-1922) the Garden came under control of the Crown - Her Majesty's Office of Works (later Ministry of Public Buildings and Works). Arboretum planted, new range of glasshouses erected, laboratories re-organised. Edinburgh became a major centre of taxonomic research.

1892 - Horticulture and Forestry courses initiated, lasting two to three years; free tuition in return for labour. These courses later became the Diploma Horticulture Edinburgh (DHE).

1904-32 - George Forrest (and others) plant-collecting in W. China and the Himalaya. Thousands of new plants introduced including rhododendrons, primulas, magnolias, gentians, meconopsis and lilies.

1929 - The policies of the Benmore Estate, now known as Benmore Botanic Garden (formerly Younger Botanic Garden Benmore), became the first Regional Garden of RBGE.

1956 - Posts of Regius Keeper of the Garden and Regius Professor of Botany at the University, formerly held by one person, became separated.

1958 - 11 acre site north of Inverleith Place acquired as Temperate Nursery for RBGE.

1964 - New Herbarium and Library Building opened at Edinburgh.

1967 - New range of externally suspended exhibition planthouses opened at RBGE, offering six separate climatic zones and an aquarium.

1969 - Logan Botanic Garden became the second Regional Garden of RBGE. Responsibility for RBGE transferred from Ministry of Public Buildings and Works to Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland (DAFS) within the Scottish Office.

1969-72 - First computerisation of Garden plant records from former card-index system.

1978 - Dawyck Botanic Garden became third Regional Garden of RBGE. Montane & Lowland Tropic Houses featuring displays of key tender research collections opened at RBGE.

1986 - RBGE became a non-departmental public body (NDPB). Board of Trustees appointed by Secretary of State for Scotland. Inverleith House returned to Garden as a Gallery and Exhibition Centre, after 25 years as the home of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

1989 - The Terrace Cafe, a new space providing refreshments, developed alongside Inverleith House at Edinburgh.

1991 - Friends of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh set up.

1992 - Botanics Trading Company launched (13 February).

1993 - All 10 glasshouses linked as a complete visitor package entitled The Glasshouse Experience. The Botanics Shop opened its doors for the first time to the public, offering a selection of quality gifts, books and plants (10 May).

1996 - The world's first Cryptogamic Sanctuary and Reserve opened at Dawyck Botanic Garden.

1997 - The Benmore Botanic Garden's branch of the Friends of RBGE established. A showcase for wild-origin Chinese plants, the Pringle Chinese Collection in Edinburgh is opened by HRH Princess Anne (13 May). Herbarium and Library extension completed allowing for the continuing expansion of the Garden's collections for the next 25 years.

1998 - First Global IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants is published, with RBGE as an important contributing centre.

1999 - RBGE wins the Grand Prize for the finest Garden at the Kunming International Horticultural Exposition in China. By Royal appointment Professor Stephen Blackmore takes up the position as the 15th Regius Keeper of the RBGE. HRH Prince Charles opens the Discovery Centre at Logan Botanic Garden. Scottish Heath Garden opens recreating Scottish moorland heritage in the heart of Edinburgh. The new Botanics Magazine is launched.

2000 - The renovated Benmore Courtyard Gallery is completed and offers a flexible space for events and exhibitions at Benmore Botanic Garden. RBGE's revised mission is announced: 'to explore and explain the world of plants'.

2001 - In partnership with three Chinese governmental organisations, the RBGE lays the foundations for a new Botanic Garden & Research Station (18 May 2001) on the slopes of the Jade Snow Dragon Mountain, Yunnan, China.

2001 - National Botanic Gardens of Scotland Membership Scheme established. This new scheme unifies previous Friends of the RBGE and Season Ticket Holders into a three-tiered programme servicing all four Gardens.

2002 - Inaugural Patrons dinner (10 May). HRH The Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay accepts the patronage of the institution. RBGE announces its first fundraising campaign lead by RBS Group Chairman Sir George Mathewson.

2002 - RBGE announces its vision for The Gateway, a new visitor centre to be located at the West Gate of the Botanics in Edinburgh; fundraising for The Gateway begins.

2005 - Temperate Palm House is re-landscaped to become the main public entrance; A admission charge is introduced and the 10 public glasshouses are re-branded as "Windows on the World"

2006 - Third floor extension to the Herbarium is completed.

2006 - The Queen Mother's Memorial Garden is opened at Inverleith by HM The Queen.

2007 - Ground clearing and construction for The Gateway begins in August.

2008 – The visitor centre at Dawyck opens and is the first garden in Scotland to be awarded a five star rating by VisitScotland’s Quality Assurance Scheme. RBGE’s mission statement evolves into “exploring and explaining the world of plants for a better future”.

2009 – The John Hope Gateway opens to the public. The restoration of the Benmore Fernery is completed.

2010 – HM The Queen officially opens the John Hope Gateway and Biodiversity Garden. RBGE Regius Keeper, Professor Stephen Blackmore, is appointed Her Majesty’s Botanist in Scotland. The East Gate Lodge is redeveloped into a Visitor Welcome Reception and Coffee Bar.

2011 – RBGE Regius Keeper, Professor Stephen Blackmore, is awarded a CBE for services to plant conservation.

RBGE launched a Modern Apprenticeship scheme in horticulture to teach the highest standards of professional practice through a structured training programme.

2012 - Sir Muir Russell KCB, FRSE was named as the new Chairman of the Board of Trustees of RBGE.

The new Alpine House opened at the Edinburgh Garden, the first in a British botanic garden dedicated to growing alpines in the naturalistic surroundings of tufa.

2013 - Simon Milne became the 16th Regius Keeper of the Garden

2014 - HRH The Princess Royal visited the new hydro scheme at Dawyck which was officially opened in May by Fergus Ewing MSP, Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, the opening officially made Dawyck the first carbon neutral botanic garden in the UK.

The restored Golden Gates were replaced in the Garden at Benmore after almost 10 years.

The Logan Conservatory was opened by Dr Aileen McLeod, the Minister for Environment; it is the first public glasshouse in the UK to be entirely heated by green energy sources.

2015 -Our Amorphophallus titanum became the first titan arum ever to flower in Scotland

Back to Top

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