Celebrating the Glowing Giants of Benmore

Regarded by many as the most magnificent entrance to any of the world’s botanic gardens, the iconic Redwood Avenue at Benmore Botanic Garden, on Scotland’s Cowal Penninsula, is also arguably the finest of any avenues in Britain. Now, it is set to be seen in a new light. In celebration of the 150th anniversary of its planting, the Avenue will transform after dark into the spectacular centrepiece of two evening extravaganzas on Friday, November 1 and Saturday, November 2.

Giant puppets, an aerialist and live music will bring the Garden alive as never before. In the Courtyard and Gallery, there will be short interactive presentations and a specially created display - plus a barbecue to sustain the energy of visitors. All this is set off with illuminations and fire in the Avenue. Ensuring the celebration is as much for the community as for visitors from further afield, local school children have been enrolled to create their own artistic contribution to this special event.

Explaining why he believed it was vital that the anniversary was celebrated in style, Benmore Curator Peter Baxter commented: “The giant redwood, Sequoiadendron giganteum, is not the tallest, but it is the largest tree in the world. Giant by name and giant by nature, this huge Californian conifer can grow to a trunk circumference of 31m (103ft) at ground level. Sporting a distinctive spongy red bark, it can live up to more than 3,000 years and is a protected species.

“The story behind how Sequoiadendron giganteum first reached British shores is entwined in the telling of a particular period of our history. It involves a competitive race to cultivate this remarkable tree and it is tied up with the California Gold Rush. The man credited with introducing it to Britain is the Scot, Patrick Matthew (1790-1874). With three of his sons involved in the Gold Rush, Matthew took advantage of the situation and requested seeds be sent home by steam packet, so narrowly stealing the glory from the famous Exeter nursery, Veitch. Although we don’t actually know for certain, it seems likely that our Avenue grew from the seeds of one of these two collections. If anyone can shed light, we would be very happy to hear from them”.

To engage audiences of all ages Simon Duffy, Manager of RBGE’s Scottish Government funded Talking Science project has enlisted the input of aerialist Lucy Deacon and creator of giant puppets Shane Connolly, who will bring the Avenue alive. The full effects will be experienced amidst illuminations created by David Mackinnon. Simon and Shane are also working with pupils from Dunoon Primary School who will add the finishing touches by way of decorative lanterns.

Minister for Science Alasdair Allan said: “The Redwood Avenue at Benmore is an incredible sight to behold and will create a wonderfully unique venue for puppetry, aerial performance and celebration for the community and visitors able to attend.

“The aim of our Talking Science funding is to support new ways to get people interested in all aspects of science and demonstrate science’s impact all around us. The story of the plants and trees in Benmore, and the other Botanic Gardens, not only represent the current staff’s horticultural expertise, but in cases like the Redwoods, reflect the ingenuity of our predecessors and the extraordinary lengths they had to go to in order to create such an attraction.”

The event is further enhanced by a specially created interpretive display by RBGE Head of Interpretation Alan Bennell. Featuring avenues long and short and tall, the display puts Benmore’s Avenue in context with significant others around Britain and further afield.

To help set the scene yet further, there will be short presentations in the Courtyard Gallery by RBGE Science Communicator Max Coleman and Martin Gardner and Tom Christian, both of the RBGE-based International Conifer Conservation Project .

Tickets, costing £7 for adults and £5 for children (three to 15 years old) are now available to buy online and at Benmore’s visitor reception.

The Glowing Giants celebration is being realised with the aid of sponsorship from the Younger (Benmore) Trust and Western Ferries (Clyde) Limited and has been organised during Year of Natural Scotland.

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