John Mitchell and Regius Keeper Simon Milne MBE

Plant science and horticulture at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) have taken a small step back to the future with opening of an efficient new “Traditional” Alpine House constructed in the image of its predecessor. Like the 1975 original, this doppelgänger construction is dedicated to the care and cultivation of the alpine species that thrive in pots and inspire visitors in a core area of research and conservation.

The £100,000 restored facility sits splendidly in the footprint of its forerunner, by the side of the contemporary Tufa House, which exemplifies the most up-to-date and naturalistic method of growing and displaying alpine plants, and in front of the wall concealing the behind-the-scenes activity in the Alpine Yard. Its role is to delight visitors and help explain the importance of the tiny plants that survive in harsh conditions by clinging on to mountainsides around the world.

Commenting on the significance of the project, Simon Milne MBE, Regius Keeper of RBGE said: “As one of the world's leading botanic gardens, it is important we reflect the international research and conservation work of RBGE in our public display areas. Alpine plants represent one of our key areas of expertise and this magnificent restoration of the Traditional Alpine House opens up a new era explaining how and why we look after these tiny gems from some of the world’s most extreme regions. It is no surprise that our visitors enjoy the rich and varied quality of show that this house can provide through the ability to continually change the display by bringing out a never-ending selection of what is looking good behind the walls of the Alpine Yard.”

The transformation was devised and overseen by John Mitchell, manager of RBGE’s Alpine Department. With experience of collecting and cultivating wild origin plants over three decades, his knowledge was central to delivering the updated facility. “Alpines comprise a vast group of terrifically attractive plants. But, there is so much more to them than that”, he explained. “They are small in stature to protect them from the strong winds experienced in their exposed high-altitude habitats. It is their existence in these habitats that makes them vital indicators of global warming-induced biodiversity loss. As average temperatures rise, the number of potential places in which alpines can grow decreases.

“RBGE has built-up a wealth of knowledge during more than 140 years as a centre of excellence in the research, conservation and cultivation of alpine plants with their special and complex needs. The original Alpine House was built in the 1970s as some species need conditions that cannot easily be created outdoors. Pot culture is still preferred for these subjects and also for others that are so small they are safest and best appreciated in isolation. When it became clear the original cedar construction was reaching the end of its useful life, it made sense to retain all its best features and to demonstrate the contrasting styles of display.”

The completion of the project means RBGE remains one of very few botanic gardens in the world able to demonstrate both the Tufa and Traditional means of growing alpines, making it an incredible resource for students.

Today’s opening of this small glasshouse project mirrors RBGE’s grand ambitions to renew the Modern Range Glasshouses, now marking their 50th anniversary. It was made possible thanks to funders including SUEZ Community Trust, the Alpine Garden Society, Scottish Rock Garden Club and Members and Patrons of RBGE.


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