The Modern Alpine House

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is renowned as one of the world's leading botanic gardens. Reflecting the international research and conservation work of RBGE, the Garden is home to a rich and varied  ‘Living Collections’ of plants. One of our richest collections is that of alpine plants.

Alpine plants are small in stature to protect them from strong winds that they are naturally exposed to in their high altitude habitats. It is their presence in these habitats that make them vital as indicators of global warming-induced biodiversity loss.  As average temperatures rise, the potential places in which they can grow decrease in size.

RBGE has built up expertise over 140 years as a centre of excellence in the research, conservation and cultivation of alpine plants, which have special and complex needs. Built in 1975, our first Alpine House is dedicated to the care and cultivation of the alpine species that thrive in pots.

The new Alpine House exemplifies a more contemporary and naturalistic method of growing and displaying alpine plants cultivated on an internal cliff constructed with tufa, a soft rock. As a growing medium this to improves the quality and survivability of difficult to grow alpines. This is particularly crucial given that many of these species are in decline.

A New Era in Alpine Horticulture, and a New Alpine House for Scotland

Modern Alpine HouseThe site preparation by Horticultural staff started in December 2011, clearing the old Hamamelis beds and relocated them to the opposite side of the path with new plants from our expeditions added.

The contactors arrived in June 2012 quickly starting with the ground works and foundations. Over the course of several weeks, the ground was levelled and the foundations put in place.

Given the unique design, specialist greenhouse manufacturer Deforche was contracted to undertake the manufacture and installation of the frame. Their construction team travelled with the prefabricated steel frame all the way from their base in Belgium. Arriving in September, it took the team three weeks to piece together the light structure and install the glazing (pictured above). Once Deforche were off site, the back wall was constructed and an automated drip irrigation system was installed.

The main tufa wall is built right in front of the mounted irrigation system, which ensures that there will be adequate moisture for the alpine plants to flourish. A lower wall will be constructed near the front of the building to accommodate the remaining tufa. In total, forty tonnes of tufa was used in the construction of the new Alpine House. We also have installed water storage for rain harvesting to supplement the watering.

Construction of the tufa wall, in front of the drip irrigation systemWire mesh has then installed in the gaps of the frame to ensure good air movement and to keep out the local wildlife. There is a small crevice garden and alpine meadow to show case other ways in which alpines can be grown.

Once completed, this state of the art new alpine house will significantly contribute to scientific research and horticultural advances in the conservation of alpine plants and habitats around the world. It will also help to inspire more awareness and enthusiasm for the natural environment and the special qualities and conservation requirements of alpines amongst our visitors.

The new Tufa landscape has settled well into the landscape however the plants in the tufa wall were slightly slow to establish but after a couple of years the roots have now grown into tufa and the plants are starting to grow into each other and make a plant tapestry which will evolve over many years.   

Physoplexis comosaSaxifraga dinnikii alba

Other garden features include....

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Alpine plants in our existing alpine house

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