Until James McNab built the first rock garden at Inverleith in 1871, the Garden's alpines were cultivated in pots. Rockeries - landscaped effects with rocks - were popular garden features, but rock gardens, designed for true alpines, were something new. McNab's rock garden comprised numerous small, straight-sided compartments, each planted and distinctly labelled.
In 1914, a new Rock Garden was completed using conglomerate rock from the Callander area of Perthshire, and red sandstone from Dumfries.
In 1933 the scree bed was built across the lawn in front of the Rock Garden. Underneath the top layer of gravel, plants' roots enjoy a very gritty, free draining soil.
Approximately 5,000 species are planted at any one time in the Rock Garden. Plants you might expect to see flowering in spring time would include Crocus, Muscari, Pulsatilla (Pasque flowers), tulips, and Primula such as P. juliae, P. marginata and P. x pruhoiciana. In summer the numerous penstemons from North and South America bring more colour, as do creeping phloxes and daisy-headed Celmisia from New Zealand.
The late Alf Evans (former Assistant Curator) summed up the difficult task of looking after the Rock Garden: "Sub-arctic plants, high-mountain species, pasture plants, dwarf denizens of woodland and shade are in constant battle for survival, and the staff at the Garden are for ever taking sides on the part of the suppressed."
Other garden features include...
- Chinese Hillside
- Ecological & Cryptogamic Garden
- Glasshouse Borders
- Herbaceous Border
- Peat Walls
- Queen Mother's Memorial Garden
- Scottish Heath Garden
- Woodland Garden