Botanics marks 175th anniversary of legendary head gardener
In a quiet ceremony in New Calton Burial Ground, a wreath was laid by Kirsty Wilson, Herbaceous Supervisor and Graham Hardy, Serials Librarian, to mark the 175th anniversary of the death of William McNab, former Chief Gardener of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and a great unsung Scottish horticulturist of the 19th century.
The garland, created by Kirsty from male and female hollies (Ilex aquifolium ‘Silver Queen’ and ‘Pendula’) and Chilean plum yew (Prumnopitys andina) growing in the Garden, while research into McNab’s grave had been undertaken by Graham. The wreath-laying was the culmination of a year-long botanical event which began, in late 2022, with the planting of over 200 carefully selected bulbs, tubers and corms on McNab’s untended grave. As each month passed, new flowers bloomed in succession – from tulips in April to crocosmia in August – blossoming in celebration of the life and achievements of this remarkable son of the Botanics.
As well as his immense horticultural experience, McNab (1780–1848) was also an innovator and responsible for the safe removal of thousands of plants from the Garden’s third site on Leith Walk to its current location in Inverleith. Using his tree transporting machine, McNab successfully transported large shrubs and trees through the streets to the new site – an amazing venture that was celebrated in Sara Sheridan’s recent novel The Fair Botanists.
The hope is that the plants, including alliums, scilla and Verbena bonariensis, will continue to grow and flourish, bringing welcome year-round colour to William McNab’s resting place.
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