Scottish heritage body awards £500,000 to restore the historic Palm Houses
The ongoing restoration of the two A-listed Palm Houses at the heart of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) will shortly receive a much-needed boost, thanks to a £500,000 grant from Historic Environment Scotland (HES). The grant will help fund the renovation of the fabric and structure of the buildings, including stonework, glazing and iron work.
The two Palm Houses are outstanding examples of late Georgian and Victorian engineering, part of Scotland’s built heritage and of unique architectural significance. The octagonal Tropical Palm House, constructed in 1834, is the oldest glasshouse at the Inverleith site, while the iconic Temperate Palm House, reputed to be the tallest stone-built glasshouse in Europe, opened in 1858.
Now almost 200 years old, the Palm Houses are showing their age, with the fabric of the buildings badly eroded and in desperate need of repair. A comprehensive programme to renovate the historic infrastructure began in 2021 with the lift and careful removal for safekeeping of around 800 plants, before restoration work under contractor Balfour Beatty could begin in 2022.
The grant will support the repair, replacement and restoration of crumbling sandstone, glass and structural ironwork – including narrow spiral staircases, walkways and the elegant 6.7-metre-high arched windows on the Victorian Palm House.
Already, the results of these complex conservation efforts are starting to be realised. Rusted and corroding ironwork is restored and freshly painted, enormous yet intricately carved sandstone blocks have replaced decaying cornices, while new, more efficient glass panels are waiting, ready to be installed.
Image: New stone cornicing is hoisted up to the roof of the Temperate Palm House
On completion of this ambitious project, these magnificent buildings will be restored to their former glory, once again providing a haven for the Garden’s precious Living Collection of plants.
Dr Susan O’Connor, Head of Grants at Historic Environment Scotland (HES) said: “The Palm Houses at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) are a particularly grand example of Victorian botanic garden buildings, specifically designed for the oldest botanic garden in Scotland. It’s been a pleasure to work with RBGE to offer technical advice on the conservation of these remarkable structures, as well as awarding HES grant funding of £500,000.
“This project is a wonderful opportunity for conservation; in one project helping to safeguard both the historical environment and the Living Collection. By restoring the Palm Houses and making them more energy efficient, the buildings will continue to protect rare species of plant life, housed in a remarkable building, for new and returning visitors to the botanic gardens for generations to come.”
Simon Milne, MBE, Regius Keeper, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh said:
“We are immensely grateful to Historic Environment Scotland for the award of £500,000 towards the restoration of our much-loved Palm Houses. Our Victorian Palm House in particular is an iconic architectural landmark for the Garden, Edinburgh and the whole of Scotland, and this significant award will serve to protect this masterpiece of engineering for generations to come.
“By funding the restoration of these magnificent buildings, HES will also help protect and showcase the many beautiful and fascinating plants they house, some of which are endangered in their native habitats.
“At a time when 40 per cent of all known plants are under threat, this important grant will secure the care of a unique Living Collection of plants and give a new generation of visitors the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by the beauty and splendour of the natural world.”
In addition to support from Historic Environment Scotland, the Palm Houses are being restored thanks to backing from the Scottish Government, National Lottery Heritage Fund, Garfield Weston Foundation and other supporters.
Learn more about the Edinburgh Biomes project and how you can support our ongoing fundraising efforts.
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