Saturday, February 1, 2014

Botanics: Overview and Asian Garden (Edinburgh, June 2013)

The Rock Garden
I have told the story so many times...but never written it. Now perhaps is the time. I first visited the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh in April, 1981 (referred to simply as "The Botanics" by ANYONE in the know--get wise and call it that will you?). I arrived in Edinburgh and got in the taxi to go to my B&B. The Taxi driver mentions on the way (please pronounce this with the musical Edinburghian burr as you read this) "Yew mast go ta tha Rock Garden while y'are heere" (I hope you rolled the 'r's' deliciously on your tongue as you read that. I was impressed: the taxi drivers send their customers to the botanic garden. Very cool. I arrive at my B&B near the Royal Mile (nowhere NEAR Inverleith Road, by the way) and the proprietress, a Mrs. Gourley said pretty much the same thing "ye musn't leave Edinburgh without visiting the Botanics and seeing the Rock Garden". I looked to see if I had a name tag with "rock garden" written on it: of COURSE I was coming to see the rock garden at Botanics--I certainly didn't expect tradespeople around town to be egging me on. Mind you, Edinburgh is chockablock full of castles, museums, touristic attractions of all sorts. I think it speaks volumes about the Scots' character that what they seem to love particularly is their Garden.

My last was a brief visit--just a few hours. I reprised that visit once in a briefer Denver Botanic Gardens' blog which I often contribute to as well, Botanics merits a longer look!. Even so, brief and rushed, it will take four separate blogs to even begin to capture a glimmer of the utter magnificence of this masterpiece of garden art.
Students working hard in the Rock Garden at Edinburgh last June
These pictures are rather random: I don't have the camera or patience to produce the lush images that Botanics deserves. The light was terrific, and really, this is a point and shoot garden. If you have never been, bump this up on the bucket list. I'm sure I've been a dozen times or more--and that's not nearly enough!

This stunning pink froth of a groundcover is merely labeled 'Sedum sp.'
The sedum is undetermined: for a plant to be undetermined at a garden like RBG it could well be new to science! The herbarium is full of countless type specimens--many of them pressed from specimens on the grounds! I'd love to try this sedum in my garden!

Anthericum ramosum in the Rock Garden

There were no end of jack-in-the pulpits popping up all over the garden. I hppe you are noticing how each picture is utterly different in mood and feeling from the next: the variation in slope and aspect, in design throughout Botanics is astonishing: brash sunny borders and dark woodlands--steep rock work and walls, and of course utterly diverse greenhouses: they have it all!

Lilum Macliniae once again: this magnificent gem of Southeast Asia was a hallmark of all the great Scottish gardens, public and private. Never have I seen it in the USA. Someone must have it?

MORE jacks--look at all the seedlings!

The wonderful building nearby the rock garden. I believe a very long time ago it was the Herbarium. One visit it was filled with artwork (a sort of gallery--quite different from the Modern Art gallery in the Gardens heart). It makes a lovely picture at the bottom of the Rhody dell.

And MORE jacks--this time with Sikimensis section primroses...we're mostly in the Peat Beds (which sound a bit more like "Pit beds" in the local argot)--one of the great innovations of Edinburgh described by Alf Evans in the Peat Garden, a rare book I'm very proud to have had from that great man's hand--one of several precious house gifts he brought in 1982 when he spoke at a conference in Denver.
Koenigia forrestii
We have a Koenigia in Colorado--an extremely rare alpine annual--that looks NOTHING like this. I was astonished to see it in Cyril Lafong's garden growing superbly as well...Your average joe blow wouldn't care. But this sort of plant can drive a rock gardener slightly bonkers!

Borders everywhere--and a glimpse of the same building from a different angle

A mere Thymus, but a nice one don't you think? Forgot to note the name--sorry.
As one would expect, there were gorgeous plantings of primulas everywhere--late June is Candelabra season--you can be sure most of these had wild-collection data!

The shocking red splotches around the primula are Meconopsis punicea

Lilium pyreneicum ssp. ponticum var. ponticum
A wonderful lily growing among primulas and other monocots in the peat beds. Unusual in being a single plant: Botanics usually does plants in drifts.

One doesn't often see mass plantings of Rodgersia so beautifully combined with other woodlanders.

At first I thought Diphylleia cymosa: seedpods are wrong. Then Napaea...nope! Four petalled flowers? Doesn't match up with any Megacarpea I know: a true mystery--like so many plants at this amazing Garden. Can you figure it out?

What is that wonderful thing in the distance? Another mystery.
(Not a mystery after all: Olaf Grabner points out in the comments that this is Filipendula camtchatica)

Naturally there are rhodies everywhere--they have one of the best collections of species after all, but what's that on the right?

Of COURSE there have to be Cardiocrinum giganteum!

More giant lilies a little further on...

And more Candelabra primroses--here probably P. bulleyana, with a Chinese army of Roscoea cautleioides (and I was so proud of our dozen or so clumps in Plantasia!)

Where, prithee, but at Botanics would you find such a gorgeous Richea scoparia (I believe) forming a background to Primula pulverulenta x cockburniana 'Aileen Aroon'.

Polygonum affine--a Himalayan classic--nicely displayed

Saussurea nepalensis
And of course those "B.I.O." gems, like this incredibly homely saussurea--that only its mother or a plant nerd could love! Botanics has them all, beautifully labeled and displayed.

More Meconopsis punicea, with rare primulas in front...(I'm a sucker for the scarlet poppy)

Caltha scaposa
I saw this choice marsh marigold in many private gardens throughout Scotland, but never a spread like THIS!

Primula cf. tangutica
The label just had Primula sp.: since RBG Edinburgh has probably had more experience with primulas than an botanic garden, it probably is an obscure (or new) one...reminiscent of tangutica, the flowers are a strange coppery yellow rather than orange scarlet. I can prettry much guarantee you that you will not find this at Walmart.
Cypripedium Reginae
They had an amazing new garden planted to dozens of ladyslippers I have posted on Youtube if you'd like to check it out. You can even evesdrop on Carole, John and me gossiping about this blog.
Mecoonopsis Baileyi was on the label

Meconopsis heaven
Visiting Scotland in June one expects Mecs, and I was not disappointed in any of the many gardens I visited. RBG does them up royally, of course. Can one ever have enough of that luminous blue?
Polygonatum with pink flowers
But of course true plant nerds are just as pleased with Solomon's seals, even squinny leaved ones with miniscule pink flowers!
40 chromosome Chinese irises of Sibirica section
This could be I. clarkei, or one of its cousins--undoubtedly from wild seed.

Primula alpicola and close relatives
The various primulas in the Sikkimensis section have always been favorites of mine: I especially love the pale yellow ones (and the purple ones--as you see here). I find the fragrance positively ravishing!

Primulas galore
These bloomed earlier, by and large--many are undoubtedly Nivalids--one of the most challenging primulas.
Roscoea sp.
I shall not venture a guess. I shall never forget seeing these dot the landscape in the Jade Dragon mountains--here, there, everywhere by the thousands--looking like crocuses coming up from the ground--in every color. I've been told if you go back in summer, they'll have all grown tall!

More roscoeas
I never have enough of these.
Roscoea tibetica
Albeit some, like Roscoea tibetica, are rather homely!

Aruaucaria araucana in front of the Great Conservatory
I end with this vista of Chilean monkey puzzles--Botanics is an Arboretum as well. You shall not see the grand border in my blog (I love it, but didn't go this time), nor two thirds of the gardens. I stick largely to the alpines and woodlanders--there are so many I often never get to many other gardens at Botanics, although they are all wonderful. Check in in a few days, and we shall look at the "rock garden" more properly and closer up, and visit the alpine houses. Outside the snow is deep--a look back at June should be all the more welcome!


  1. An interesting post and really nice pictures. "What is that wonderful thing in the distance? Another mystery" Do you mean the big plant in the central of the picture? Filipendula kamtschatica?

    1. That's a new one for me: I have never seen it in America! I must seek it out, Olaf--thanks for the I.D.

  2. I cannot begin to tell you how timely this post is, sir! Must chat with you a little via the interpixies real soon. In the meantime, this was a lovely jaunt to take on a grey morning in the Pacific Northwest .... oooooh, those mecs .... those roscoeas ..... and lady slippers .... oh my. Proud to be a nerd and have such things make me SO happy ;>]]

  3. Do bring out a little sun for my visit, Christi! Perhaps we'll bump into one another at the Flower Show?

  4. Hi Panayoti . Once again a brilliant post ! I wonder if you could contrast the last two rock garden you wrote about ? The rock garden in Munich seemed to have more alpine treasures ?

  5. You’re post boarders on cruelty. You show all these beautiful gardens. However, it only reminds me of the false accusations and banishment from their forum.

    At least I can lie to myself proclaiming their gardens are not that good. The gardens seem monochromatic compared to the incomparable diversity where these plants are found in nature.


  6. Excellent! It was a trip down memory lane for me. I visited in 1998 (I think) while my daughter was studying at St. Andrew's Uni. I didn't have near enough time to explore as much as I wanted, so I'm so glad to see some of the areas I didn't get to. Thanks!!

  7. How amazing this garden is! Wow, I'm impressed :))

    Greetings, Zygmunt
    taxi from Edinburgh airport


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