Garden Portrait: Edinburgh Botanic Garden

It is almost 9 months since my visit to Edinburgh, where I finally met the restless lady who takes us on regular walks in the north-east of England and the Algarve where she spends all most some of her time. After a morning of walking the streets of the city we got on a bus and headed out to the Botanical Gardens for an hour or two.

The entrance gate is quite stunning.

Being the end of the summer season the main interest in the garden was seed heads. I found a few interesting ones.

Crab Apple – Malus sylvestris

Insects were still busy collecting the pollen.

We walked and we talked and we finally found our way to the Japanese garden area where the large lily pond enthralled us both and the red bridge enticed us further into the garden.

The not so subtle smell of candyfloss was in the air (Cercidiphyllum japonicum, known as the Katsura Tree) and the leaves on the acers were turning.

Eventually we arrived at the huge glasshouses, but decided against paying to enter as it was such a glorious day after the cold, damp, dreich day before and we wanted to make the most of being outdoors. Besides we really didn’t have the time needed to really take in what was inside.

The borders near the glasshouses were filled with late summer planting and a variety of colourful penstemons lined the pathway to the entrance, but deep in conversation we really only fleetingly took in the beauty of this garden.

Pausing to admire the view over towards Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat in the distance. Places that in order to explore would mean another meeting as our time together drew to a close.

Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat

It was lovely to finally meet up with Jo and to share a walk with her, so it is only fitting that this post is linked to her walks ūüôā


Hortus Custodiorum

The Archivists’ Garden

One of the places I wanted to visit whilst in Edinburgh is a much lesser known garden than the Botanic Gardens and on a much smaller scale. Having read about it I was intrigued by the concept of this unusual garden and the symbolism of the planting. Fortunately it is very close to the Waverley railway station where a certain Restless One (aka Jo) had to catch her train back to Hartlepool. She had generously agreed to meet me for the day and it was also close to the Cafe Royal which she had earmarked for supper, though being extremely crowded we actually nipped next door to the Guildford Arms and ate there. Both are very much worth a visit for the delightful architecture, but probably best avoided at 5 pm on a Friday!


The Restless One – she has a thing about steps!

The Archivists’ Garden links the three buildings that surround it: The National Archives of Scotland, the General Register Office for Scotland and the Court of Lord Lyon which together maintain the history of Scotland. The garden illustrates the links between plants and Scotland’s collective memory.

The 57 plants in the garden are somehow linked to Scottish history and culture. Some were introduced from other parts of the world and so the beliefs attached to them have come from different cultures.


The plants have been organised under seven distinct headings: Birth, Death, Marriage, Heraldry, Tartan, Famous Scots and Homecoming. Since the human mind stores memories rather randomly, the garden has been planted in bands  so that it flows and curves.


Apple (Malus Domestica) and Pear (Pyrus communis) have been associated with love, birth and fertility. The birth of a child was often marked in many cultures by the planting of an apple tree for a boy and a pear tree for a girl.

Crab Apple

Crab Apple – Malus x robusta (Birth, Marriage, Death)


The origin of the growing of daffodils¬†(Narcissus pseudonarcissus) in a churchyard comes from the association of the flower with the Greek god of the underworld – Hades.¬†St John’s Wort (below) is a medieval fertility aid also associated with birth, death and marriage.


Hypericum – St John’s Wort (Birth, Death, Marriage)


The almond (Prunus dulcis) has long been associated with weddings, hence the use of almonds as ‘favours’ and in wedding cakes. It arrived in Britain in the 16th century and is associated with Cybele, the goddess of fertility.


Flowers often appear in heraldry, especially in the badges of Highland clans. Bell heather (Erica cinerea) is the plant badge of the Clan McDougall. White heather the clan badge of the Macphersons.



Dark blue and black dyes could be produced from the root of the Iris (Iris pseudacorus). Bright green comes from the leaves.

Flag Iris

Flag Iris

Famous Scots

The leaves of Bear’s Breeches¬†(Acanthus spinosus) appear around the capitals of the classic Corinthian columns. This feature was greatly loved by Scottish architect Robert Adam (1728-1792). It was also used in his design of the General Register House.

Acanthus / Bear's breeches

Acanthus / Bear’s breeches


The Common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)  was often taken abroad by emigrants as a symbol of their homeland. It was traditionally associated with witches and fairies and as a source of folk medicine before being used by doctors to treat heart conditions.

Many of the plants in the garden have associations with several of the categories and a list of all the plants can be found in The Archivists’ Garden¬†which was conceived and coordinated by David R Mitchell, Curator at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, who also researched and produced the interpretation.¬† It was designed by Gross Max using his plant palette.