I'm a working mum writing about life in Edinburgh (and anywhere else we go) with two curious, adventurous, and imaginative children. Visit my blog at www.linzertortes.blogspot.co.uk. Follow me on Twitter: @LinzerLaw
Published September 12th 2012
The sounds of the city seem to disappear
"The sounds of the city, baby, seem to disappear," sang The Beach Boys in 1969, but they could well have been talking about The Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh today. Although it's right in the heart of North Edinburgh, a mile from the city centre, and a stone's throw from busy Ferry Road, you wouldn't know that once you enter its tranquil and serene woodlands.
A Scouting Trip
Entry to the Garden is free, and this gives access to the exhibitions in the John Hope Gateway (these change periodically, and often offer activities for children) and to all the open-air parts of the Garden. You can walk through the largest collection of Chinese plants outside China, and then find yourself exploring a Scottish Heath, or climbing the Rock Garden past alpine plants nestling under a cascading waterfall. My two daughters love going on scouting expeditions to see what they can uncover.
There's a small charge for entry to the Glasshouses, a series of interlinked buildings showcasing plants from ten distinct climatic zones, including visually impressive Tropical Palms, and the fascinating Ferns and Fossils. A particular favourite with my children is the Plants and People Glasshouse, which houses the giant floating lily pad leaves in the summer months.
The Glasshouses and the Garden mix education with recreation, as information and trivia about the flora and fauna are displayed on boards as you walk through the houses and also in the main areas of the Garden.
To supplement this, every tree and plant has its Latin name attached to allow for scientific identification. It's great fun to read these with children and try to guess what their common name might be.
In the summer months the Garden is regularly used for weddings, and it is not uncommon on a Saturday visit to hear the distant sounds of music from a string quartet who are playing for the bridal party in one of the tree-shaded grottos. Other attractions for children include the duck pond, and the vast number of rather tame squirrels who scamper about the park. Feeding them is discouraged, but it is entertaining enough to watch their antics.
If you're planning to stay for a while then you might want to stop for a bite to eat. There are three main areas that you can purchase refreshments at the Garden. One is at the East Gate, and is a small coffeeshop selling light refreshments. The second is the Terrace Cafe, an informal dining area which has a good selection of hot and cold food, including the much-loved 5-item packed lunch box for children. Unusually for these kind of packed lunches, you can opt to choose a hot baked potato or soup, which is a welcome alternative for chilly children on a winter's walk. The third option is the Gateway Restaurant in the John Hope Gateway. This is a more formal choice, and is quite popular, so booking is advised.
And if you're interested in wildlife conservation, then The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds often has a stall or some of its staff in residence at the Garden. They have worked with the Garden to introduce a pair of sparrowhawks in the last few years. Recently the pair have raised a nest of chicks, and the RSPB team have plenty of pictures of the fluffy young and inspiring stories to tell of the parents' fight to raise their chicks.
There is so much variety at the Garden, from Monkey Puzzle Trees, to photographic exhibitions amongst the hedges.