Our last visit to the Edinburgh Botanic was on a brilliant spring day. This time it was dull and had been raining. Nonetheless the gardens did not disappoint even without the glass houses that were closed for redevelopment.
The gardens are an easy bus ride from the city centre, and as before we found public transport reasonable and – with strict covid precautions – safe. The bus stops almost at the East Gate as we learned from a helpful local passenger. (Edinburgh people are keen for visitors to enjoy their city and their advice is friendly and clear.)
Sculpture is a feature that has extended the interest of all gardens in recent years, and in this Edinburgh is no exception. The East Gates are spectacular and within a few steps of the entrance, where another helpful local told us there was no admission change but we could buy a guide to accompany the free map, we found a Barbara Hepworth sculpture – not one of her best, however.
Elsewhere in the gardens are works by other established sculptors: it’s a long time since we’ve seen a Reg Butler girl in characteristic 1950s pose. There is also an Andy Goldsworthy construction in stone that inhabits a space among trees and prepares for an encounter with five giant Sequoia.
Trees are a perennial feature of these gardens and in some cases reflect the international relationships of the staff with China and Japan as well as the USA. The Chinese relationship has been very productive, with Edinburgh assisting in the work of conservation in China as well as bringing plants back. Identification is also among the joint activities, with the white berried rowan a feature of the Chinese area.
Autumn had its fair share of purple crocus although the leaves had yet to turn. Rocks and water enhance the planting as in Asia. There are habitats for creatures also. We saw – having first heard – a raven in one of the trees. Squirrels and songbirds were plentiful.
There is a choice of paths around the garden, especially valuable among rock gardens where it is possible to see the display from a wheelchair without a struggle up or down awkward slopes. The main footpath, also used by motorised vehicles for staff, is made with a distinctive stone surface to assist those whose navigation is not of the best.
Two images to carry away, and deserving of placement near the beginning and at the end of the review are the gingko biloba, one of the trees that regenerated after the nuclear bomb struck Hiroshima in 1945, and a recently installed Garden of Tranquillity, easily missed behind the entrance building. Both demand contemplation.
Curiously, there are two places for refreshments close together: the recently built one will presumably replace the old one on a hill and will deservedly attract visitors, not only for its well-prepared food and range of drinks but also for the library, sales area and information displays it offers. In addition it is a fine building in its own right and occupies an attractively landscaped site.
We did visit the other one also but for the sculptures nearby. The rain held off and we travelled back to the centre in brighter conditions ready for a meal and a good night’s sleep.