The fernery was built in 1874 by James Duncan, at a time when Victorian Britain was gripped by fern fever. It would have been a costly undertaking, both to build and maintain, as it was heated. At its height, the collection of ferns would have dazzled Duncan’s guests with an exotic collection of ferns.
It is built into a hillside and ranges from single storey to three levels with a vaulted entrance, grotto and pool.
Unfortunately the fernery fell into disrepair after Duncan had to sell the estate, and was dilapidated when the garden was gifted to RBGE in 1929, with only the walls and some of the roof structure remaining. In 2008 restoration work began on the building and it was reopened 18 months later in September 2009. The fernery now houses a more temperate collection of ferns, and forms part of RBGEs fern conservation programme, with the majority of plants having a known wild origin. This includes the conservation of the Killarney fern (Trichomanes speciosum), one of Britain’s rarest species.
The fernery was listed in 1992 by Historic Scotland for it architectural and botanical value and has been described by the Royal Commision on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland as “extremely rare and unique in its design”.