Feb 012017

On 1st February 2017 an exhibition opens in the Library Foyer at RBGE displaying work which was produced through association between RBGE and Edinburgh College of Art and inspired by our research collections.  This exhibition will run until the first week of March. 


In October 2016, the Edinburgh College of Art 2nd year Illustration course, were assigned a 5 week project based on the Herbarium, Library, Archives and Living Collections here at Edinburgh.  This collaboration is part of a concerted effort by RBGE in seeking new audiences for our collections, in addition to the traditional taxonomic researchers and was valuable for strengthening the relationship between organisations.


As we curate such a potentially overwhelming amount of material to choose from, we decided on a geographical focus, based on some of the scientific projects that are currently active at RBGE.   The students were divided into groups and allocated one of the countries highlighted on the map.

Each student group was given a tour of our research collections and a session with one of our taxonomists who specialises in the flora of their designated country.  These experts gave the students an overview of their current research, including anecdotes from their fieldwork emphasising the need for habitat conservation and showed them herbarium specimens and living material to be inspired by.


The work displayed was chosen from all the material submitted by the students.  We have included the sketchbooks to illustrate the research that is such a significant part of the artistic process and to give the viewer an insight into how each student created the final artwork.  The herbarium specimen and living collection images seek to put the work into the context of the RBGE collections.

You can view a small selection in our archive cabinet in The John Hope Gateway at the West Gate of the Botanics and the main exhibition is in the Library Foyer of the Balfour Building (10am-4pm).  There is directional signage in the Garden.

Directions map

@rbge_herbarium                                                                  #rbge_eca

May 132016

Begonia new species 3We are currently hosting an exhibition ‘New for Old’ which presents the outcomes of craft exchange and collaboration between eight Thai craft makers, and four Scottish craft makers who travelled to Thailand in January this year. Though Thailand is rightly famed for its crafts, it should be feted for another reason – its outstanding biodiversity.

Thailand sits at the nexus of two floristic regions, the Eastern Asiatic region to the north in China, and the Malesian region to the south. These regions have influenced Thailand’s flora and botanically make it one of the world’s most fascinating countries, with an estimated 12,000 different species of plants. We say ‘estimated’ as new species are being discovered all the time, as part of the international effort to document the country’s amazing flora. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is part of the team working on this project, which has to date covered about 5000 species in eleven Flora of Thailand volumes.

Recent discoveries of new species from Thailand as part of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s Tropical Diversity research programme highlight the beauty of Thailand’s native flora, and how much there is still left to discover and conserve.

Feb 122016
Object from the Temperate Palm House (exhibition install photograph by Natalia Janula)

Objects from the Temperate Palm House (exhibition install photograph by Natalia Janula)

Object from the Temperate Palm House (exhibition install photograph by Natalia Janula)

Objects from the Temperate Palm House (exhibition install photograph by Natalia Janula)

An exhibition currently at Bargain Spot in Edinburgh Objects from the Temperate Palm House shows a stunning range of work by eleven contemporary artists, displayed on or incorporating some beautiful palm specimens from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s glasshouses. I was particularly taken with a ceramic piece, though it took me a moment to establish that was the material. Using a section of palm trunk as a plinth, the texture and colour of the ceramic has some similarity to rusts and is a curious object.

The show has been expertly curated by Chloe Reith and Kirsty White. I particularly appreciated the interpretive leaflet that set the palm objects and artworks on an equal standing, and gave further explanation of where they came from and the ideas behind the works. The exhibition is only on for another two weeks (closes 27 February) and I highly recommend visiting it while you can!

Photograph by Natalia Janula

Photograph by Natalia Janula




Jan 262016
Tjipetir blocks from the factory in Java around 1900’s

Tjipetir blocks from the factory in Java around 1900’s

Peter holding blocks found by Tracy Williams on a Cornwall beach

Peter holding blocks found by Tracy Williams on a Cornwall beach

Sometime ago while researching stories for the spring exhibition at the Gardens, Nature Mother of Invention, I came across the Tjipetir Mystery Facebook page. I was particularly interested in this page as it related to blocks of gutta percha, the latex produced by Palaquium gutta (Sapotaceae family), which will be one of the themes of the exhibition.  This led me to Tracy Williams, the founder of the Facebook page, and the person who first found a block of gutta percha with the name “Tjipetir” impressed on it washed up on the beaches of Cornwall. To cut a long story short these blocks were produced at the Tjipetir plantation and factory in West Java, Indonesia, had been on Japanese cargo ship sunk off the Scilly isles during the first world war and had sat at the bottom of the sea for about 100 years before being washed up along the coasts of Europe.

The entrance to the factory

The entrance to the factory

As I am currently in Java awaiting final Government approval to collect Sapotaceae specimens from the neighbouring island of Sumatra I took the opportunity to visit the source of these blocks. Together with a colleague from the Bogor Botanic Garden, Prima Hutabarat, we set off early to the village of Cipetir (Tjipetir is the old Dutch spelling). Three hours later we started to ascend into plantation country and see some large trees of Palaquium gutta intermixed with oil palm. Slowly but surely more trees of Palaquium gutta were spotted although it was far from the density that the original plantation would have had. Almost without noticing we arrived at the sleepy roadside village of Cipetir. Here we met up with Pak Adin, who had worked as a gutta percha collector for many years and who kindly offered to guide us to the factory. Twenty minutes down a very rough and muddy track we got our first glimpse of the rusting chimney of the factory and the entrance with Cipetir boldly painted on the fading blue factory walls.


The stone grinders used to extract latex from leaves

The stone grinders used to extract latex from leaves

As we jumped out of the car we were met by Pak Ucup, a current factory worker, who showed us around the area and explained how the material was processed and the blocks produced. Apparently one tonne of leaves produces only 13 kg of gutta percha! Unfortunately today the demand for the product means that the factory only produces blocks intermittently. Asking about the old Tjipetir blocks and the moulds that made them he said that no one in the village could remember them and that today the product is made into circular blocks without markings. An interesting fact that I had not been aware of before was that the major demand for gutta percha today is for artificial bones!


Remnants of the tree plantation around the factory

Remnants of the tree plantation around the factory

During our visit we saw raw unprocessed material and seedlings of Palaquium gutta about to be planted but unfortunately no material was available for us to bring back for the exhibition. However our colleague from Bogor Botanic Garden, has already set in motion the process of obtaining some seedlings of Palaquium gutta from the plantation, hopefully to be planted in both the Bogor and Edinburgh Botanic Gardens and for some of the final gutta percha product to be sent to us the next time it is in production at the factory. These will be of immense value to the RBGE in telling the public the fascinating story of one species of Sapotaceae.


On the way back to the village Pak Adin mentioned that two large trees of Balata, Manilkara bidentata, (also of Sapotaceae) were growing outside his house. This South and Central American species had been planted many years ago as an alternative source of latex but had been found not to be as good. To my amazement when we visited these trees they were in flower. Although the latex of this species was not considered useful at Cipetir, it was considered differently in other parts of the world and also has a very interesting history – but that is for another Botanics story!

Pak Ucup showing us the block press used today

Pak Ucup showing us the block press used today

Pak Adin holding Balata, Manilkara bidentata

Pak Adin holding Balata, Manilkara bidentata


by P. Wilkie & P. Hutabarat

May 202014

AFCyanotype_08 low res

Join the artist of the Sea Flora exhibition, Sara Dodd and RBGE Plant Specimen Preparer, Kate Eden, for a conversation exploring the rich history of seaweed collecting in Scotland and abroad. Becoming a popular pastime at the beginning of the nineteenth century, seaweed collecting has been largely forgotten since enthusiastic Victorians painstakingly collected, dried and mounted specimens into decorative scrapbooks. Referencing examples from the RBGE collections, the talk will look at recent work with seaweed specimens undertaken at the RBGE, as well as significant personal collections, including those of Amelia Griffiths, Anna Atkins and Margaret Gatty.

3pm, Friday 13 June, Patrick Geddes Room, John Hope Gateway, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

Sara Dodd: Sea Flora is open daily until Sunday 15 June.  10am – 5.45pm | Admission free.

Tel: 0131 248 2909

Image taken from originals held in the collections of the RBGE Library and Archives.

Sep 252013
Installation shot of Patchwork Meadow exhibition, Gateway Gallery, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Installation shot of Patchwork Meadow exhibition, Gateway Gallery, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Wild plants are not only part of our landscape, they are integral to our culture and history. Plantlife’s unique project celebrates our fascination with wild plants in the form of a patchwork exhibition, bringing together contributions from people across the country. Individuals and groups have been invited to contribute squares 15x15cm, and the variety of subjects and techniques is astounding. There is plenty of patchwork and embroidery, but also knitting, cross-stitch, painting, crochet, weaving and probably more techniques that I have missed out. The subject are just as varied, taking inspiration from art and literature; myth, history and folklore; clans and war, and also very personal memories, people and places.

Seona Anderson from Plantlife explains the aims of the project:

“From the Bayeux Tapestry, through to William Morris, from Celia Birtwell to Grayson Perry, Britain has a tradition of celebrating diversity in textile design that we want to tap into. We want to celebrate this love of wild plants by asking the nation to help us create a patchwork of artwork and stories from across the range of Britain’s natural and cultural diversity.”


One of the patches that keeps catching my eye as I walk past each day is this warrior with his spear shaft made of ash (below). The wood has been used for centuries because it is strong and flexible, but of course the future of our ash trees is now in question due to the spread of ash dieback. It is perhaps because this has been another area of my focus over the past year that my eye naturally falls upon this great warrior.

Ancient British Warrior, by Sandra Kendall (The Embroiderers' Guild North Lonsdale)

Ancient British Warrior, by Sandra Kendall (The Embroiderers’ Guild North Lonsdale)

Dr Seona Anderson, Plantlife's European Projects Coordinator, giving an overview of the project at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Friday 20 Sep 2013

Dr Seona Anderson, Plantlife’s European Projects Coordinator, giving an overview of the project at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Friday 20 Sep 2013

We were delighted to welcome Plantlife and some of the talented people who have contributed to the project last Friday at the John Hope Gateway. It was fantastic to hear about how the project is developing, as it is part of a larger Wildlife Europe Project (find out more on their website here).

The exhibition closes at the end John Hope Gateway at the end of tomorrow (Thursday 26 September) however you can still contribute squares, and the exhibition will be touring to further venues – find out more at the website.

Edinburgh’s Garden: Past to Present

 Edinburgh Botanics, Events, Other News  Comments Off on Edinburgh’s Garden: Past to Present
Aug 012013

The new display in the Library Foyer provides a whistle-stop tour of the history of the Garden with illustrations from the Library and Archive collections of plants that could be found in the Garden at different points during that history .  The exhibition also highlights some of the animals that have been associated with the Garden including “Donald”, the last of the Garden’s ponies and “Granny”, the smooth sea anenome that drew visitors to the Garden between 1879 and 1887.


Display case

The Garden was founded in 1670, four years before the first cargo of tobacco arrived in Scotland.  This was a turbulent time in Scottish history – 15 years after the Garden was founded King James VII of Scotland fled to France leaving his supporters, the Jacobites, to fight for the rights to the throne for James, his son and his grandson, Bonnie Prince Charlie.  In 1689, Edinburgh Castle was held for King James by the Duke of Gordon.  On the 14th March the Earls of Lothian and Tweeddale issued a verbal demand for its surrender on ‘ane act to Exhoner his grace and other papists there for bygons’.  Gordon refused and on the 15th March orders were given ‘to block up the Castle’ forthwith.  In April, in what proved to be an unsuccessful attempt to end the siege, orders were given to drain the Nor’ Loch, ‘of design to find out the bottom of the Well of Water that furnishes the Castle’; the water from the Loch flooded the Physic Garden and left behind inches of mud and rubbish from the city drains with the result that “all but the hardiest plants, so patiently collected by Balfour, Sibbald and Sutherland, were practically obliterated”.

In 1763, four years after the birth of Robert Burns, John Hope moved the Garden to a new site on Leith Walk.  This was obviously a popular move as just 4 years later the city decided to follow in a similar direction with the foundation stone being laid for the first house in the Edinburgh New Town.

The Garden’s final move, to the current site in Inverleith took place between 1820 and 1823, 13 years after the passing of the Act that abolished the slave trade in Great Britain and 27 years before the birth of Robert Louis Stevenson.

The display can be viewed in the Library Foyer, 20A Inverleith Row, between 10am and 4.30pm, Monday to Friday, from the 30th July until the 4th October 2013.

More information about the history of the Garden can be found on the main RBGE website.

It’s all about Palms

 Communities, Other News  Comments Off on It’s all about Palms
Jul 172013

I am in the midst of installing our new exhibition The World of Palms, but thought I would take a moment away from our gallery space in the John Hope Gateway to share a wee sneaky photo of this work-in-progress with you. Work in Progress - installing The World of Palms

The exhibition was first conceived by Berlin Garden and Botanical Museum, in collaboration with Kew. I’ve had a wonderful time so far working with colleagues in Berlin and also with folks in both the palms and economic botany sections at Kew, to borrow some amazing objects (I’ll tell you more about them in future posts), as well as colleagues across the organisation here at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. As I’ve said before, installing exhibitions is my favourite part of the job, and seeing this one come together is thrilling. Only two days left to add the finishing touches – the exhibition opens to the public on Saturday 20 July at 10am!

The People Behind the Plants

 Communities, Logan Botanic Garden  Comments Off on The People Behind the Plants
May 302013
Portrait of gardener at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Thought to have been taken between 1910 and 1920. Photographer unknown.

Portrait of gardener at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Thought to have been taken between 1910 and 1920. Photographer unknown.

Some might argue that the greatest asset of the four gardens of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh are our plants, but as the over-used saying goes: ‘An organisation is only as good as its people’. Indeed if it weren’t for our people, past and present, there would be no living collection.

The exhibition The Living Collection: The People Behind the Plants, which I have just sent on its merry way to Logan Botanic Garden (having had a showing here in Edinburgh last year), aims to show visitors some of those people. It was inspired by certain photographs that were included in our 2010 publication The Living Collection, written by Dr David Rae, Director of Horticulture. Some beautiful old photographic portraits (both individual and groups shots) were unearthed from our archives, and several new photographs of our current horticulturalists were also taken.

The exhibition opens at Logan Botanic Garden, Dumfries and Galloway this Saturday, 1 June, and runs until Monday 2 September.