This elegant house was designed by renowned Scottish architect William Playfair and was completed in 1826 to provide accommodation for the Curator of the Experimental Garden of the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society (the Caley). From 1864, when these grounds were incorporated into the adjacent Botanic Garden, it became the home of successive senior staff, both Horticultural Curators and, for a brief period, the Regius Keeper (Director of the Botanic Garden).
For the first time for over a century, sensitive redevelopment of the building, to plans by Edinburgh architects Smith, Scott Mullan, has opened the building up to the RBGE’s visitors, providing reception, a coffee bar with outside seating and much-needed toilet facilities. This work has been funded in part by the Scottish Government.
The Lodge forms part of our Garden Buildings Tour. Why not visit some of the other historic structures within the garden?
Curating the Caley Garden
Two figures who played a major role as Curators of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh were also vital to the development of the Experimental Garden. They were the McNabs – father and son.
William was successively RBGE Superintendent (at Leith Walk) and Principal Gardener (at Inverleith) from 1810 to 1848. From his overseeing role in the neighbouring Botanic Garden, he also became heavily involved in the landscape and planting of the new RCHS Experimental Garden and received a Society Gold Medal for his efforts in 1825. He pioneered the cultivation of exotic species from across the globe and also instigated a training school for practical gardening – the forerunner of today’s flourishing RBGE School of Horticulture. The image of William is possibly the first photographic portrait of a professional horticulturist. It was made by the early photographic pioneers David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson shortly after the invention of images on paper by Fox Talbot in 1841.
Son of William, James served his apprenticeship at the Botanics and in 1836 he took up the appointment of Curator of the Experimental Garden and moved with his family into this cottage. Under his leadership and tireless acquisition of specimens, the site became renowned not only for its pioneering trialling and showcasing of new crop plants, but also for its rich collection of plants from China, Australia and South America. In addition to developing the garden and its range of glasshouses, he still found time for culinary diversions – receiving a Silver Medal from the Society for his rhubarb jelly and jam! In 1849, he succeeded his father as Curator of the RBGE, and sixteen years later was able to oversee the amalgamation of the two sites.
The McNabs’ story, and that of this building, epitomises the closely interwoven histories of the Caley and the Botanics.