Friday, 17 June 2011

Dundee Botanical Gardens


The Botanical Gardens in Dundee is a unique asset for our town. It has developed along a different route from other Botanical Gardens. While it is a fantastic place to wander through enjoying a wealth of diverse plants from all over the world, it also serves to educate children, students and scientists in ecology, biology and the environment.
It celebrates its 40th anniversary this month, and hopes to continue for many more years, but in these times of recession and cut backs funding for the future is always an issue.
The Botanical gardens started life on a very restricted budget, but this was turned into an asset as management of the natural environment as influenced by man was kept to a minimum.
However, as a horticultural enthusiast I enjoy looking at the beauty of natural landscapes, the smell of plants, not always found in garden centres, and finding rare and unusual plants, (all with named labels) that are usually only found in horticultural training colleges or botanical gardens.
There is a massive range of plants from mature trees to rock garden plants, tropical, temperate, rain forest and desert plants.
When studying horticulture during my apprenticeship days, knowledge of plants came from books in the Kingsway Technical College library. It would have been brilliant if this garden had been available to see all these plants and learn about them in a natural environment.


The gardens were started in 1971 by Dundee University to meet the needs of the botany staff.
The site chosen had a gentle southern slope, good soil, and a burn with very pure water coming from Balgay Hill running from the top western corner down through the gardens. This assisted the creation of several water features. It had great potential though initially it was quite barren and needed a lot of new plantings related to local needs.
The first curator was Edward Kemp whom I recall gave a lecture at Pershore College in the late seventies about how he was establishing a natural Scottish environment at the gardens using the south facing slope. This helped to establish a mountain flora at the top slowly changing by altitude to a seaside environment at the lower end, but going through other natural plant associations as you went down the slope. It was quite fascinating.
In 1980 Les Bissett became curator and established the new visitor centre. He brought with him a fantastic knowledge of plants.
The current curator Alasdair Hood arrived in 1998 and is concerned with promoting the gardens to increase visitor numbers and the education facilities for children, schools, colleges, university students and scientists studying biology, conservation and other plant sciences.
Education even extends to the establishment of a typical allotment garden, though some work needs to be done to bring it up to City Road Allotment Garden standards.


This starts with toddlers who love to explore and discover where the tea and coffee comes from and what a banana and orange tree looks like. School children can study botany, see how plants grow, spread, defend themselves and reproduce and see local wildlife around the garden.
Facilities for teachers, students and scientists studying plants and their habitats and special research projects can be arranged.

Visitor Centre

Ample car parking allows for the increasing number of visitors to the gardens. Get advice on plants, garden problems and book a guided tour of the garden at the visitor centre. The visitor centre hosts a frequently changing art exhibition of local artists (I will be holding an exhibition of recent paintings in mid October), as well as an excellent cafe and plant sales area.


There are two greenhouses. One is for tropical rain forest plants and the other for plants needing a desert habitat. Here you can see tea, coffee, oranges and bananas growing, and a giant water lily.
A wee bit of garden violence is provided with a good collection of insectivorous plants that feed on insects. The honeydew has a sticky secretion on the inside of its leaves. When an insect gets bogged down and begins to struggle the leaves fold over it so it cannot escape. The pitcher plant has long funnels with slippery sides and downward pointing hairs. Insects are attracted to it seeking some sweet nectar. Unfortunately, there isn’t any, but once they go into the funnel they can’t get out and slowly weaken and fall to the bottom of the funnel where they drown in a watery fluid full of digestive enzymes.

Natural Environments

The garden has developed over the last forty years as a place to study plants from all over the world growing in their own natural environment as much as the Dundee soil and climate will allow.
The shelter of the north west slope behind the glasshouse creates a drier environment suited to herbs and Mediterranean  plants.
At the other end of the garden plants from Australia and New Zealand which also enjoy a drier climate are well represented with some excellent mature Eucalyptus species, shrubs and ground cover plants. I really appreciated finding a Hebe macrantha with large white scented flowers, a plant that we grew in the Parks Dept nursery at Camperdown, but I had never seen since.
Another area hosts plants native to the Americas with some impressive giant redwoods.
Plants native to Scotland have a special area of mountain, glen and burn, and the specimen of Camperdown elm is the strongest and healthiest I have ever seen. It does not grow very tall as it has a strong tendency to weep.
A new section to show plant evolution from mosses to flowering plants has been created in a series of dry stane dykes which meander around leaving behind planted beds showing the different stages of plant evolution. Those dykes are very impressive showing that they can be very strong as well as ornamental allowing the builder ample scope to be as creative as he/she desires. They are a fantastic piece of pure stone mason craftsmanship.


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