midsummer at the Botanical

Jul 8, 2017

Kevin Gaffney, RHC for central Scotland recently took the inspired decision to hold his regional meeting for hosts and WWOOFers at a rather different venue…

Midsummer week and the day dawns bright and sunny, which can only be a good start.

I am walking through the extensive grounds of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh (RGBE) and, as the garden is not yet open, I have a rare opportunity to enjoy the splendid living collections before the gates are opened to the general public. The gardens are looking wonderful in their midsummer glory as I head past the glasshouses and on to the monument to one of the greatest botanists in history, Carl Linnaeus, before arriving to meet Laura, from the RBGE, at the Botanic Cottage, my base for today’s WWOOF gathering.

The cottage was built in 1764-5 and designed by John Adams and James Craig. It served as a classroom, where every medical student was taught botany during the height of the Scottish Enlightenment, a home for the principal gardener, and was the main entrance to the gardens when they were situated on Leith Walk.

After the gardens moved to their new site on Inverleith in the early 1820s, the cottage was left on Leith Walk, until the mid-2000s. It had been abandoned and fire damage had left it waiting to be demolished. Fortunately, a community campaign (along with the RBGE) saved the cottage, and it was moved, stone by stone, across Edinburgh. It has been rebuilt with all of the timber and Craigleith sandstones going back in the correct places. The actual rebuilding work was undertaken exactly 250 years after it was originally built!


Over morning coffee, I had the pleasure of welcoming hosts from Burmieston, Kilbride Castle, The Old Smithy, Middlebank Cottage, Laidlawstiel House, Edinburgh’s Allotment, WWOOFers Joan, Tina and Nim, who is a director of WWOOF UK. Around the table, in the delightful Garden Room, we discussed the impact of Brexit, WWOOFer numbers and application procedures, a normal working exchange day as a host, transportation by hosts, WWOOFers’ days out, and all the other responsibilities being a host brings. Having WWOOFers present was most welcome, as all sides of the WWOOF exchange could be discussed.


Lunch was taken upstairs in the historic Professor’s Room – the original Enlightenment classroom. Replicas of botanical teaching diagrams hang on the walls, where students discovered the world of plants and botanical exploration. Our conversations flowed with ideas on sheep breeding, tree pruning and cheese making, to name but a few.


Our Demonstration Garden tour, with Judy from the RBGE, was scheduled shortly after lunch. Here, students, schools and community groups have plots, and workshops in organic pest control, composting and vegetable growing for beginners etc. are delivered. This is truly an inspiring place and well worth a visit if you happen to be in Edinburgh.

It has been a rewarding day, in an historical building that once again stands in its spiritual home; where people will continue to learn about plants, art, exploration, community and wellbeing. This has been the most perfect setting, in a neutral place, where ideas and thoughts have been exchanged, on this midsummer’s day.

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