Southern Hemisphere in Scotland: Benmore Botanic Garden

Scotland’s flagship botanic garden, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is, contrary to its name not entirely based in the city of Edinburgh. The collection is split across four sites: Edinburgh, Dawyck, Logan and Benmore, each having their own specialties.

Benmore, set within the Loch Lomond &  Trossachs National Park, is distinguished by its mountain character, and high rainfall (>2000mm) which makes it such a good place for the cultivation of trees and woodland plants. At the time we visited (end May), the rhododendrons and primulas were displaying their lovely spring colours:


The main feature of Benmore Botanic Garden is a stunning range of conifers, some being over 150 years old. The garden holds three National Plant Collections: Abies (firs), Picea (spruce) and South American Temperate Conifers. The first two collections are held in the lower part of the garden, and with such a high rainfall, the moss carpet under the trees makes a stunning landscape:


Most people will see conifers as boring evergreen trees, but there’s so much diversity in the group. Here’s an example with just one genus, Abies:

Benmore is home to over 300 species of colourful Rhododendron, with many coming from Bhutan and China.

As we walk up, the dense conifer forest opens up to a rocky landscape, which is home to many Southern Hemisphere plants. It feels completely out of place, and at the same time strangely at home in Scotland:


Chilean conifer species grown at Benmore include showy Araucaria araucana (monkey puzzle), but also Fitzroya cupressoides (Patagonian cypress) and Podocarpus salignus (the willow-leaf podocarp), both threatened by habitat loss in the wild:

Fitzroya cupressoides (2)Podocarpus salignus

Two colourful species of Berberis, B. darwinii and B. griffithiana, one from Chile, the other from Bhutan:

Berberis darwinii (2)Berberis griffithiana

I was very pleased to see many Nothofagus (the southern equivalent of beeches). Here are the tiny flowers of Nothofagus dombeyi, native to the Andes:

Nothofagus dombeyi (6)

Another striking feature of Benmore Botanic Garden is the fernery, originally built in 1870. As for Ascog Hall presented in my previous post, the fernery soon declined after the Victorian “pteridomania” died down, and was in ruins by the 1990s. It underwent extensive restoration and reopened in 2009. This fernery is not sunken, but stood on a rocky hill.


The elegant arched shaped of the fernery:


And some interesting species grown under the tree ferns:

At the entrance of the fernery, I notice an unusual looking plant with showy pink flowers. This is Valdivia gayana, a cave-dwelling plant from Chile which flowered for the first time in the garden in 2013 (see here for the story):


Benmore Botanic Garden is not really on the tourist path, but should be on every woody plant enthusiast’s bucket list. The temperate rainforest feel is amazing:



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