The History of Leith

April 20, 2012

The old Botanical Garden, the successor of the old Physic Garden

On Leith Walk, was “the old Botanical Garden, the successor of the old
Physic Garden that lay in the swampy valley of the
_North Loch, and the garden of Holyrood Palace.
Dr. John Hope, the professor of botany, ap-
‘pointed in 1768, used every exertion to procure a
more favourable situation for a garden than the old
• one, and succeeded, about 1766, in obtaining such
aid and countenance from Government as enabled
him to accomplish the object he had so much at
heart. “His Majesty,” says Arnot, with laudable
detail—Government -grants being few for Scotland
in those days—” was graciously pleased to
grant the sum of ,£1.330 is. ajd. for making it,
rand for its annual support £69 8s.; at the same
time the magistrates and Town Council granted
the sum of £25 annually for paying the rent of the
The latter was five acres in extent, and the rapid
progress it made as a garden was greatly owing to
the skill and diligence of John Williamson, the
heacftgardener. ” The soil,” says Arnot, ” is sandy
•or gravelly.” Playfair, in his ” Illustrations of the
Huttonian Theory,” says of this garden that its
ground, “after a thin covering is removed, consists
entirely of sea-sand, very regularly stratified with
layers of black carbonaceous matter in three
lamellse interposed between them. Shells, I believe

are rarely found in it; but it has every other
appearance of a sea-beach.”
By 1780 it was richly stocked with trees to afford
good shelter for young and tender plants. In the
eastern division was the school of botany, containing
2,000 species of plants, systematically arranged.
A German traveller, named Frank, who
visited it in 1805, praised the order of the plants,
and says, ” among others I saw a beautiful Ferula
asafxtida in full bloom. The gardens at Kew received
their plants from this garden.”
The latter was laid out under the immediate
direction of Dr. Hope, who arranged the plants
according to the system of Linnaeus, to whom, in
1778, he erected in the grounds a monument—a
vase upon a pedestal—inscribed :
He built suitable hothouses, and formed a pond
for the nourishment of aquatic plants. These we-c
all in the western division of the ground. The conservatories
were 140 feet long. Bruce of Kinnaird.
the traveller, gave the professor a number of
Abyssinian plant seeds, among them the plant which
cured him of dysentery. In a small enclosure the
industrious professor had a plantation of the true
rhubarb, containing 3,000 plants.
The greenhouse was covered by a slated roof,
according to the Scots Magazine, in 1809 ; and as
light was only admitted at the sides, the plants
were naturally drawn towards them. ” To remedy
this radical defect,” adds the writer, ” a glass roof
is necessary. The soil of this garden is by no
means good; vast pains have been bestowed upon
it to produce what has been done. The situation,
which, at one period, may be admitted to have
been favourable, is now indifferent, and is daily
becoming worse, from the rapid encroachment of
building, and the blasting effects of an iron-foundry
on the opposite side of Leith Walk.”
Some of the new walks here were laid out by
Mr. John Mackay, said to be one of the most
enthusiastic botanists and tasteful gardeners that
Scotland had as then produced, and who died
in 1802.

source-Old and New edinburgh

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