Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Palm Houses Restoration News, Listed RBGE Building Renewal, Architecture Pictures

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Palm Houses Restoration

13 October 2023

Scottish heritage body awards £500,000 to restore Edinburgh’s historic Palm Houses

New stone cornicing is hoisted up to the roof of the Temperate Palm House:
Temperate Palm House Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
photo courtesy of RBGE

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Palm Houses Restoration News

The ongoing restoration of the two A-listed Palm Houses at the heart of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) will shortly receive a much-needed boost, thanks to a £500,000 grant from Historic Environment Scotland (HES). The grant will help fund the renovation of the fabric and structure of the buildings, including stonework, glazing and iron work.

The two Palm Houses are outstanding examples of late Georgian and Victorian engineering, part of Scotland’s built heritage and of unique architectural significance. The octagonal Tropical Palm House, constructed in 1834, is the oldest glasshouse at the Inverleith site, while the iconic Temperate Palm House, reputed to be the tallest stone-built glasshouse in Europe, opened in 1858.

Scaffolding being erected outside the iconic Temperate Palm House:
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Temperate Palm House
photo courtesy of RBGE

Now almost 200 years old, the Palm Houses are showing their age, with the fabric of the buildings badly eroded and in desperate need of repair. A comprehensive programme to renovate the historic infrastructure began in 2021 with the lift and careful removal for safekeeping of around 800 plants, before restoration work under contractor Balfour Beatty could begin in 2022.

The grant will support the repair, replacement and restoration of crumbling sandstone, broken glass and structural ironwork – including narrow spiral staircases, vertigo-inducing aerial walkways and the elegant 6.7-metre-high arched windows on the Victorian Palm House.

Victorian Temperate Palm House – before the restoration work began:
Victorian Temperate Palm House Edinburgh
photograph courtesy of RBGE

Already, the results of these complex conservation efforts are starting to be realised. Rusted and corroding ironwork is restored and freshly painted, enormous yet intricately carved sandstone blocks have replaced decaying cornices, while new, more efficient glass panels are waiting, ready to be installed.

On completion of this ambitious project, these magnificent buildings will be restored to their former glory, once again providing a haven for the Garden’s precious Living Collection of plants.

Dr Susan O’Connor, Head of Grants at Historic Environment Scotland (HES) said: “The Palm Houses at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) are a particularly grand example of Victorian botanic garden buildings, specifically designed for the oldest botanic garden in Scotland. It’s been a pleasure to work with RBGE to offer technical advice on the conservation of these remarkable structures, as well as awarding HES grant funding of £500,000.

“This project is a wonderful opportunity for conservation; in one project helping to safeguard both the historical environment and the Living Collection. By restoring the Palm Houses and making them more energy efficient, the buildings will continue to protect rare species of plant life, housed in a remarkable building, for new and returning visitors to the botanic gardens for generations to come.”

Visualisation of how the Palm House will look after restoration:
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Palm Houses restored
picture courtesy of RBGE

Simon Milne, MBE, Regius Keeper, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh said:

“We are immensely grateful to Historic Environment Scotland for the award of £500,000 towards the restoration of our much-loved Palm Houses. Our Victorian Palm House in particular is an iconic architectural landmark for the Garden, Edinburgh and the whole of Scotland, and this significant award will serve to protect this masterpiece of engineering for generations to come.

“By funding the restoration of these magnificent buildings, HES will also help protect and showcase the many beautiful and fascinating plants they house, some of which are endangered in their native habitats.

“At a time when 40 per cent of all known plants are under threat, this important grant will secure the care of a unique Living Collection of plants and give a new generation of visitors the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by the beauty and splendour of the natural world.”

In addition to support from Historic Environment Scotland, the Palm Houses are being restored thanks to backing from the Scottish Government, National Lottery Heritage Fund, Garfield Weston Foundation and other supporters. To learn more about the Edinburgh Biomes project and to support ongoing fundraising efforts, please visit

RBGE Palm Houses Restoration

The largest capital development project in the 353-year history of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), Edinburgh Biomes is central to RBGE’s response to the twin challenges of the biodiversity crisis and climate emergency. The project will protect global plant science and conservation through the replacement of scientific research houses and the restoration of the Garden’s A-Listed heritage Palm Houses and 1960s modernist Front Range Glasshouses. In addition, the project will provide a more efficient Energy Centre, new cutting-edge facilities to support RBGE’s research into plant pests and pathogens and a new destination Glasshouse to inspire the scientists, horticulturists and conservationists of the future. The Edinburgh Biomes project will cost £89.9 million and is being supported by the Scottish Government, National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic Environment Scotland and Garfield Weston Foundation, among others.

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Glasshouses Lower Temperate House
photo : David Cheskin

Palm Houses

Built in 1834, the Tropical Palm House is the Garden’s oldest Glasshouse and forms an irregular octagon measuring 60 feet wide and 27 feet high (18.3 x 8.2 metres). By the 1850s, plantings had outgrown the original space and Parliament agreed to provide £6,000 for a new Palm House, based largely on photographic evidence of the Caryota urens and Metroxylon rumphii palms sending leaves through the roof.

The photo by Dr James Duncan (c.1855) is the oldest in RBGE’s archives. The now iconic Temperate or Victorian Palm House was designed by Robert Matheson, and building commenced on 8 April 1856. Built from sandstone quarried at Bishopbriggs, Glasgow, the 18 arched windows are around 22 feet high and 8 feet wide (6.7 x 2.4 metres) and the building is 60 x 100 feet (18.3 x 30.5 metres) and 72 feet high (21.95 metres). Planting was completed on 30 April 1858.

Protecting the Palm House plants

To prepare the buildings for restoration, a complex plan was devised to lift and remove all plants from the Palm Houses. Challenges included the safe removal of large palms such as the Trachycarpus princeps. At over 8 metres tall, RBGE’s specimen is believed to be the tallest in cultivation outside its native China and the tallest plant to be successfully moved from the Palm Houses. Also successfully moved for safekeeping was the Wollemia nobilis, an evergreen genus of conifer native to Australia that is now critically endangered in its native habitat.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is a leading international research organisation delivering knowledge, education, and plant conservation action around the world. In Scotland, its four Gardens at Edinburgh, Benmore, Dawyck and Logan attract more than a million visitors each year. It operates as a Non Departmental Public Body established under the National Heritage (Scotland) Act 1985, principally funded by the Scottish Government. It is also a registered charity, managed by a Board of Trustees appointed by Ministers. Its mission is “To explore, conserve and explain the world of plants for a better future.” Learn more:

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Palm Houses images / information received 121023

11 April 2022

Heritage Fund awards £4 million to restore historic glasshouses at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Funding will support re-display of rare and endangered historic plants

£4 million to restore glasshouses at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

The two A-Listed Victorian Palm Houses and a modernist range of 1960s glasshouses at the heart of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh are to be restored thanks to a £4 million grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

£4 million to restore glasshouses at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Glasshouses Restoration

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
photo : David Cheskin

Previously on Edinburgh Architecture:

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

9 March 2022
RBGE Edinburgh Biomes building construction
RBGE Edinburgh Biomes building construction
RBGE Edinburgh Biomes construction

6 Sep 2019
Botanics’ Glasshouses close one by one for emergency repairs

2 Aug 2019
Go ahead for plans to safeguard the priceless collections of Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh public and research Glasshouses, 1967 by the PSA:
Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden planthouses building facade
photo © Adrian Welch

Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden News

11 Nov 2010 – £35m proposals abandoned due to threatened funding cuts: scheme to replace the Britain’s largest glasshouse halted despite officials warning they have an “appalling carbon footprint”.

The current glasshouses cost a huge sum in repair and general maintenance and have massive running costs.

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Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh building design by Edward Cullinan Architects

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