he Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, Scotland has over 25 glasshouses (built in the 1800s,
1960s, and the 1970s) that are used not only for education and edification but also for research,
propagation and quarantine. These conservatories (ten of which are open to the public) allow
visitors to experience many different climate zones in one visit. The Royal Botanic Gardens are
located just one mile from the center of Edinburgh and cover over 70 acres of land.
The first and oldest glasshouse on the property is the Tropical Palm House, which
was built in 1834. This octagonal structure was the largest structure of its kind in Britain when
it opened. It continues to be the oldest glasshouse in Edinburgh and has, at its center, a palm
that was moved from its previous location in 1822! The Palm House features nearly 2600 different
species of palms. In 1858, the Temperate Palm House was added to the Tropical Palm House. This
glass building features plants ranging from tea to lemons.
The buildings of the 1960s (appropriately matching the decade) and '70s were
considered radical and innovative. The main house, designed by George A.H. Pearce, is 420 feet long
and 60 feet wide. The supporting structures are located outside of the two level building and
contain five climactic zones.
The Tropical Palm House, one of the tallest glasshouses in the world, and the
tallest in the United Kingdom at 72 feet, was designed by Robert Matheson with a £6,000 grant from
Parliament. Matheson (also known for his work at Holyroodhouse Palace, which is currently The Queen's
official residence in Scotland) was an Italian Renaissance style architect in the 19th century. The
masonry of the Palm House, constructed mainly of pink sandstone, is gracefully topped by an ironwork
roof, and has an 11-foot glass-ceiling dome.
The Palm House was closed for 18 months in the early 2000s as it underwent a major
renovation that restored it to its original Victorian grandeur. The restoration included the
installation of a new floor and heating system.