Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape

St Andrews Botanic GardenGDL00405

Status: Designated


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Date Added
Local Authority
Planning Authority
St Andrews
NO 50254 16187
350254, 716187

St Andrews Botanic Garden is recognised for its outstanding and diverse horticultural collections, its research and educational programmes, and for its historic continuity, documentation and plant recording since its inception in 1889. The garden has over 8000 plant species including more than 50 champion trees, various special collections and rare cultivars, skillfully laid out amidst ponds, waterfalls, rock and peat gardens, herbaceous borders and within extensive glasshouses.

Type of Site

A long-established university botanic garden, begun in 1889 and relocated to its present site in 1960.

Main Phases of Landscape Development


Artistic Interest

Level of interest

While the botanic research and educational value of this garden are of primary concern, the garden has also been designed with a long-term aesthetic and amenity value in mind. It has been described in the national and local press as 'a hidden gem among gardens of Scotland' (The Scotsman, 08/11/2015). Robert Mitchell designed much of the garden, the layout of which is a mix of organic, naturalistic areas with more formal areas which exploit the natural topography of the sloping site. It is a good representative example of a purpose-built, late-20th century botanic garden in Scotland.


Level of interest

St Andrews is the third oldest botanic garden in Scotland after Edinburgh and Glasgow and its history is well known (Mitchell, 2015). Documentation and recording of the garden collection provides important historic evidence of its early and ongoing development. The order beds provide a link with the historic development of horticultural and botanical classification and theory. No other botanic gardens in Scotland continue to cultivate order beds in this fashion.


Level of interest

St Andrews Botanic Garden contains large and diverse specialist collections and rare species of known wild origin, some of which are endangered or seldom seen in cultivation. The collection has over 8000 plant species or 'taxa' represented, including more than 50 champion trees, special collections, rare cultivars, herbarium and plant records. The collection is in good condition, is being propagated and is well documented.


Level of interest

There are no listed buildings in the garden. Sections of rubble wall associated with an earlier agricultural use of the site are the only built structures that predate the relocation of the botanic garden in 1960. The glasshouses, including four that were relocated from Craigtoun Park in 1996, are of a standard design.


Level of interest

There are no known archeological sites within St Andrews Botanic Garden. At present, value in this category derives from the potential for future survey or investigation to reveal further information about the landscape over time.


Level of interest

The garden occupies a low-lying site surrounded by suburban development. Protective belts of conifer and shrub planting around the perimeter of the site largely inhibit long-range scenic views of the garden or the mixed deciduous tree canopy. The trees around the perimeter provide a contrast with the surrounding houses.

Location and Setting

St Andrews Botanic Garden covers a total of 7 hectares (18.5 acres) of former agricultural land to the southwest of St Andrews town centre. There is a natural slope down towards the tree-lined gully of the Kinness Burn, running 0.5 kilometres along the northwest boundary of the garden. The trees lining the burn were planted in the 1890s. The garden is further sheltered from winds by a thick belt of tall conifers that defines the southwest perimeter of the garden. A 300m-long embankment of a disused railway viaduct bounds the site to the east, while the Canongate road defines the south boundary. The embankment of the viaduct has been planted with trees to further increase shelter from winds.

The gardens are laid out over a series of individually contrasting areas. The natural topography has been landscaped to emphasise and separate garden areas, including a rock garden, water garden, heather garden, woodland valley, glasshouses, plant family order beds and herbaceous borders. There are distinct microclimates towards the centre of the garden, created in part by tree and shrub planting. This encourages a range of more than 8000 species of herbaceous plants, ferns, shrubs and trees to flourish.

The glasshouses, covering an area of 2000 square metres, are located to the west of the site, near the public entrance and the car park accessed from Canongate.

The church spires of the central St Andrews townscape are visible from the formal bedding areas of the garden.

Site History

St Andrews Botanic Garden, owned by the University of St Andrews, is the third oldest established Botanic Garden in Scotland (after Edinburgh and Glasgow). The development history is well known and has been most recently recorded by Robert John Mitchell in his book 'The Botanic Garden in St Andrews, The History of 125 Years, 1889-2014' (2015).

During these years, three men provided an almost continuous management and maintenance role for the garden: Dr John Hardie Wilson (from 1889 to 1920), John Lanchbury Mowat (from 1925 to 1967) and Robert John Mitchell (from 1962 to 2015). Diversity has been a key theme of the botanic garden at St Andrews throughout its history.

St Andrews University has a distinguished history of botanical studies beginning in 1825. The first Botanic Garden in St Andrews dates from 1889 when Dr John Hardie Wilson laid out 78 'order beds' for teaching and research purposes in a walled garden at St. Mary's College in South Street and Westburn Street. Order beds consist of plants from the same botanical group grown together to demonstrate evolutionary theory in flowering plants. Hardie's beds contained 828 plants based on Bentham and Hooker's classification for the plant kingdom.

John Lanchbury Mowat was appointed 'First Gardener' in 1925 and was closely involved in the development of the garden until his retirement in 1967. During his tenure, the St Andrews Botanic Garden joined the International Botanic Garden Seed Exchange in 1933, helping to establish an international reputation.

During the Second World War the collection was partly dispersed across the gardens of various university-owned sites in the town including Dyer's Brae and Westburn Lane before relocation to its present permanent home. Robert John Mitchell played a leading role in the move to the present site from 1960 and was curator of the garden until 2015.

The present site at Bassaguard was largely developed between 1962 and 1970. Access roads were laid in 1963 and various areas readied for planting using distinct soil types including clay loam, sand, gravel and peat. In 1967, twelve established trees were transplanted from the St Mary's College site as a historical link with the old garden and to provide structure and maturity in the new garden from an early stage. Many of these survive in the present garden. Further tangible evidence of this continuity is the ongoing use of order beds at the Bassaguard site. A number of trees from further afield, including the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh and from England were transplanted between 1964 and 1970, with many others grown from seed.

The university was in charge of development of the garden at its current site until 1987 when Fife Council was granted a 25 year lease to manage the garden. The Friends of the Botanic Garden was founded by Robert Mitchell in 1981 as a support organisation.

In 2015 the university, Fife Council and the Friends of the Botanic Garden agreed to the formation of the St Andrews Botanic Gardens Trust to take over the management of the garden.

At the time of writing, the Trust corresponds with more than 420 Botanic Gardens around the world (2016). It continues to play a strong educational role for university students of botany and schoolchildren alike, while also providing amenity to the local community and the visiting public.

Landscape Components

Paths & Walks

There is a main path or avenue running southwest to northeast through the centre of the garden. To either side of this avenue, serpentine pathways connect each distinct themed area as they merge into one another. Some paths have been designed to exploit the natural topography of key areas such as the rock, water and peat gardens, with paths leading to elevated areas to take in scenes of contrasting scale and plant variety.

The Gardens

There are currently over 300 trees in St Andrews Botanic Garden including a collection of more than 50 recorded champion trees. There are 6 British champions including a Koehne mountain ash and an apricot tree, 14 Scottish champions and 39 county champions. Many of these trees were planted after 1970 and are growing fast as a result of the microclimates purposefully created as part of the garden design.

The garden has a significant number of individual species collections including 111 varieties of berberis and 156 varieties of cotoneaster. Other collections include sorbus, rowan, rhododendron, honeysuckle (caprifoliaceae), heather (ericaceae), and rose (rosacea).

Geographical collections include groups of Chinese, Western South American and Sino-Himalayan plants. In 2012 a survey by Plant Heritage ('Conserving Cultivars', Sept 2012) identified 43 plants in the gardens rare enough to be threatened in cultivation of which 23 were cultivars unique to St Andrews Botanic Garden.  

Themed areas within the garden include:

The Water Garden (established 1974-76) which is situated on sloping ground to the north of the rock garden and forms a centrepiece of the garden. It comprises a sequence of three cascades, stepping down into small ponds and terminating in a fifty foot pond, located on lower ground near the Kinness Burn. Water gathered at this location prior to the construction of the Garden, so the water garden is evidence of the designers working with and embellishing the natural topography of the site.

The Order Beds are laid out according to the Cronquist taxonomic system, with 134 plant families divided into five major groups in a triangular-plan bedding plan, radiating outwards from the earliest plants at the centre to the more recently evolved species at the furthest edges. Plants from the same botanical group are grown together to illustrate the characteristics they share, and to demonstrate evolutionary theory in flowering plants.

The Rock Garden (developed 1964-67) was inspired by the great rock garden at Edinburgh and the former rock garden at St Mary's College. The rock garden area has terraces, cliffs and scree slopes, interspersed with limestone pavement.

The Heath Garden is located in a sheltered area near the centre of the garden and contains a wide range of heaths, heathers and small conifers.

The Woodland and Rhododendron Garden covers a sloping and terraced bank of peat soil with pathways containing around 80 dwarf rhododendron species, trees and ericaceous plants.

The Glasshouses (established 1966-71) contain themed collections, with plants from temperate to tropical climates and covering a wide geographical range. The four main glasshouses, which were relocated from nearby Craigtoun Park in 1966, are linked by a corridor under glass to the north with succulents, cacti, alpines, Mediterranean species and an area housing some of the less robust rhododendrons.  Educational facilities are housed within two of the glasshouses. There is also a herbarium with 10,000 specimens, a seed bank and a plant record database.

The rectangular-plan Herb Garden to the east of the glasshouses is more formal, set out on a Saltire Cross pattern.

There is a specimen conifer grouping in the Arboretum (Woodland Walk) located at the narrow, east corner of the garden.



Maps, plans and archives

Ordnance Survey (Surveyed 1896, Published 1898), 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey Map, 25 Inches to the Mile, London, Ordnance Survey.

Printed sources

Mowat J. L. (1959) University Botanic Garden, St Andrews. Journal, Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society 1959, pp38-48.

Mitchell R. J. (2015) The Botanic Garden in St Andrews – The History of 125 Years (1889-2014) St Andrews: McGilvray Printers

Internet sources

St Andrews Botanic Garden website: [accessed 12/06/2016].

National Tree Register: [accessed 12/06/2016].

Botanic Gardens Conservation International: [accessed 12/06/2016].

The Plantsman (Sept 2012) 'Conserving Cultivars' Plant Heritage's Threatened Plants Project: [accessed 12/06/2016].

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St Andrews Botanic Garden, central path with green foliage to left and right
St Andrews Botanic Garden, trees to left and right, rocks and water in centre, white sky above.
St Andrews Botanic Garden. Trees and shrubs, narrow strip of white sky above
St Andrews Botanic Garden, central path, cactus to left, glass roof to top.

Printed: 23/06/2024 04:43