The need for a botanic garden at the University of Dundee was identified by the University botany staff in 1966. A case was then made to the University administration, but it was promptly shelved for lack of funding.
The botany staff had considered how a new garden could be maintained in the longer term, bearing in mind the more complex traditional designs which were labour-intensive and thus costly to run. Dundee's proposal was therefore developed to allow an operation on a shoestring budget: a policy which continues to this day. This low cash demand has remained one of the Garden's important attributes and was the key to reviving interest in the project.
In 1970 a copy of the 'founding memorandum', written in 1966 by Dr Hugh Ingram, was discovered by Professor James Drever, first Principal of the University. The new Principal took up the idea with enthusiasm; and detailed planning for the Botanic Garden began.
To date there have been four Curators of the Garden:
- 1971 to 1980 Edward Kemp
- 1980 to 1998 Les Bissett
- 1998 to 2018 Alasdair Hood
- 2019 to present Kevin Frediani
The garden was well thought out at its inception. Dr Kemp brought to the project a wealth of experience in gardening and arboriculture, much of it gained when he was curator of the Royal Botanical Garden, Edinburgh. This he applied with great conviction and forethought. Les Bisset, who has an outstanding knowledge of plants, was then able to bring the garden towards maturity. He was also responsible for the existing visitor facilities.
Our current aim is to encourage more visitors to access and enjoy the Garden; and to increase the facilities for their education. Thus enabling them to appreciate the vital role plants play in everyone's lives.
The Founding Principles and Core Functions
The founding principles of the Garden are science, education and conservation. Moreover the aim has always been to bring these principles to the attention of the entire community, and for the Garden to act as a one of the main links between the University and those who live in this part of Scotland.
Core functions have included the cultivation of plant communities in appropriate layouts and the supply of materials for teaching and research to organisations that have need of them. These users greatly influence the choice of plants grown and the groupings in which they are displayed. At a time when the survival of many plant species is threatened, conservation is a necessary further aim. Increasingly important objectives are the encouragement of visits by schools and colleges and promoting the use of the collections for biology classes, environmental education and instruction in the fine arts.
In 1971 the University Botanic Garden began to be established on a site of 9 ha facing south on a gentle slope just north of the River Tay. The site is favoured by a fertile but well drained soil. Indeed, it was the last remaining suitable site left within a reasonable distance of the University. Water that probably arises in the deep rock of Balgay Hill, a volcanic 'plug', was found in small stone conduits in the northwest corner of the site and has been routed to form water features. The various sources of water were fed into an arched well, designed and built by Dr Edward Kemp, the first Curator of the Garden. This carries an apt excerpt from Horace's laudatory poem to Fons Bandusiae. The water is very pure with a high magnesium content and on emerging has a minimum temperature of 3.5C enabling climatically marginal plants to be grown in the ornamental pool.
The glasshouse is sited on an area that used to be a hockey pitch. Initially the majority of the site was virtually treeless but the enclosed lower gardens at Cidhmore and Taypark, which form the eastern end of the garden, already supported mature trees.
By 1980, the Garden was sufficiently developed to consider increasing the provision for public amenity and education. As the first major step, a Visitors' Centre, was proposed and adopted as one of the objectives of the University's Centenary Appeal. The Centre was opened in 1984 by Alan Devereux, Chairman of the Scottish Tourist Board.
This architecturally interesting building, designed and built by local firms, has been the recipient of several awards including a prestigious national award by the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1988. It was one of only 18 buildings so recognised in that year.
The Centre houses the Visitors' Reception Desk and is the first place to look for information on the Garden. There is a popular Exhibition Area which hosts a range of exhibitions during the year, from photography to textiles, watercolours and other media.