SINCE starting this series on Scotland’s built heritage, I have had a couple of readers email me to ask what exactly the term means. I have taken a very broad approach to the subject, considering that built heritage is any building or structure that forms part of our history.

Cities and towns, obviously, are the most prominent examples of our built heritage and in part four I showed how our New Towns had come into being. Today I can reveal that I will be devoting a future series to Scotland’s eight cities and the most important towns in terms of Scottish history.

By my definition, structures associated with transport are hugely important parts of our built heritage and I will be covering roads, railways, canals, and airports in a four-part series that will immediately follow this series (of which three parts remain after today’s piece).

Today I will be writing about two very important areas of our heritage that you may not think of as “built”, namely formal gardens and parks. They have all been designed and created by humans and for me that makes them “built” – a definition which is embraced by most heritage organisations and local authorities.

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As I wrote in part one, we are truly fortunate to live in a beautiful country and for the most part we humans have added well to the attractions of our landscape. Surely no-one can argue against my assertion that parks and gardens in general have added much to our culture and history. In writing about them I will make my own choice of the best and most important, all of which I have visited.

Again, I don’t expect every reader to agree with my choices today, but they all have a story to tell, and all make their contribution to our history and culture. Apologies in advance if I have left out your favourite, but email me at and I’ll choose the best examples.

I can only mention a few, but according to VisitScotland there are more than 400 gardens, woodlands and plant nurseries across the country. There’s bound to be one near you, so why not pay it a visit?

The importance of our gardens and parks is simple: they are features shaped by landscape and then improved by people to become breathing spaces and adornments of our townscapes and countryside.

Let’s start with formal gardens. Many are attached to stately homes and castles and since I will be writing about castles next week, I will mention their gardens then.

I think it says a lot about Scotland that in our capital city and in our largest city, gardens are right at their hearts – I really can’t choose a favourite between Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden and Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens.

Both have an important history. The latter was founded by Thomas Hopkirk in 1817 and grew so fast that it had to move west from its original site at Sandyford to its current location on the banks of the River Kelvin, opening in 1842.

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The Kibble Palace was added in 1873, relocating from its original site at Coulport on Loch Long. The Botanics are hugely popular with Glaswegians and visitors alike and have a long history as a Glasgow institution.

The Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh was originally located in Holyrood Park, established in 1670 as a “physic garden” to grow medicinal plants such as herbs and the second oldest in the UK after Oxford. It moved to its present site at Inverleith in 1820 and after Inverleith House was acquired, the remodelled garden opened in 1881.

From the outset, both gardens performed numerous roles, importing species and growing native ones, providing herbs for the medical profession and conserving rare plants and trees. This hugely important work helped make Scotland a major force in world botany, a reputation we still retain though I suspect few Scots are aware of it. The Royal Botanic in Edinburgh now has three regional specialist gardens and they are all worth a visit: Dawick, south of Peebles; Logan, near Stranraer, and Benmore, near Dunoon. Dawick with its important trees is probably my favourite, while Benmore’s giant redwoods have to be seen. Logan has a host of exotic species and all three are national treasures.

Also in central Edinburgh we have Princes Street Gardens, which are actually two public parks either side of the Mound which houses the National Gallery and the Royal Scottish Academy. The gardens date from the 1820s and were created after the draining of the Nor Loch and the creation of the New Town.

Both East and West Princes Street Gardens feature statues and monuments, including the Scott Monument in the former and the Royal Scots Greys memorial in the latter, though my favourite locations in the Gardens are the Ross Bandstand, Ross Fountain, and the Floral Clock. The gardens are so important to the city that they are covered by their own Act of Parliament which, among other things, restricts the height of adjacent buildings. Along with the Meadows, the gardens are the lungs of Edinburgh and are tourist attractions in themselves.

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Inverness has one of the most recently established botanic gardens. Originally the Floral Hall and Gardens, it was later developed into a full botanical facility which was opened in 1993 by Prince Edward. The Tropical House is a welcome warm place to shelter on a cold day, as I have done.

St Andrews Botanic Garden is the third oldest in Scotland and, according to Historic Environment Scotland, “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 more than 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.”

To me, this garden is one of Scotland’s hidden gems.

Other favourites of mine include Inverewe Garden near Poolewe in Wester Ross, which is now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. It dates from 1862 when landowner Osgood Mackenzie (1842-1922) began the garden to house his collection of trees and plants. He also started a walled garden, a feature of many estates around Scotland.

As the waters nearby are warmed by the Gulf Stream, Inverewe has been able to grow and conserve many foreign plant species including a year-round display of rhododendrons. It’s a very special place.

Johnston Gardens were gifted to the city of Aberdeen in 1936. The city council is very proud of this small but beautifully put together area. Its website says: “This beautiful landscaped garden boasts streams, ponds, waterfalls, rockeries and a picturesque bridge that has featured in many wedding photos.

“The park comes alive in spring and summer as the rhododendrons, spring bulbs, heathers and alpines blossom; the ponds are full of irises and aquatic plants, with visiting mallard ducks and breeding moor hens.”

At the other end of the country is another of my favourites, Threave Garden near Castle Douglas in Dumfries and Galloway. Again it is a relatively recent establishment, dating from 1960 and home to the National Trust for Scotland’s School of Heritage Gardening. It’s not just about plants at Threave – it also has a reserve for bats and an osprey viewing platform.

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Inland from Threave is the garden which I consider to be the most poignant in Scotland, the Lockerbie Garden of Remembrance. It is a beautiful and tranquil place at Dryfesdale Cemetery. The garden’s flower beds lead you to the memorial stones carrying the names of the 270 people killed in the air or on the ground in the terrorist bombing of a Boeing 747 above Lockerbie on December 21, 1988.

There are many more permanent and temporary gardens of remembrance across Scotland, usually adjacent to war memorials.

Now for my choice of the best and most important parks in Scotland, starting with our two national parks. Loch Lomond and The Trossachs was the first national park to be declared in Scotland, brought into being by the Scottish Parliament in 2002. It is the fourth-largest national park in Britain and has no fewer than 21 Munros within its boundaries. With Loch Lomond always a popular tourist destination, the park has gone from strength to strength and attracts millions of visitors each year.

Cairngorms National Park was designated in 2003 and is the largest national park in Britain in terms of land area.

Both parks took a while to become established in public consciousness and to my mind they are only now getting into full swing. Both have outstanding natural beauty and will be great assets to Scotland for ever, as long as they receive proper conservation.

Holyrood Park in Edinburgh is one of my favourite places on the planet and has been ever since I first climbed Arthur’s Seat as a student.

Historically speaking, it has been a royal estate since medieval times when King David I ordered the building of Holyrood Abbey, which was in turn followed by the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

It was King James V who ordered the creation of the royal park in 1581, and it has been the scene of many historic events in the history of Edinburgh, not least when the Jacobites camped there during the 1745 Rising.

I am well aware of the ancient rivalry between Edinburgh and Glasgow and I don’t want to upset anyone by pointing out that Glasgow Green was a designated parkland a century before Holyrood. King James II granted the land to Bishop William Turnbull and the people of Glasgow in 1450. It was no big deal for the king as the land was frankly a swamp with streams such as the Molendinar Burn coursing through it.

There were actually four greens in all, but over the centuries Glasgow’s leading citizens and the toil and labour of ordinary Glaswegians have transformed the Green into the huge civic space it remains today.

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The Green has played a huge part in Glasgow’s history, being the place where James Watt was walking when he conceived the idea of his transformational steam engine and the site of many huge meetings over the centuries, notably those of the Radicals and Chartists in the 19th century and the Red Clydeside movement of the 20th century.

Pollok Country Park is the largest park in Glasgow and was given to the city by Mrs Anne Maxwell Macdonald in 1966, the Old Pollok estate having been in the Maxwell family for 700 years. It famously contains the Burrell Collection in its now superbly refurbished building.

Duthie Park in Aberdeen is another city park donated by a woman, in this case Miss Eizabeth Crosbie Duthie in 1880 who gave it for the ‘“wellbeing and recreation of Aberdeen inhabitants”. Opened three years later, Duthie Park includes a winter garden and several restored Victorian features such as the bandstand.

Camperdown Country Park is the largest park in Dundee and is named after the battle at which Admiral Adam Duncan led the Royal Navy to victory over the Dutch in 1797. Duncan’s family built Camperdown House, a Grade A listed building, at the centre of the park, which also contains a wildlife centre and a golf course.

As “also rans” I would like to mention several parks of historic interest including Kelvingrove in Glasgow, Vogrie, near Gorebridge, in Midlothian, Pittencrieff in Dunfermline and Levengrove in Dumbarton – not a lot of people know that the internal organs of King Robert the Bruce were interred at St Serf’s Church in Levengrove.