Glasgow Botanic Gardens, its south-facing lawns rising gently from the artery of Great Western Road, is a place I’ve loved since I was being pushed around it in a pram every weekend. It's modest in comparison with some botanic gardens, including its venerable Edinburgh rival, but it has a character all of its own. While the site never gets as rowdy as ‘the slope’ in nearby Kelvingrove Park – and there’s certainly even less chance of being able to flout Glasgow’s hardline outdoor drinking bylaws – it’s as much a social space as it is one for plant enthusiasts. Securing a prime spot on the main lawn on a sunny day while dodging stray Frisbees takes tenacity and skill.
In Glasgow, admission to the garden's jewel in the crown is democratic too: the glasshouses are free. Open all year round, these blissfully heated cabinets of curiosities are particularly welcoming on grim winter days and at this time of year when an optimistic stroll can otherwise be thwarted by April showers. The circular Kibble Palace, moved here by barge from John Kibble’s house at Coulport on Loch Long in the 1870s, is the most famous and the most architecturally distinguished of these buildings. I remember when the central planted roundel was crowded with palms that squeezed up into the cupola; now paths have opened up this area, allowing you to wind your way through a glade of New Zealand tree ferns.
Once inside the main range of glasshouses things start to get even more exciting. They unfold as a series of different environments providing growing conditions for a hugely diverse range of plants: Orchids, Cacti and Succulents, Aquatics, Tropical Ornamentals and Tropical Ferns to name but a few. Entering the first house – the Conservatory, dedicated largely to flowering plants in season – you are hit with a wall of scent and a sense of heightened technicolour springtime that can’t fail to lift the spirits. At the opposite end is the Begonia House. Fascinating in its sheer diversity, the varieties here seem worlds apart from the strident carpet bedding used just outside in summer. The main event is the lofty Palm House, a gloriously hot and humid space, crammed not just with palms but huge-leaved bananas and other species more usually seen in this country as frustrated houseplants. Victorian spiral staircases half-engulfed in foliage add a final layer of intrigue.
Glasgow Botanic Gardens is one of numerous venues in the city currently hosting events as part of the Glasgow International festival of contemporary art, running until 25th April. Below are a few highlights that may be of particular interest to gardeners.