Keeping a garden is now commonly regarded as a pleasant pastime. Its beauty is its main attraction, perhaps the rarity or exotic nature of plants cultivated. However, for many centuries gardens were at the very centre of the evolving science and practice of medicine.


Modern medicine evolved from medical botany, and physic gardens (gardens for medicinal plants) were living pharmacies, living laboratories and living study collections. They were fertile grounds for innovation and objects of prestige. They produced plants that had the power to heal or kill, potent remedies to be administered by qualified physicians. Ordered and identified by elaborate systems, published, illustrated and circulated, medicinal plants and gardens were the tools and toolboxes of early modern medicine.

Scotland, and especially Edinburgh, was at the forefront of this innovation, and this secret history of Edinburgh can still be unearthed. These Edinburgh places can be unexpected and mysterious. The roots of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and the early physic gardens, as well as today’s Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, are firmly intertwined and we invite you to explore these roots in their lesser known shapes and forms.

Locations and their histories:

The College of Surgeons

From Plants to Body-snatchers


The King's Physic

Waverley Station

The Lost Garden of Platform 11

Fountain Close

The Physic of the College of Physicians

Leith Walk

The Spirited-Away Gardener's Cottage

The Botanics

The Move to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

The College of Physicians

The Hidden Courtyard