The National Botanic Gardens


Sir, – Earlier this summer I had the pleasure of returning to Ireland and included a visit to the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin.

As always, I was overwhelmed by the beauty and importance of what is one of the world’s greatest botanic gardens. I had the honour of being its director until 2010 when I moved to the US to the Missouri Botanical Garden.

The gardens in Glasnevin have certainly helped to shape the history of botany and horticulture in Ireland, and indeed worldwide. They contain one of the outstanding and most diverse living collections of plants anywhere.

Ireland has some of the world’s finest gardens, which are increasingly drawing more garden-visiting tourists from abroad. Glasnevin remain a leader for the important horticultural sector too.

The Glasnevin garden is a national treasure that does not receive the accolades or support that it deserves. The Office of Public Works (OPW) (and Irish taxpayers) also deserve great credit for having invested substantially in the development and restoration of some of its most important and historic facilities and features, including Richard Turner’s magnificent Curvilinear Glasshouse and the Great Palm House, two of the finest historic greenhouses in the world.

But this investment came before the recession and little has happened since then. The tasks remains incomplete and two other extremely historic Victorian greenhouses, the Cactus House and the famed Giant Waterlily House, rust away behind a rotting hoarding that announced their imminent restoration over a decade ago. These greenhouses are clearly now close to collapse and surely, with the improvement in the Irish economy, now is the time to rescue these important listed buildings before they are lost forever.

Despite a great shortage of resources, the director and staff of the gardens have undertaken truly heroic efforts to sustain the gardens.

On June 5th, 2017, The Irish Times reported that the gardens were one of the top free attractions in the country, with almost 600,000 visitors. As a centre for Ireland’s botanical science it now operates with a scientific staff of two. I thought it was under-supported during my time when I had seven scientists! Glasnevin’s sister institutions in these islands – the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has 200 research staff, and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has 80.

So too, during the recession, Glasnevin’s horticultural team has dwindled to dangerously low levels, mainly through retirements and without replacement.

This threatens not only the irreplaceable collections but also the continuity of the garden as a storehouse of horticultural knowledge and experience for Ireland.

Now that the Irish economy continues to improve and tourists flood back into Ireland, shouldn’t the National Botanic Gardens now be given the (modest) resources they need to sustain this national and international treasure? – Yours, etc,



Missouri Botanical Garden,

St Louis,