A new life for the Garden’s buildings

St Andrews Botanic Garden this week unveils plans to create new spaces for education, research and community in the heart of the Garden as part of the ongoing works to refresh the Garden’s plant collections and buildings. The plans include converting the existing Potting Sheds from workshops into spaces for education and research, creating new loos that are accessible to all, creating new workshops for gardeners and a huge green roof with specialist alpine plants.

“The University welcomes these ambitious plans to create new spaces for education, research and community at the Botanic Garden,” said a spokesperson for the University of St Andrews. “This project shows how partnership working can benefit all those who value this precious community asset in the heart of our community.” St Andrews Botanic Garden has reduced its carbon emissions by over 90% in the past year and this next step in the development of the Garden makes a significant contribution to the University’s aims to achieve net zero as soon as possible. This project shows how partnership working and new ways of working can make a huge difference to our work on climate change.

These facilities will allow users to teach and learn in a new way by holding classes in the Garden and then to follow up inside purpose-built buildings with time for reflection, maximising the use of the Garden as a place for learning. The new classrooms will be available for use by community groups and schools across Fife and Tayside, as well as for sessions led by the Botanic Garden.

The designs for the refurbishment of the Potting Shed and the new workshop are being led by Collective Architecture, who have a track record of sensitive and creative buildings across Scotland, saying “Converting old buildings is a challenge because things that we take for granted like insulation or level access have to be retrofitted. To make this work, we had to carry out detailed research into the ways that people will want to use the building as well as new materials, so that we can make the most of awkward spaces that were originally designed with something very different, whilst at the same time retaining their character.”

Benefits to communities in Fife and Tayside

St Andrews Botanic Garden undertakes a wide range of activities to support the community and at the moment focuses on vulnerable adults and young families. Examples of this work include partnerships with Options in Life and the Sensory Trust, whose groups regularly visit the Garden to enjoy being in nature and learn gardening skills.

The new workshop and the change of use of the Potting Shed will enable the Trust to build on this work and provide the warm, dry and safe spaces that these groups desperately need, with beautiful views into the Garden. By including purpose-built spaces for learning, the Trust will also be able to develop support for school leavers who want to develop skills and careers in landscape management and horticulture through training programmes and internships in the Garden.

Community consultation

St Andrews Botanic Garden has been holding workshops, guided walks and other consultations (you can share your thoughts here) throughout summer and autumn 2021 so that we can make the most effective use of the Garden for the community. There have been a huge number of responses so far,  demonstrating the passion felt for the Garden and a common theme that emerged was the importance of warm, indoor space to hold teaching events in – at the moment, the only facilities are a converted glasshouse which gets very warm in the summer and cold in the winter due to the poor insulation. As part of this wider project, the Trust has received £50,000 of support from Fife Environment Trust, and is applying to the National Lottery Community Fund to help create new staff positions that can deliver support sessions for school leavers and vulnerable adults. 

“The response from the community so far has been fantastic and has raised so many important ideas. The garden is for everyone and we’re passionate about increasing access and being truly inclusive so are reaching out to new and underserved audiences to run co-design workshops to ensure that we create a needs led provision which addresses the needs of people so the garden is filled with life and at the heart of the community, we’d love to hear from anyone who wants to get involved,” said Rebecca Duncan, Development Manager.

Draft layout for the Potting Shed conversion

Opportunities for research

The new buildings will mean that the Garden can test new ways of using plants that will be important for Fife’s urban environments as the climate changes. This will include creating a shallow gravel roof on top of the Potting Shed so that alpine plants can be grown, and a new walkway will allow visitors to see this roof, learn about how to look after them, and also have new views across the botanic garden.

Professor Thomas Meagher, Chair, St Andrews Botanic Garden Trust said “These changes represent the most dramatic developments in the Garden since it was established on this site in the 1960s. The plans align with our developing biodiversity strategy, that emphasizes climate and adaptation, which in turn will help both students and the general public understand our changing world. The Garden is looking to and building towards the future!”

Key facts and figures
  • Total new area of classrooms for use by the community – 83m2
  • Reduction in the Trust’s carbon emissions of 90% – achieved by new garden management practices and converting the Boiler House into new offices.
  • Number of all-accessible new loos – 6
  • Area of green roof created – 230m2
  • New workshop space – 348m2

Inspiration for the Potting Shed conversion: Kita im Park Daycare Centre- Birk Heilmeyer und Frenzel Gesellschaft von Architekten