Spirit Pervades the
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
during the Chinese Lantern Festival

by Pat Clifford
RBGE Senior Horticulturist
Click images to enlarge




Over the long winter months in Scotland my pond can be a bit uninspiring without the presence of the Victorias and Nymphaeas, so it was my great pleasure to learn that the RBGE glasshouses had been chosen to host the launch of "China Now in Scotland".

This is a year-long festival and the most important festival ever devoted to China in our country. Its aims are to create a lasting legacy which will see closer links forged between both nations. The RBGE was chosen because we have a long history with China going back well over a century. Indeed over a third of the plants grown at our four Scottish sites are originally from China making this the richest collection of wild-origin Chinese plants outside their native country. The Garden has also been twined with the Kunming Institute of Botany since 1991.

It is a tradition in China to have the Spring Lantern Festival 15 days after New Year to mark the end of the celebrations. Chinese New Year was 7 February in 2008, so 22 February was the correct date to begin (the date on which Spirit opened to the public). It is a celebration of the arrival of spring and the return of light after the darkness of winter.

As you can imagine there was a huge amount of work which began weeks before the opening. Installation of the lights in the glasshouses and all the lighting and design were undertaken by an outside contractor, NVA*, with us helping with the logistics, e.g. erecting scaffolding, wading in ponds etc.    

The event was formally opened by Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, and was attended by many VIP's and dignitaries including the Lord Provost of Edinburgh. 
The main entrance was through the Victorian Palm House, then through the Tropical Palm House and into the Orchid House, where they had really spooky Chinese music and a dry ice machine. On the temperate walkway visitors were served green tea and had the opportunity to make a beautiful origami lotus flowers on which they were encouraged to write a wish. These were then launched on my Victoria pond which was decorated with underlit Perspex "Victoria leaves" which displayed Chinese characters meaning Peace, Beauty, Compassion and Happiness.

 Instructions for Making Origami Lotus - 277K .pdf

Pat Clifford

I, of course, had the unenviable task of removing several hundred origami lotuses every morning and discarding everyone's wishes. At least they went on the compost heap so hopefully it hasn't affected my karma too much.

Over the course of 13 evenings we had 6443 visitors and the response was overwhelming. The visitors all entered at staggered intervals so it was never too crowded to lose the ambience and unique atmosphere.


Read visitor comments

* "NVA is an environmental arts charity based in Glasgow. It works with pioneering artists to produce highly complex and ambitious site-specific events, festivals and interventions. The company works across all media, promoting strong cross-cultural community work within technologically ground-breaking initiatives." Visit the site to see outstanding images of their projects.

The pond back to normal in summer

WGI ONLINE Journal Table of Contents
Water Gardeners International
Home | Join WGI | Members' Exclusive | Gateway to Water Gardening