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Winter Gardens  / 

Nestled in Duthie Park, by the banks of the River Dee, the David Welch winter gardens contain a vast collection of tropical plants, bromeliads and cacti. 

First built in 1899, the greenhouses were destroyed in a storm in the 1960s and since been refurbished. One of the most spectacular displays is the Arid House, a warm sanctuary in the midst of brisk Scottish winter. 

Within this magical space a Prickly Pear bears ‘tuna’ sweet fruits which are often used to make candles, hangover cures, flavoured jelly and revitalising drinks. In pre-Colombian times the Prickly Pear was cultivated as a host plant for Cochineal insects, whose blood contained a valuable dye used to colour fabric in shades of red and purple throughout Latin America. 
Some plants in the Arid House have been grown from seed since the 1970s; one distinctive cactus was planted by the Argentinean Miss World of 1979, Silvana Suarez.

Amongst the memorial seats and groups of giant Euphorbia that reach towards the glass ceiling is a Maguey, buried in the gravel. This agave was used by native tribes in Mexico to create pens, nails, needles, and string to sew and weave with. Its Leaf Tea is a tincture to ease constipation. The cacti’s syrup is most famously used to make Mezcal - liquor developed by conquistadors - which contains a moth’s larvae in the bottle. This sacred plant was once known as the elixir of the gods.  

At the Arid House’s brow is the Tropical House, where luscious green leaves and birds of paradise shoot from the darkest corners. This steamy environment hosts aroids, bromeliads, and a selection of ginger, turmeric and cardamom. Stag horn ferns hang from the walls, their leaves creating shadows as the light begins to fade. Creepers, trees with eyes, flies with human faces, and Flamingo Flower Orchids add to the mystical atmosphere of the greenhouse which is lovingly tendered by a team of gardeners and horticulturalists.  

This project was a collaboration with writer Adelle Stripe who explored the city with me and created the stories and histories that sit alongside the thirteen main images from the exhibition. Secret Cities Aberdeen was part of the SPECTRA Festival of Light 2017 in Aberdeen and commissioned by Curated Place. 


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