ONE of Glasgow's most popular attractions this year celebrates its 200th birthday.

At the start of the 19th century, there was a massive surge in interest in natural science due to greater exploration, greater wealth and expanding scientific knowledge.

As a result, distinguished Scottish botanist and philanthropist Thomas Hopkirk decided Glasgow should have its own botanic garden.

He set about making the dream a reality and in 1817, with financial support from Glasgow University and a number of local dignitaries, the gardens were formally founded on May 20.

The venture's first home was on an eight acre site at the western end of Sauchiehall Street which at the time was at the edge of the city.

Hopkirk was responsible for the first collection as he donated 3000 plants.

The gardens were originally owned by the Royal Botanical Institution of Glasgow which agreed to provide Glasgow University with teaching aids including a supply of plants for medical and botanical classes.

William Hooker, regius professor of botany at the university, was at the time one of the most eminent botanists in the world.

He contributed to the development of the gardens and during the 20 years they were under his guidance, they went from strength to strength.

By 1825, the collections numbered 12,000 and had outgrown the Sauchiehall Street site.

In 1839 a new location was purchased in the West End on the banks of the River Kelvin and the Botanic Gardens known and loved by locals and visitors alike was born. Two years later Hooker was appointed director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew.

Known as the Royal Botanic Institution of Glasgow, the city's botanic gardens opened in 1842 but only institute members were allowed access during the week with the public restricted to weekends for an admittance fee of a penny.

The gardens were originally used for concerts and other events and in 1891 were taken over by Glasgow Corporation which agreed they would continue as a botanic garden and maintain links with the university.

Today it still has strong links with the city's universities and also has regular visits from schools, colleges and other educational institutions.

Unlike city or country parks, a botanic gardens grows plants from many other parts of the world and Glasgow's has plants from the rainforest, savannah, desert, wetlands, plains, forests and Atlantic islands.

One of the biggest events in the history of the visitor attraction was the arrival of the Kibble Palace.

John Kibble was a true Victorian eccentric, an entrepreneur and businessman.

He built a large glasshouse on his property at Coulport on the shores of Loch Long but in 1871 sold the glass and steel structure to the Royal Botanic Institution in Glasgow.

The structure was dismantled and shipped by barge to the city where it was enlarged and re-erected but, the cost of purchasing the glasshouse put the organisation into a serious financial hole.

The local authority stepped in and agreed to buy the garden and is bound by law to keep them open as a public park and botanic garden forever.

In 1873, the Kibble opened to the public, lit not only by natural sunlight but also by 600 gas lamps which could be coloured for a dramatic, theatrical event.

It was the setting not only for the garden's collection of tender plants but also for public events such as one massive religious revival meeting.

Two North American evangelists held a meeting in the Kibble in 1874 and by the time they arrived around 6000 people had packed into the glasshouse with up to 30,000 people standing outside.

Because of the massive crowd they had to preach from the back of a horse drawn cart.

The Kibble was also the venue for the ceremonies installing Benjamin Disraeli and his great political rival William Gladstone as rectors of Glasgow University. Between them they served as Prime Minister on six separate occasions.

The Kibble Palace is home to the national collection of tree ferns which were planted in the 1880s from samples from New Zealand and Australia.

Euan Donaldson has been general manager of the Botanics since 1992 but has worked in the gardens for 42 years in total.

He said: "The gardens have changed in many ways in such a long time. It is still essentially a garden for teaching people about plants but now focuses more on environmental issues than it would have originally.

"The gardens were very much set up in connection with Glasgow University so there was much greater use of by the university 200 years ago but the garden is still very much a teaching resource.

"We believe we now have about 10,000 collections because we don't go for postage size collecting the way they used to do in the 19th century."