‘Practical idealists who performed spade-work miracles’

This was how one visitor to the West Port Garden in 1924 described the volunteers who looked after the West Port Garden. The same holds true nearly a century later as the West Port Gardening Group bring back colour and birdsong into the Garden.WPG1small

The Garden opened in 1910 as an initiative of Patrick Geddes’ Open Spaces Committee. It aimed to pursue Geddes’ vision of green spaces among the Old Town slums where children could play safely and experience the natural world through gardening.

The Garden was designed by Patrick’s daughter, Norah Geddes, and managed by a team of ‘devoted ladies’. The Committee regularly appealed for volunteers and funds to support over a hundred children engaged in outdoor play. Later additions included a club hut, an electricity sub-station and a ‘Tardis’ police box. In the 1950s the Council took over ownership of the space.

Developing and managing green spaces has always been a priority for GRASS (Grassmarket Residents’ Association) as many people do not have access to a garden. Following four years of discussion with Edinburgh Council, GRASS celebrated the handover of the key in April, 2013.

Working in partnership with the Council and with additional funding from Edinburgh World Heritage Trust and the Evening News, we have transformed the steep, terraced site into a community garden. Our 20 volunteer gardeners meet on Sunday afternoons. Sadly because of problems with vandalism and anti-social behaviour it is not possible to keep the Garden unlocked but any member of the community can obtain a key.WPG2small

The first year was spent in getting to know the garden, researching its history, raising funds, tracing a water supply, hacking back the undergrowth and filling countless sacks with weeds. In 2014 we have added colour by planting annuals and bulbs, acquired a garden shed and bench, erected a panel about the history of the Garden and installed bird boxes. The Garden is bringing the community together and establishing itself as the urban equivalent of the village pump.

Elspeth Wills