‘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.
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.
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.
Thanks to the efforts of over 20 volunteers, June saw two areas of the Old Town given a colourful facelift. On 14 June, a successful half day’s gardening took place at the South Bridge Resource Centre. With great support from Nancy Somerville and her staff, and the back-up and advice of Jim Carlyle from the City Council Nursery, the area around the SBRC was transformed with a whole host of new planters and tubs, brimming with a variety of plants.
Jim Carlyle did a demo of how to make up a good planter for a small space in the Old Town, and many people made their own and took them back to their own spots. Jean Bareham was on hand to talk about the largely unknown but extensive existing network of green places in the Old Town. Andreas Teschner (www.solenium-technology.com) showed off his elegant fittings for the safe installation of window-boxes in any kind of situation.
A week later on 21 June a small army of EOTDT volunteers descended on a blank site at the top of the Cowgate, tidying the verge along the pavement and installing a battery of planters along the bottom of the blank wall at the back of the site. Thanks to all those who have helped water the planters over the very dry summer.
What happens next?
Winter is approaching but this is a good time to take stock and plan for next year. With the support of the City Centre Neighbourhood Partnership and EWH, GRASS are organising a series of talks on gardens and gardening to include:
- Herbs and their broad range of uses, from cooking to healing.
- Growing fruit trees and berry bushes how to get the best from them.
- Plants, trees and bushes to encourage biodiversity, why it's good for you and good for the bees.
The talks will take place on the first three Saturdays in November – 1st, 8th and 15th from 2-4pm.
The venue will be Dance Base in the Grassmarket. These sessions are free - all gardeners in the Old Town are welcome.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, this event has had to be postponed. On the fourth Saturday (22 November) from 2-4pm EOTDT and GRASS are arranging a Swop Shop – swop plants, ideas, information about grants and other sources of support. We would like anyone (both individuals and groups) who is gardening in the Old Town or just interested in making the Old Town greener, or with a comment on a site with potential for improvement, to come and share their experiences, and ideas for the future. Representatives of groups who can support gardening activity in the Old Town will be there and it will be a good opportunity to network with people with similar interests. Due to unforeseen circumstances, this event has had to be postponed.
Autumn gardening classes for Grassmarket and Edinburgh Old Town residents.
Saturdays 1, 8, 15, and 22 November, 2 to 4pm
Topics include: herbs and their broad range of uses, from cooking to healing; growing fruit trees and berry bushes how to get the best from them; plants, trees and bushes to encourage biodiversity, and why it's good for you and good for the bees.
VENUE: DANCE BASE, 14-16 Grassmarket
Organised by Grassmarket Residents’ Association in association with Edinburgh World Heritage Trust and Edinburgh Old Town Development Trust