A Garden for Granton’s Renaissance

BEFS Chair, Graeme Purves, tells us about the restoration of an overgrown renaissance garden in Granton as a catalyst for urban renewal.

a-blether-in-the-sunshine-sitting-down-to-plant-the-thymeA community-based group in North Edinburgh has begun the work of restoring an overgrown renaissance garden in Granton as a catalyst for urban renewal of the waterfront.  The historic garden had previously been the subject of a planning application for housing development but these plans were subsequently withdrawn.  In October 2016 the Friends of Granton Castle Walled Garden submitted proposals to Edinburgh City Council’s development company, the EDI Group, to restore it as a working garden and green hub for community activity.  Discussions over the winter led to the Friends signing a legal agreement with EDI and securing access to the garden in April.

Granton Castle Walled Garden is probably one of the oldest walled gardens in Scotland.  The earliest reference to ‘Grantoun House’ is in 1479 and it is thought that the garden dates from that time.  Granton Castle itself was abandoned as a residence in the 18th century, became a picturesque ruin during the 19th century and was finally demolished in the 1920s.  However, the walled garden survived and continued in use as a market garden until relatively recent times.

The Friends see the restoration of the garden as offering a wide range of benefits in terms of health and well-being, social cohesion, cross-cultural integration, community education and local capacity-building.  Key elements of their vision are that it should be:

  • a garden for all to enjoy, with a range of learning, growing and arts activities and a diverse events programme;
  • a restored market garden run by the local community, supplying organic produce directly to local people, businesses and schools.
  • a living link to the past , serving as a heritage gateway to the waterfront and a green social hub for existing and future communities.

Specific features which have been proposed include a visitor centre and community café, a kitchen garden, a heritage orchard, a plant nursery, a workshop and demonstration area, a medicinal and pigment garden, a restored glasshouse and a polytunnel.

The restoration of Granton Castle Walled Garden as a community asset is supported by a wide range of local stakeholders and national organisations.  The Friends are working closely with Scotland’s Urban Past on surveying and recording aspects of the garden’s heritage.

In this first season, volunteers have been busy removing the stumps of tree saplings which had started to colonise the garden and restoring one area to cultivation.  The Friends are also working with EDI to make the garden safe and accessible to visitors and preparing a business plan for its long- term development.  The garden is one of 28 sites across Scotland featured this summer in the Scottish Society of Antiquaries’ ‘Dig It!’ Hidden Gems competition.  It will be open to the public as part of the Cockburn Association’s Doors Open Day programme on Saturday 23 September.

The charity Social Bite has submitted an application for planning permission to erect temporary houses for homeless people on land immediately to the west of the walled garden.  If permission is granted, it is expected that the 11 ‘nesthouses’ will be built in the autumn.  The Friends are looking forward to working closely with Social Bite and the residents on gardening projects once the development is completed.