Granton’s Secret Garden

It may be a tangle of flowers, fruit trees and crumbling glasshouses at present, but this well-hidden secret, locked up now for eight years, just could be one of the ‘Lost Gardens of Scotland’.

A two-acre green site within the post-industrial brownfield land on Granton’s Waterfront is being heralded as one of the oldest Walled Gardens in Edinburgh. This medieval garden has somehow survived for over 450 years, through wars and industrialisation, changing fashions in garden design, and decades of neglect. Records prove the garden was used in Stewart times by the owner, Sir Thomas Hope, the first Lord Advocate of Scotland.  He bought the castle and gardens; his employers were James VI and Charles I.  Mary Queen of Scots was an infant when Granton Castle had to be rebuilt after ‘the Burning of Edinburgh’ by Henry VIII. Each new owner added to it down the centuries, but eventually, after standing there since 1544 it was left as a ruin and demolished in the 1920’s

The attached walled garden however was always useful, and was maintained with uses ranging from fruit and vegetable growing to more ornamental flower production, becoming a  pleasure garden in Victorian times.  According to the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historical Monuments Scotland, very few gardens are still in existence from such early times. Currently designated as Openspace, Historic Scotland is keen to upgrade the walled garden to a B-list conservation site.


The original vine-house dates back to the 1800s when the Duke of Buccleuch employed the famous gardener of the time, William Thomson, a specialist in viticulture (and the man who opened the first vineyard in Scotland).  Thomson battled the Scottish climate to grow scented muscat grapes and other varieties he named after various members of the Buccleuch family. Testimony from John Smith, previous retired owner, shows that his grandfather replaced and extended this existing vine-house and built a second a second glasshouse – visible in 1940s aerial shots of the waterfront.

Victorian cookerThe walled garden is also home to an orchard of Victorian apple trees, now subject to a Tree Preservation Order.  And, since 1914 it had been used as a market garden producing cut flowers and tender annuals.  It may be overgrown with an air of faded grandeur and in need of a lot of TLC, but according to horticulturist, Kirsty Sutherland, its value is tone of significant cultural heritage.  Granton’s Walled Garden is a living link to the past; it exhibits 500 years of horticultural history.  Whether it goes on to be part of the future, is currently in the hands of Edinburgh Council.

walled gardenThe secret garden, along with its listed wall and dovecote, has been in limbo since 2003 when Edinburgh City Council Planning Committee passed a resolution of ‘minded to grant’, allowing Edinburgh Waterfront Limited the possibility of developing the site for townhouses.  This planning permission was withdrawn in November last year, but as yet the Council has made no further definitive decisions.

Kirsty Sutherland is a founding member of the thriving ‘Friends of Granton Castle Walled Garden’, a community group that would like to showcase the area for a community-led project of restoration, planning management and operation as a working market garden.  North Edinburgh is already known for its part in Edinburgh’s local food ventures, with more community gardens per square mile than any other residential area in the city.  This is a ready-made addition to the growing demand for locally-produced fruit and vegetables – and one with a historic pedigree!

The Friends continue in their campaign to bring new life to the Walled Garden.  They host a monthly public meeting, and are always welcoming of support and new members.  A recent exhibition in the North Edinburgh Arts Centre brought the garden to the attention of a wider audience following some coverage by STV of a deputation to the Council.  As Kirsty says, with luck and a lot of hard work and commitment, this hidden garden will hopefully become an open secret, a peaceful oasis remembering the past and sustaining the local community into the future.

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3 thoughts on “Granton’s Secret Garden”

  1. Good luck to all involved. You must be very pleased with the progress you are making. Wish we were able to help

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