Never mind the election. There may be a glimpse of real grassroots democracy in the gardens opening to the public in Edinburgh this weekend.


Community schemes and public spaces join hidden private gardens taking part in Edinburgh Parks and Gardens Open Day on May 5. But something particularly interesting is happening behind some of those high tenement walls.

Becky Govier’s transformation of the backgreen beneath her tenement flat in Leith is one of at least five former drying greens worth visiting on Saturday. The others (listed at the end) include Julian Bukits’ award winning space in South Clerk Street.

But let’s start in Lorne Place. With the help of neighbours, Becky has turned her traditional tenement garden – overgrown with ivy, frequented by cats and choked with ramblers and rampant buddleia – into a welcoming space where the washing can still hang out to dry but now neatly cut grass is framed by (low maintenance) borders of perennials, and high sandstone walls are covered with Wisteria, Clematis, Golden Hop, Hydrangea…

It helps of course that the site faces south and has what Becky calls ‘good bone structure’ but a crucial skill lies in nurturing and then maintaining a common interest in gardening. All successful community gardens are a testament to patient (sometimes painful), democratic process. Butbackgreen5 someone has to take the lead. To my mind the best community gardeners are likely to have considerable people skills too. Becky (a member of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh fundraising team when she is not developing her garden design business Green Edge) began by knocking on neighbours’ doors. The rest is down to setting budgets, acquiring plants, creating rotas and constantly keeping people in touch with what is happening.

As Becky explained when we met for coffee a few months ago: “I have learned a lot in the last few years. Communication is very important.”

Altogether there are 45 parks, gardens, allotments and green spaces to explore on Saturday (see Cockburn Association pdf for full details but here I have picked out the backgreens (and please let me know if I have overlooked any – I would like to visit them all!)

Backgreens open on Saturday May 5

4 Lorne Place – open 2-5pm
Includes a collection of sculptures inspired by nature.
Lothian Buses, 7,10,11,12 13, 14, 16, 22, 25, 49

Chessels Court. Canongate – open 11am-2pm
Lothian Buses 35, 36

60 South Clerk Street – open 10am – 4.30 pm
Lothian Buses 3,5,7,8,29,31,37,47,49

Cherrytree Community Backgreen – open 1-5pm
Lothian Buses 4,44

Wheatfield Community Backgreen – open 1.5pm
Lothian Buses 4,44