Work underway to revive long-lost medieval garden in Edinburgh

Beyond a small wooden door on the fringes of an industrial site near the Granton shore, lies, most unexpectedly, a secret medieval garden.

Granton Castle.

First planted more than 500 years ago, new life is unfurling a the Granton Castle walled garden once again thanks to a group of keen horticulturists who are determined to revive and protect the ancient space.

Remnants of the distant past can be found here among the tangle of saplings, bramble and scrub at the historic plot.

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Old rose and dames violet bloom among the weeds and a black grape vine still hangs in a crumbling glass house – and indeed may well bear fruit once again.

The south-facing garden and glasshouse.

At work have been the Friends of Granton Castle Garden who have both researched and cleared the site which was first built when the area was largely separated from Edinburgh by farmland.

Today, the plot is encircled by industrial works and office space but offers a sanctuary not only for local people but for wildlife, nesting birds – and a visiting tawny owl.

“You can really feel the atmosphere here,” said Kirsty Sutherland, chairwoman of the group.

“It’s really different to anywhere else in Pilton or Granton. Some people who came to our recent open day have lived in the area all of their life, but didn’t know it was here or what it was.

Volunteers at work.

“For some people it is a very special place. It feels very secluded, very peaceful. The only time you know you are in a city is when the easyJet planes fly overhead.”

The garden may be one of only three medieval walled gardens left in Scotland – the other two being found at Cawdor Castle near Nairn.

Historic Environment Scotland has granted Granton Castle walled garden B listed status, such has been the impact of the volunteers in reviving interest in the space.

Early records detail how the tower house at Granton was first occupied from 1479 by Melville of Carnbee whose family was gifted the lands by Robert the Bruce.

The south-facing garden and glasshouse.

Major developments to the castle and garden came under the ownership of Sir Thomas Hope of Craighall, a Lord Advocate who served during the reign of Charles I.

The outline of the garden has remained the same since the 1670s.

Walled gardens were once a common feature of the large houses of Scotland to protect plants from weather and intruders – both animal and human – while creating a microclimate for growth.

From a gardener’s point of view, it is the “black gold soil” developed over hundreds of years that stands out at Granton, Ms Sutherland said.

Volunteers at work.

She said: “We oo’ed and aah’d over the soil for a long time. It has developed over years and years of cultivation and back digging. It is totally unpolluted, which is incredible given the surrounding industrial sites. This walled garden is like a little pristine island among them all.”

Granton Castle, which had crumbled over many decades of neglect, was demolished in 1928 with the stone underneath it quarried.

But the walled garden remained useful and was run by market gardeners for many decades and provided food for the local population duringthe Second World War.

Its last owner, John Smith, retired around 10 years ago with the space largely left to nature’s course.

EDI Group had been due to develop the site with housing but, following local opposition, the company withdrew their application last January.

The Friends Group, who were given keys to the site earlier this year, will be able to remain at the walled garden if they can present a viable business plan for its future.

Ms Sutherland said: “EDI have been supportive to what we want to do – and there is so much we want to do.”

Its return to a community market garden and orchard are among options being considered.

“We want the people who live here to know there is something very special for them just down the road. The garden is like a treasure that keeps being uncovered.”