The park – which attracted 3.5 million admissions to the Scottish National Exhibition in 1908 – would be restored to its former glory if a grant application lodged with the Heritage Lottery gets the green light.
The windfall would see extensive renovations to the walled garden and footpath with the Winter Garden building replaced by a Victorian-style glasshouse.
A café and community building would also be created as part of the project supported by the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society (RCHS) – the national gardening body – which would be based at Saughton hosting shows, lectures and re-instating a horticultural apprentice scheme.
Pam Whittle, RCHS president, said: “This is an exciting opportunity to bring to life an Edinburgh park that many people don’t realise is there.
“It would be tremendous for the park because the old stable block would be transformed. While there are no real facilities there at the moment, people these days do expect to be able to get a cup of coffee and things. There has to be things for people to do to attract them in – it’s about bringing it to life.
“Saughton is an area that is gradually being regenerated and this revamp would be a key part of that. There are things in the park that aren’t as beautiful as they could be. I have seen some pictures of how busy it was in the past. When they had the big exhibitions there it was incredible. I hope this funding will help return the park to those days.”
The project is estimated at £5.83m, with backing worth £4m sought from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £233,000 from third-party sources.
The council will contribute £1.25m, phased over a six-year period. The plan includes £250,000 to install a micro-hydro turbine to generate power for the garden café and community facility.
Councillor Lesley Hinds, the city’s transport and environment convener, said: “Obviously we’re at the very early stages of the funding bid but if we’re successful this could completely transform this area of the city and put Saughton Park on a level with other premier Edinburgh parks.
“Looking back over the history books, Saughton Park and Gardens used to be a leading tourist attraction and played host to the famous 1908 Scottish National Exhibition, which attracted 3.5 million visitors to this part of the city. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get the funding to put this park back at the centre of outdoor living in Edinburgh and also at the centre of horticultural activities in Scotland.”
The city took ownership of Saughton Hall and its grounds between 1900-1907 to create a large park which was partly used as a golf course. A bandstand was built in 1908.
During the Second World War the formal gardens were turned into onion beds as Saughton helped the war effort by digging for victory.
The Saughtonhall mansion house, which had earlier been turned into an asylum for the mentally ill, was destroyed in a controlled burning by the fire brigade.
In 1984 the Winter Garden was opened by Lord Provost John McKay.
Most recently an award winning skateboard park was constructed in 2010 and a brand new play area was opened in 2012.