Another of the Gardening group visits took us up to Edinburgh where we found Dr Neil’s garden in the small village (now engulfed by the city, but retaining its village feel) of Duddingston. It is situated right beside Duddingston Loch, a glacial lake (we call lakes “lochs” in Scotland) which sits at the bottom of the volcanic (extinct for 350 million years) hill known as Arthur Seat, now surrounded by the city.
Duddingston Kirk (or Church) commands the highest spot in the village and dates back in parts to the 12th century, and beside the kirk is the garden that was created in the 1960s by Dr Andrew Neil, and his wife Nancy, on what had just been an empty piece of rocky waste ground sloping down to the loch.
In the southeast corner of the garden is a hexagonal tower, designed by William Playfair and built in 1825 as a home for the Duddingston Curling Club, and it was here in what became known as Thomson’s tower that the official rules of curling were established. The loch froze up sufficiently for games of curling to take place each winter in those days. Not nowadays, that’s for sure!
The minister of the kirk at that time was Rev. John Thomson, who the tower was named for. Apparently he used to call his congregation “ma bairns” (my children), so the expression that now we use to mean we’re all the same and equal, “we’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns” stems from him - Jock = John and Tamson = Thomson, in Scots.
Anyway when Dr Neil began work on the garden in 1963 the curling house was derelict and in a fairly ruinous state, but far more recently it has been restored and now houses an exhibition of curling history and another in the upper room on Thomson, and his contemporaries, as well as the development of the garden.
The garden itself is on a slope with small exposed outcrops of volcanic rock . Paths weave around the space connecting different levels and the planting is pretty informal. I can’t decide which of the many photos I took to put in here – a mixture of garden scenes and flowers, I think.
What you can do with a piece of wild waste ground! There is now a Trust set up in Dr Neil’s name, which looks after the garden now. I am sure there was more to the garden than we saw. There were all sorts of paths going off in various directions so it was hard to choose which ones to take. Each would be a revelation, but I think we had a very good flavour of the place.
Talk again soon.