Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Secret Garden

What is it about discovering a secret garden that is so exciting? With summer coming up and travel plans swirling in my head, I began to think about how much fun it is to stumble upon a garden. Especially in a big city. Sometimes it happens fortuitously. You're tired. You've been walking on city streets all day, touring museums, and seeing historic places. And then there it is. The most welcome sight -- a beautiful place to sit down and rest. A place to reflect. A secret garden. You can't believe your luck and wonder if anyone else knows about it. This happened to me while in Edinburgh last summer when my husband and I stumbled upon Dunbar's Close Garden. It is a leafy green sanctuary in the heart of the city amid the bustle of the Royal Mile. Hidden behind a gate, this little garden is the perfect place to rest your weary feet.

Scotland is well known to possess a magical quality. If you've been watching the television series Outlander you are familiar with its mystique. Not surprisingly, Dunbar's Close Garden is tucked away in a deeply atmospheric part of Edinburgh at the end of a dark and narrow 'close' (a narrow lane) in the Old Town, just off the busy Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is a stretch of four ancient streets which formed the main thoroughfare of medieval Edinburgh, linking Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It has around 80 narrow lanes or 'closes' and when you are among them it is easy to imagine Edinburgh's medieval past.

The garden was designed in the style of the 17th-century with gravel paths, neatly trimmed shrubs, herbs, flowers and mature trees. Walking through its gates is like stepping into another world after the hustle and bustle of the Royal Mile. It is divided into three parterres. You can sit on a bench and enjoy the peace and quiet of this romantic green spot. The locals know about it and frequently come here with a cup of coffee or lunch to enjoy the sunshine and a few moments of peace and quiet. No one seems to stay very long and it is frequently empty.

The garden was created by Sir Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) who lived on the Royal Mile at the time. He was an eminent Scots biologist who stressed the connection between health and the environment. Geddes had a vision for a network of gardens around the city of which Dunbar's Close is one. By the 1970s the garden had fallen into disrepair. It was saved by a bequest which gifted the land to the City of Edinburgh Parks Department. In 1978 it was rebuilt by a landscape architect and has remained a delightful space ever since.

Being on one of these little lanes or 'closes' will make you feel connected to Scottish history. In Robert Burns' day, Dunbar's Close was famous for its oyster cellar. Apparently Burns was surprised to find fashionable ladies washing down their oyster suppers with ale or punch. You can almost feel their spirits as you enter the little alleyway that leads to the garden.

If you go to Edinburgh, one of my favorite cities in the world, be sure to visit this little gem. The symmetry of the garden's formal design is calming and there are beautiful stone benches to rest on. Being there will make you appreciate the connection between well-being and the outdoors that Sir Patrick Geddes had in mind when he created this space. It will remind you of the restorative power of a garden.

I have been reading a lot about gardens lately and love this quote by Allen Lacy in his book The Inviting Garden: Gardening for the Senses, Mind and Spirit --

"Gardening is restorative. It brings us back to the things we thought we had lost in childhood. It brings us back to our senses -- to the downy feel of the leaves of silver sage; to the perfume of jasmines and gardenias; to the taste of spearmint; to the sound of bamboo rustling in the sudden rush of wind before a storm; to the cool white beauty of a moonflower unfolding as dusk turns into night.

But the garden is not just a retreat from the world, and there is much more to gardening than sensory delights, as important as these are. In gardening we also encounter the larger world. Gardening engages the mind in an unending quest for knowledge, for it would take many lifetimes to know and understand everything that goes on in even the smallest garden. And, finally, gardening satisfies the spirit. It connects us with a small part of the natural order that is ours to tend during our time. It involves the desire to create something of beauty. It has to do with caring and feelings of belonging to earth. It connects us with others, for the company of gardeners is the closest thing on earth to the fellowship of saints and the communion of souls. It draws people together to become lifelong friends on the basis of a common passion for plants and affection for one another.

The pleasures of gardening are not partial, for they satisfy body, mind, and spirit. They also endure. Very few people take up gardening and then give it up because of waning interest. Whether we begin early or late, it is a lifelong commitment."

Thank you to the gardeners and garden dreamers who created this magical space!

Speaking of gardens, peace, and serenity, I hope you are doing something fun this holiday weekend. If you feel like seeing a movie, don't miss Love & Friendship based on Jane Austen's very funny novella Lady Susan. It is hilarious. I am taking a little break from the blog and will be back in June. Wishing you a Happy Memorial Day weekend!


  1. Looks like a lovely garden and I quite like the formal boxwood hedging...
    coincidentally I posted on a local garden this morning and am enjoying a beautiful coffee table book on gardens.

    1. It really is lovely and I agree with you about the boxwood hedging. I'm heading over to your blog right now. I love a good coffee table garden book!

  2. There is a curious feeling when one finds one's thoughts though another one's pen! I have been reading, writing, blogging bout gardens and my garden during the whole month of April and a little of May, and here you come with a blog about another garden! I have spent time with "The Knot" by Jane Borodale who tells the story of the botanist and gardener Henry Lyte at the end of the Stuart dynasty. This clinches rather well with this 17th century garden, rehabilitated later. I shall share on my FB page as Iusually do with your blog, Twitter but may link it with my blog as well. I hope you don't mind. Please, tell me if you prefer not.
    I hope you have a restful time but do not forget, your readers need you and waitfor you!

    1. What a coincidence. I can't wait to see what you wrote! "The Knot" sounds very interesting. Thanks for letting me know! And thank you for your kind words.

  3. What a fascinating little place. It's a great oasis in the middle of the city.

  4. Thank you Sunday.

    In Edinburgh at the end of August and will seek this beautiful garden out.
    Re-reading your other posts on Scotland too.


  5. I'm astonished, Sunday - I've lived in Edinburgh most of my life and I've never even heard of that garden, let alone visited it!
    Re. Camille's comment above, The Knot is very good indeed.

  6. How lovely! I was just listening to a BBC podcast with Juliet Nicolson giving a tour of those garden it's a treat to see them.