Exploring Edinburgh's Best Secret Gardens!

Wednesday, 14 August 2019


I once heard someone say "You can't turn down a street in Edinburgh without seeing a patch of greenery" and I think that's so special to find in a city. Even Robert Louis Stevenson agrees by saying "Half a capital and half a country town, the whole city leads a double existence", and I couldn't agree more. Despite having numerous large open green spaces like Princes Street Gardens, the Meadows, and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh also has a few secret gardens dotted around the city and I wanted to share them with you in case you're in Edinburgh and in need of a little peace and quiet. So without further ado, here are a few of my favourite Edinburgh's Secret Gardens!

Exploring Edinburgh's Best Secret Gardens!

 

1. Dunbars Close Garden 

  •   Open from 7am-7:30pm (depending on season), free to enter.

Hidden at the foot of the Royal Mile is one of my favourite Edinburgh hidden gems, Dunbars Close Garden. As you're walking toward Holyrood Palace you'll spot a cobbled close (Scottish term from a little lane) called Dunbars Close and nestled within is a garden which has been laid out in the style and character of a 17th-century garden. As you walk around it, keep in mind that this is what the majority of gardens on Canongate would have looked like in the 17th century. As you enter the garden, cast your eyes upwards and you'll spot the Burns moment in the distance. I always find it a nice connection as Robert Burns, Scotland's National Bard, was rumoured to have spent time near this garden as it was once the location of a popular oyster cellar.

Top tip: It’s a lovely spot to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet or a picnic on the odd warm summers day we get.

 


2. Dr. Neils' Garden

  • Open from 10am-dusk, free to enter (donations welcome).
To me, Dr. Neil’s Garden is the definition of an Edinburgh secret garden - many locals have not even heard of! I believe it's open forgotten about as it’s hidden away behind Arthur’s Seat in Duddingston. My favourite way to get there is to start at Holyrood Park Road (next to Pollock Halls) and follow Duddingston Low Road which veers off to the right and curves around Arthur's Seat. You'll pass many treasures along the way including, Duddingston Loch (the location of the famous Henry Raeburn painting of the Reverend ice skating) and one of the oldest buildings in Scotland – Duddingston Kirk. After you pass Duddingston Kirk, lookout for a set of iron gates on your right which will bring you to a small tea room and the garden. The garden itself looks out on to the picturesque Duddingston Loch, which is rich in wildlife. We have Drs. Andrew and Nancy Neil to thank for their imagination, dedication, and sheer hard work, plus the current volunteer gardeners who look after it, that we have this wonderful green oasis.


3. The Field Duddingston

  • Always open and is free to visit.
Dr. Neils' Garden might be the most beautiful garden in Duddingston, but if you leave behind Dr. Neils Garden and head toward the famous pub The Sheep Heid Inn (one of Edinburgh's oldest surviving watering holes), you'll spot an easily overlooked sign to Duddingston's community garden "The Field Duddingston". I only discovered this a few months ago and was completely won over by its charm. The green space is has a flock of chickens reared by locals, a herb-rich meadow community, orchard, and a vegetable garden. We felt as though we were trespassing but we met a lovely elderly lady who welcomed us into the garden and we ended up helping her guide one of the runaway chickens back into its fenced-off home.  


4. Chessels Court 

  • Always open and is free to visit.
Another one of Edinburgh's secret gardens to look out for is Chessels Court. Also located on the Royal Mile, this garden is located within the unassuming arches of Chessel’s Court. As you enter the courtyard you'll be met by a pleasant surprise, an outstanding and rare example of a traditional 18th century Edinburgh ‘mansion-style’ tenement, with a green space in front of it. It’s also the location where the infamous Deacon Brodie was caught! There’s lots to see in this beautiful courtyard, including a
Top Tip: Look out for the Instagram-worthy heart-shaped ivy in the southeastern corner of the courtyard!


5. Sandeman House Garden

  • Open during office hours and is free to visit.
Yet another Royal Mile secret garden, Patrick Geddes would be proud! Speaking of Geddes, you'll find a lovely bust of Edinburgh's renowned town planner within Sandeman House Garden. Unlike Dunbars Close Garden and Chessels Court, Sandeman House Garden belongs to the Scottish Book Trust. It can be slightly tricky to spot as it's tucked away down Trunks Close. Just look out for John Knox's house and you'll discover Trunks Close to your left. This secluded spot is a brilliant spot to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet or enjoy a packed lunch.


6. Archivist’s Garden

  • Open during office hours and is free to visit.
You'd hardly expect to find one of Edinburgh's Secret Gardens just off one of the busiest streets in Edinburgh, Princes Street. I admit it took me a while to figure out where exactly it was as I'd seen photos online and not recognised the surroundings. Turns out, the courtyard garden is sandwiched between General Register House and New Register House. It's best to try and visit the Archivist’s Garden during spring or summer as the 57 plant species will be in bloom. The most interesting aspect of this garden is that the extensive plant collection is all connected to Scotland, its people, and its history.


7. Edinburgh's Private Gardens

Lastly, I thought I'd include Edinburgh's New Town private gardens as they are all well worth a visit. Sadly, the gardens are closed to the public for most of the year but keep an eye out on Scotland's Garden Scheme and Doors Open Days Scotland as a few of them fling their doors open at least once or twice a year.

A few to look out for:

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