Patrick Geddes was a man with a vision. Born in 1854 in Scotland he was interested in biology, geography, architecture, sociology and much more, and he worked in many of these areas successfully. Patrick Geddes was a pioneer of many things, but he’s best remembered as a town planner. If that sounds like Patrick has been remembered for the lesser of his many areas of interest and his achievements, nothing could be further from reality. Patrick Geddes did something remarkable with the towns he was involved with, which is why he is remembered so fondly for this work. He was always interested in architecture, but he was more interested in sociology and people and he sought to create green spaces in busy towns and cities that could be enjoyed by everyone. Patrick saw the need for nature in urban living.
In Edinburgh’s old town there is a small garden called West Port Garden, or Geddes Garden. It was designed by Patrick as somewhere for the children of the area to play, and when it was opened in 1910 crowds flocked to see this small piece of greenery amid the slums of their city. In its day this garden had sandpits, swings, a small area for football and terraces for amateur gardeners or those who wanted to learn, to grow anything they liked. Patrick’s daughter, Norah, managed a team of women who ran the garden and these women particularly wanted to encourage children to get involved with gardening. Most of these children didn’t have gardens at home and this would have been their only experience of getting their hands in the soil and seeing the things they planted grow.
The spirit of this intention continues today. The West Port Garden is a quiet space by the roadside in Edinburgh and you’d walk past it if you didn’t know it was there. But step inside and it’s an area of tranquillity and calm. The garden is owned by Edinburgh council now and is run by volunteers who continue to encourage young people in particular to get involved with keeping the garden tidy and growing their own plants and vegetables. The garden hosts events, festivals, and has a herbalist on hand, and as the city evolves the garden opens its arms as it always has.
Take a seat in West Port Garden and it’s hard to believe you’re sitting in the centre of a busy capital city. This small oasis of peace and nature must be one of Patrick Geddes’ greatest achievements. His pioneering thinking and his passion for giving inner city children somewhere to learn the joy of gardening and a small space for quiet contemplation, should be applauded. As the city rumbles on, elderflower, tulips, the rowan tree, snowdrops in winter and blossom in spring, all bloom and sway in this pocket-sized city garden. Just over a hundred years after this garden was created it continues to serve the city in exactly the way Geddes intended.
Samantha Priestley is the author of the Folded Word short-fiction chapbooks Dreamers (2014) and Orange Balloon (2016). She’s a novelist, playwright, and essayist who spins words into gold from her home in Sheffield, UK.
To read the first page of Orange Balloon, see a sample illustration, or purchase direct, please visit our shop: