Brian, 84, hailed for dedication to neglected land

Brian Harris has helped transform the curved strip of land in Marchmont known as the 'green banana'. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Brian Harris has helped transform the curved strip of land in Marchmont known as the 'green banana'. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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An octogenarian who taught botany in tropical Africa for more than 30 years has brought his green-fingered touch to a neglected piece of land in the Capital.

Brian Harris swapped the exotic climes of Ghana, Tanzania and northern Nigeria for Edinburgh when he retired in 1990.

But his love of plants and flowers continued as he threw himself into a variety of community projects in the Marchmont area.

He believes fresh air and hard graft is a good “escape” from the house for a man of his age.

And now his dedication to a small garden in Marchmont has been recognised by the Scottish Civic Trust.

The 84-year-old has been “highly commended” in the Civic Champion section of the trust’s annual My Place Awards, which celebrate community projects.

The former secretary and treasurer of Marchmont and Sciennes community council turned his hand to a small strip of land in Marchmont Crescent – nicknamed the “green banana” due to its curved shape – four years ago.

The space, which is just 200 yards long and 6ft wide, had become a dumping ground for glass bottles, litter, dog dirt and cigarette butts.

Since clearing the area and planting more than 40 varieties of shrubs and flowers, donated by the public and community council, Mr Harris has been quietly working alongside a handful of volunteers to maintain it.

Mr Harris, whose wife, Sìne, also a botanist, died nine years ago, said: “It’s an escape from the house. I consider myself very fortunate that I am fit and able, touch wood. Community is the key word in our attitude to it. It’s a nice way of getting to know people.”

While many 80-somethings are keen to slow down, Mr Harris is showing no sign of stopping.

The father-of-two, who has previously organised front garden competitions, offered to help people with their gardens and worked with local schools on green-fingered projects, has most recently worked with Marchmont and Bruntsfield Links Action Group, Friends of Marchmont and Bruntsfield Links, and environmental group Woodcraft Folk.

He was nominated for the award by Marchmont and Sciennes community council, which was impressed with Mr Harris’s passion for the “green banana”.

Community councillor Sarah Sandow said: “We were aware that these awards were running and we were all very impressed with all the work that Brian did. It seemed sensible to nominate him. We try to promote community activity.”

In a note on his entry, judges said: “This is civic-minded and good citizenship in the extreme. He has worked wonders with a previously unloved space, transforming it into a green space, lovingly tended, which gives pleasure for residents and passersby.”

John Pelan of the Civic Trust will present a certificate to Mr Harris at the “green banana” on May 13.