Volunteers transform overgrown land into garden

Volunteers Declan Moran, Ruairi Mitchison, Paul Harper, James Morrison, Douglas Morrison and Thoren Ferguson are happy with their achievement. Picture: Jane Barlow
Volunteers Declan Moran, Ruairi Mitchison, Paul Harper, James Morrison, Douglas Morrison and Thoren Ferguson are happy with their achievement. Picture: Jane Barlow
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A FORGOTTEN and overgrown hillside is in full bloom once again after six years and thanks to 6000 hours of blood, sweat and tears.

The Hermitage of Braid Walled Garden has been transformed into an oasis filled with native plants thanks to lottery funding and sheer hard graft by more than 1100 volunteers.

Representatives from the many groups that helped revitalise the neglected space attended a “ribbon-cutting” ceremony yesterday, with the project’s leaders chopping through a length of vine with a pair of golden gardening shears.

The seed for change was planted in 2008 when council natural heritage officer Jessica Morgado, 33, and Friends of the Hermitage secretary Goff Cantley, 63, first discussed turning the disused slope beneath a 200-year-old dovecot into a community space.

“I feel really proud of the local community groups who believed in my idea, took on board the suggestions, and just worked so hard,” said Ms Morgado.

The terraced site is divided into sections for medicinal plants, a wildlife friendly garden and vegetable plots. The beds will feature herbs and vegetables that graced tables and larders in years gone by, but sound exotic to modern ears, such as borage, yarrow, and mugwort. Drystone walls and fences made of willow wattling have been created using traditional skills, and will be decorated with poetry inspired by the garden’s natural beauty.

The work has been carried out by a coalition of charities and volunteer groups, including the RSPB, a Nepalese community association, the Edinburgh and Central Scotland Deaf Community and the Trust for Conservation Volunteers.

“People just love to come here.” said Mr Cantley, a retired property surveyor with the Royal Mail. “A lot of new friendships have been made, and people are just so happy to work here. It’s been great to see.”

Ms Morgado said she feared the project wouldn’t go ahead when a shake-up of the council’s park services put it at risk. “When the council ranger service merged with the Pentland Hills Ranger Service, there was a lot of uncertainty and we didn’t know what was going to happen to individuals or to the aims of the service. This garden held us together.”

Finding the right partner to help fund the project proved the biggest challenge, with Ms Morgado praising the role that the council, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Scottish Natural Heritage played in supporting the community’s vision.

“All the other funders we approached didn’t want the community to be involved and didn’t want to take the time to get the garden done. This couldn’t be done in a month. I wanted a funder that was going to support this idea. A lot of funders wanted to give you the money and have the flowers look pretty, and that’s it.”

Ms Morgado now wants more volunteers to come forward and keep the garden in pristine condition. There are plans to clear an adjacent site to almost double the size of the garden, and eventually Mr Cantley hopes the dovecot can be brough back into use as a tool shed or a reception area.

“We’re only part-way through the project,” he said. “There’s still a lot I’d like to do.”