Bereaved parents plan to restore baby rose garden

Up to 900 infants are buried at the rose garden.
Up to 900 infants are buried at the rose garden.
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BEAUTIFUL roses once bloomed next to the graves to help create a tranquil spot for bereaved parents to remember their little ones.

But now the rose garden at Edinburgh’s Mortonhall cemetery is in need of attention. The roses are gone, the victim of a rose blight; some of the graves have tattered toys and broken ornaments; and parts of the ground have turned from grass to mud.

The garden – final resting place for up to 900 babies who were stillborn or died while very young – is still maintained by the city council, which has recently made some improvements, including covering certain areas with grey slate.

But Dorothy Maitland, former operations director for bereavement charity Sands Lothian, wants to see it returned to a place of beauty and tranquillity.

She has got together with another bereaved parent, Helen Ogilvie, to set up the Friends of Mortonhall Cemetery Baby Rose Garden.

And they are urging as many parents as possible to attend a meeting later this month to discuss what they would like to happen.

Dorothy, who lost one of her twin daughters aged just nine days in 1986, recalls first seeing the rose garden after becoming a volunteer with Sands.

She says: “My daughter Kaelen was cremated at Mortonhall but I have to say I was drawn to the beautiful rose garden where many babies lay. I was so upset that no-one had suggested this beautiful place to lay my beloved daughter to rest.”

When the rose garden began in 1982, having a stillborn baby was a taboo subject and the graves in the garden were only marked with a rose bush.

But soon a memorial was installed with the words “For all our babies, Briefly known, forever loved.”

Dorothy says: “The unveiling of the memorial was held one Sunday afternoon which was attended by many parents, council officials and staff from the old Simpson’s. It was the start of something, it was almost giving parents permission to speak about their baby that had died rather than not mention their baby.”

After that, a memorial book was established. “That was another big step forward and many parents have drawn comfort from this book.”

And after pressure from parents, the council agreed to allow plaques in the rose garden with the baby’s name and a short inscription.

But more controversially, soft toys and mementos started being left in the garden and little fences were put up around plots.

Dorothy says: “From the odd toy which often ended up broken or sodden if it was a soft toy, more and more mementos were being put down.

“The council was in a very difficult position – removing them was going to cause so much upset. There should have been rules for the rose garden. What one parent finds comforting another doesn’t.

“The years went on and more fences were appearing and then the rose disease hit the garden. Bit by bit the garden just looked so sad.”

Dorothy contrasts the current state of the rose garden with the memorial garden opened at Mortonhall in 2015 for the babies affected by the ashes scandal, which she was instrumental in revealing three years before that.

“It is a place of peace and beauty and gives myself and many others much comfort. Rules are in place and parents are made aware that items will be removed if they are left.”

Former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini referred to the rose garden in her report on the ashes scandal. “It wasn’t an official recommendation, but she felt it should be attended to,” says Dorothy. “The council has been trying – they have put down the slate and some planters – but it really needs a good refurbishing. I would like to keep the theme of the rose garden. I thought maybe we could have a fence or a wall with roses on it.”

She hopes the formation of the Friends group and the meeting on March 24 will lead to a major improvement. “We want to get as many parents and people who would be willing to come on board and help.

“We will have questionnaires so people can write down their feelings, including their fears even. And we will hope to have regular meetings to keep people up to date.”

She hopes, as with the discussions about memorials for the babies involved in the ashes scandal, parents can reach a consensus about the way forward.

There are no costings yet for any refurbishment. Dorothy hopes the council would be willing to contribute some of the cost.

And she says the staff at Mortonhall have welcomed the new Friends group and are being “extremely supportive”.

Helen, whose daughter Fiona was buried in the rose garden in October 1999, says at that time it was an attractive place to go.

“We had been recommended to go and look at it by the minister at the Royal Infirmary after our daughter died. It was just lovely with different coloured roses – really nice.”

She visits the garden regularly. “At the beginning it was every single day, then maybe once a week. I still go once a fortnight.

“It has been deteriorating for a long time. I always keep my daughter’s bit very nice but over the years things started encroaching on my daughter’s grave, people have put fences up and put things on them.

“But ten years on, many ornaments are broken, teddy bears are sodden and it just doesn’t look nice.

“And the ground the graves are on is now quite muddy and the grass is quite patchy.

“They have made some improvements, like putting grey slate down and it does look a lot better but it’s only small part.”

Helen, who retired last year after 37 years as a nurse, is keen that parents should spearhead the refurbishment of the garden.

“It’s our children’s graves – the rose garden is their grave site – and it’s parents that should be the ones who should look at it and say this is what should be done. It needs to be a tranquil place to visit.”

And she hopes there will be a good turnout for the meeting she has helped organise so lots of views can be heard.

“Dorothy and I have started this, but we don’t want to be dictating what people should have.

“Once we’ve had the meeting we can take the lead and work with the council and try to get it to where we would like it to be. It has to come from the parents.

“Once I’ve died I would like a nice place that’s easily maintained so it could be left with no-one visiting or doing anything for years.

“My preference would be probably to have something like slate and have each grave individually marked.

“If parents want to put something small – a teddy or an ornament – in that part that’s fine. I just don’t like all the fences that are broken down now and need to be repaired.

“I would like to see it nice and tranquil and neat.”

The council’s environment convener, Lesley Macinnes, who is responsible for cemeteries, praised the formation of the Friends group and the plans for a meeting.

She said: “We welcome this support through the creation of Friends of Mortonhall Cemetery Baby Rose Garden, and will continue to work closely with the group and others to explore ways of enhancing the Baby Rose Garden for those who visit it.

“The Baby Rose Garden provides a peaceful space for people to remember their loved ones, and I’m sure this personal and enthusiastic approach from volunteers will benefit all those who visit here.”

The meeting is in the George Washington Brown room at Central Library, George IV Bridge, on Saturday March 24 at 2.30pm. Children are welcome.