Gina Davidson: Make your way up garden path

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THE news this week that the newly refurbished National Museum of Scotland was the most visited attraction outside of London last year is fantastic, but not surprising to anyone who’s been through its fabulous new lower-ground front doors.

The place has been transformed and is a source of delight and wonder, so a 141 per cent increase in visitor numbers – it broke the million barrier after just four months – certainly proves that splashing out £47 million was worth it.

Of course, it’s easier for a national institution to make the headlines and pull in the visitors than other, smaller attractions in Edinburgh. Indeed, if you’re not drawing in visitors on a massive scale like the museum, it can be incredibly hard to get by. It’s even harder if the body responsible for promoting you actually wants to close you down and sell you off to balance its books.

That is what’s happening to the Suntrap Garden in Gogar. Owned by the National Trust for Scotland, and run for many years by Oatridge College, the three-acre garden gifted to the Trust by its eccentric owner and designer George Boyd Anderson has been under threat for more than a year.

The Trust wants to sell the land to a developer and has already received planning permission for the site to be changed to domestic use. The Friends of Suntrap, a hardy band of volunteers, think differently. They have been campaigning to save the whole place and this week received a major boost.

Historic Scotland has B-listed Boyd Anderson’s former home Millbuies, which sits at the heart of the garden and which the National Trust had previously written off as not being of significant enough interest. Alongside that decision, Historic Scotland has also listed a dovecot and even the compost shelter, which makes selling the site to a developer considerably more difficult.

It was, however, the correct decision. Millbuies is Scotland’s first eco house and should be celebrated for being such. Designed to make full use of the environment with wind turbines on the roof and solar energy, it was dreamt up between Boyd Anderson, who made his money in the Malay rubber plantations, and architect Robert Matthew, the man behind the Royal Commonwealth Pool, and influenced by the work of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who believed in organic architecture.

When it was built it was described as “the house which laughs at the weather” and a courtyard design ensured that all four wings received maximum sunshine, with double glazing to keep the drafts out. Part of the roof was also glazed and it was fitted with a state-of-the-art insulated sliding shutter to keep out the sun.

Except for a coal fire, heating came from underfloor electric cables, which extended into the drive to ensure it remained clear of snow in the winter. Perhaps most importantly, the garden was also instrumental to the house, offering shelter from the wind.

Of course, the place is no longer a home, although it’s still used by the Friends as a tearoom when they have their plant sales. Its history is fascinating and in these days of renewable energy and environmental concerns, it should be well and truly on the map of places to see when in Edinburgh,

The Suntrap Garden will never generate the same kind of visitor numbers as places like the National Museum or Edinburgh Castle, and it certainly couldn’t cope if it did. But the Friends, who want to see the place return to its educational role – they have already restarted gardening classes for children with learning difficulties – and turn it into a “living museum”, should be supported by anyone interested in the environment, in architecture or even just in gardening.

So if you haven’t been to Suntrap, then go. It could well be the best place you visit this year that’s not had £47m spent on it.

Bumpy ride

YOU could almost hear the wails of panic and horror over the squealing of brakes when the news broke that the council is once again planning to change the flow of traffic around the city centre.

Ignoring all the stop signs, the do-not-enter posters and the “certain death ahead” billboards, planning convener Jim Lowrie has steered his way into the dead end of Controversy Street – and that’s before a single one-way road has been changed.

Who can forget what happened the last time the council tinkered with closing roads and installing retractable bollards? Just ask Councillor Andrew Burns. I’m not sure his seven-year-old wounds from the Central Edinburgh Traffic Management disaster have ever truly healed.

But Cllr Lowrie is adamant that lessons have been learned from that time, that things will go slowly and progress will be constantly monitored.

I’m sure they will be, but he too can be equally sure there will be many, many complaints.

At least the council is to be congratulated for taking the bull by the horns and actually attempting to have a plan to make the city an easier place to get around for everyone – pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike.

Let’s just hope that this time they’re on the right road.