Garden service

Co-Author: Meike Schalk, Jardins Publics, Chessels Court, Cannongate Off Royal Mile Edinburgh

In collaboration with Paul Gilling, Chessels Court Area Association

Production: Common Guild, Edinburgh International Festival

Curator: Katrina Brown

Garden workshop: Jenny Mollison

Photo: Kees Van Zelst, Daniel Killian

Potted herb garden, table, benches, picnic blanket, staircase, notebook, poster for the program; Gardening workshop with inhabitants; Garden Tea Party; Sunday Afternoon Garden Talks Program.

Garden Service addresses the peculiar situation of mixed public and private areas in the alleys adjacent to the Royal Mile. Spaces such as Chessels Court are secluded from yet also connected to the Royal Mile, one of the great tourist destinations of Edinburgh. They are frequented not only by residents, but also by locals and tourists, who take a rest or have lunch on the public green off the main track.

We chose to install a few very simple urban elements designed to encourage the use of the space, especially by and for the residents living in Chessels Court who don’t have their own garden or outdoor space. By installing stairs to the green and providing picnic blankets we hoped to encourage and support activities already present. However, our main focus was on the “observation platform,” once an institutional green of veronica bushes that was covered with concrete in the 1980s. This “bluff” had recently been targeted as a potential garden site by residents; through our workshop with residents of Chessels Court it was transformed into a temporary garden. The new garden is a public expression of private care and shared benefit —public green spaces created and looked after by private garden lovers.

Garden Service is inspired by the life and work of Patrick Geddes (1854–1932), a former resident of the Royal Mile who planned and partly-installed gardens in various alleys along the Royal Mile. One of them, belonging to a kindergarten, was located right behind Chessels Court. Geddes was a firm advocate of the value of gardens as social places, and gardening as time spent towards the common good. This garden presents an old/new prototype, and is a reminder of these forgotten values. With its shared facilities it not only offers a place to sit down but it also serves as a meeting place, which was animated by specific programs during the time of the exhibition.

This temporary project was a suggestion of what we envisioned might be pursued by the residents of Chessels Court with the support of the authorities. Our hope was that it would trigger discussions about both gardening and the use and provision of communal, public space within the very centre of the city. We believe the city of Edinburgh and especially its historic centre is very well-suited for the tourists invading the city —looking for attractions and entertainment— but it offers little to residents living in the historical center, who keep the city alive and vibrant throughout the year.