Softening edges

Congratulations to our local Grassmarket community who have just celebrated the tenth anniversary of having the keys to West Port Garden. Local residents  have created a truly impressive flower garden on a very steep site and are working hard to make the garden more accessible and safer to the public. West Port Garden was first created in the early 20th century by Norah Geddes, talented daughter of the more famous Patrick Geddes, who involved as many barefoot children from the local tenements as she could possibly manage!

One of the highlights of the recent celebrations was the launch of a volume of poetry based on Norah and the present-day garden. A line or two from Tessa Berring appealed to me:

Norah taught the city
how to soften itself
How to press itself
against the edges
and burst

As some-one who tends our own Church garden here on the terrace on the corner of Victoria Terrace, I think this is what we have also been trying to do – to soften the edges of the church, by swinging the big blue door open and using the garden as the route to the twice-weekly Foodbank.

I have been attempting to limit the proliferation of wild strawberries, pink geranium and campanula, not always with success. But that is alright, plants have a life of their own and how true is another evocative line from the poetry collection:

crack, splinter, wedge
here comes saxifrage
Jane Goldman

Our version of this is the foxglove. I plant them in a specific spot – they do very badly. The next year I find them pushing up really quite a hefty rosette of leaves next to a wall or between two paving stones, determinedly doing their bit to further soften Edinburgh’s straight lines and hard walls.

The world of gardening is also softening its edges by blurring the distinction between weed and wanted. We will see this at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show. There will be nettles this summer in our big flower bed (hopefully attracting butterflies) and eventually they will be harvested and soaked to make a smelly but healthy plant-food.

But the sight to behold right now at the beginning of May are the  purple irises bursting out of their bed! Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet would surely rejoice.

Jenny Paton-Williams