The Hermitage of Braid Community Wildlife Garden


Building owner/client:

City of Edinburgh Council

Architect or lead designer:

Land Use Consultants Ltd & David Narro Associates Ltd

Local Authority Area:


Nominating Body:

Morningside Community Council

Project Description

The Hermitage of Braid and Blackford Hill Local Nature Reserve is an old estate gifted to the City of Edinburgh in the late 1930s. In addition to ancient woodland, it contains several historic buildings, including a large doocot which, until 2012 overlooked a derelict 17th century walled garden on a steep slope. In 2012, the Natural Heritage Service of the City Council and The Friends of the Hermitage of Braid undertook an ambitious project to develop part of the walled garden as a wildlife garden and as a suitable setting for the restored doocot. The construction work involved re-instating terraced beds, restoring historic walls and entrances, installing proper drainage, improving paths and steps and building new raised beds. The lower part of the garden was flattened to accommodate the raised beds in an area accessible to those with limited physical abilities who want to become involved. Hazel wattles have been used, as they have for centuries, to enclose the beds and protect them from trampling by visitors and dogs. Traditional crafts, such as wattle-weaving, dry-stone walling and using lime mortar to repoint walls have been used. In addition to restoration of old structures, a new stone bench has been built in the lower part of the garden to allow those who cannot manage the steps to sit and enjoy the view up the garden to the restored doocot. Planting started in autumn 2013 and is still work in progress. The planting is themed to represent the historic nature of the area with beds devoted to medicinal plants, to plants used in cookery and brewing and to wildflowers attractive to insects. Native plants are used wherever possible to comply with the park’s Local Nature Reserve status. Key elements of the project from the earliest stages have been a commitment to partnership working and an intention to have a garden created by people for people and community groups to enjoy and become involved in its upkeep. Although some of the heavy lifting – such as earth moving and stump removal – has been done by professionals, the project has attracted an extraordinarily wide range of volunteer groups and individuals. Part of its success has derived from workshops where volunteers have been taught the traditional techniques used in the restoration, the biodiversity value of the site, and been encouraged to use the garden as a place for creative writing.

Supporting Statement

We have nominated this project because it represents the bringing back to life of a historic structure that had been completely neglected for generations. Nature had long taken over the garden. The clearance of trees, shrubs and dense brambles from the overgrown terraces has been a major challenge. The restored doocot and garden walls aren’t grand or elegant structures – of which we have many in our area – but a historic working environment every element of which had a practical purpose. We have been impressed by the imagination exercised in not trying to re-create a semi-commercial growing area but to make it something different that complements the nature reserve and will engage visitors while remaining a working place. Above all, we have admired the high level of engagement with local residents, community groups and organisations working with minority groups and people with physical or emotional needs. Park visitors and local residents have joined in to explore the emerging new garden and to learn about some of the traditional crafts used in the restoration – as well as planting thousands of wildflower plugs. The whole project has involved a very wide range of participants and successfully raised a sense of ownership and pride, which will ensure that the volunteers will keep coming to care for the garden in the future. The engagement with the community has not only been through the physical aspects of restoration and maintenance but also through imparting an understanding of the wildlife in the garden. But the most innovative of the various workshops has undoubtedly been one on creative writing which produced some amazing output inspired, we are convinced, by the strong sense of place that this newly restored garden already invokes. The Hermitage of Braid is heavily used by the local community and many other citizens of Edinburgh. The area of the walled garden was a largely inaccessible and overgrown steep slope. This project has truly turned into “my place” for the many people who go there.