We live in a traditional Edinburgh tenement flat, with its own front garden and a shared ‘back green’. A back green is a large walled area of grass designed for drying clothes, beating carpets, and letting the cat out. Every Edinburgh tenement has its own back green, and they range from manicured, inventively gardened, sociable areas that are an absolute joy to spend time in, to horrid, overgrown wastelands filled with abandoned bikes and the skeletons of cats that never found their way home. When we bought our flat in November 2014, our new back green was of the latter type. Self-sown ash saplings grew right up to the windows of our flat, blocking light from the rooms and doubtless damaging the foundations with their roots. No one ever went out there, as our neighbour averred to us shortly after we moved in.
Our private front garden was little better. A large front garden by tenement standards, it was covered in an uninspiring arrangement of square concrete paving slabs and gravel, with a few overgrown shrubs and pots, and an eight-foot high, four-foot wide privet hedge surrounding it on three sides. It was gloomy, neglected, and unloved. Over the first months of 2015 I cleared away the concrete slabs, cut back the hedge, dug over the soil, and created a brand new garden from scratch.
This is what the garden looked like in November 2014, when we bought the flat:
And this is what the garden looked like in September 2015:
In January 2016, with work on the front garden completed and another non-garden-related project out of the way, I made a start on the back green. We had already removed much of the undergrowth next to our flat so that the builders could install our French door. Now, with the approval of all the neighbours, we removed the four or five self-sown ash trees and then I set to work building a circular brick terrace with a path and flowerbeds.
This is what the back garden looked like in the summer of 2015, just after the French door had been put in (some trees had already come down):
This is what the back garden looked like in the summer of 2016 after the trees had been cleared and the terrace had just been built:
What is it like to garden in Scotland?
Scotland is a temperate region of the north of the UK, characterised by low population levels, exceptional scenery, fantastic air quality, and terrible weather! Edinburgh is in many ways a perfect city: beautiful, clean, liberal and affordable, but with low average summer temperatures, a short growing season, very poor winter light, and unpredictable rainfall, gardening can be a challenge. Because we are a coastal city, we do not see so many heavy frosts and snowfalls experienced by the central and northern parts of Scotland, and the majority of rain falls on the west coast (those poor Glaswegians). We never undergo the water restrictions that our poor compatriots in South East England frequently suffer, meaning that we are never banned from using our hosepipes. But then, we don’t usually need to use them anyway.
Spring moves northwards at walking pace, roughly 13 miles a day, and our growing season is a good three weeks behind that of Southern England. The advantage of this is that forgetting to sow a packet of seeds, or perform the Chelsea chop, or prune the roses on time is never a problem. Sunlight is less intense in Scotland, but we receive at least an extra hour of daylight compared with the UK’s southerly regions and this makes up for it. Against a sheltered, south-facing wall, many sun-loving plants will do extremely well.