Discovering Leith's Discovery Garden

The garden was a surprise. The Port of Leith is lovely of course: the water, cobbles, bridges, cafes – but you don’t expect a garden. Hidden like an emerald between flats, unbuilt flats, roadworks, and a car park, I stumbled upon a treasury of hedges under a vault of trees.

The garden was built along with Ocean Terminal and has matured along with the rejuvenation of Leith Docks. Planted in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, it celebrates the Scottish plant hunters who sourced the colours and textures of our gardens from across the world.

"I went there sometimes to eat my lunch and read. It was a wee oasis of peace."

After 20 years, the low hedges and plants are spectacular. Escaping across the tram terminal construction works, the weary visitor can meander along paths which seem to cut through a billowing green sea. You can brush your fingers through verdant waves, patterned with a myriad of leaf-shapes diverse planting scheme. Over your head, the green of the canopy arches like sea-spray. 

It’s one of those urban oases where your tired eyes are refreshed, where the air pollution drops, where you feel the stress fall away, where you suddenly hear a bird sing.

On a more practical note, it provides climate change resilience. For many of the people living in surrounding flats, when lockdown hit on those hot days it was the only garden they had. A sudden rainstorm demonstrated the garden's importance in absorbing water and saving the drains from being overwhelmed.

"I walk around there regularly as it's so peaceful."

The garden is about to be lost. Ocean Terminal are intending to remove the twenty years of growing, and replace it with paving and 'specimen' trees. The rumours are that the space is needed for storage for the tramworks, or is the real reason to remove a living space which requires inconvenient maintenance from the new owners of Ocean Terminal?

Will those few new trees on the landscape plans, which have spent the past 20 years growing in a nursery probably in Holland, do better than the mature trees planted for tramwork ‘reinstatement’ at Atholl Crescent near Haymarket, or the mature trees planted recently in Macdonald Road – dead after one hot summer of neglect.

"I used to take my late mum to the garden for our weekly coffee and a natter. It really was an oasis of calm and a chance for mum to get outside and amongst nature."

Gardens are not constructed, they are grown. This makes them literally irreplaceable.

City gardens are not a luxury, they are a necessity – and  with climate change their shading and water-absorption will become more necessary every year.

"This is a wee oasis in a concrete jungle."

That’s why the local residents of Leith Harbour and Newhaven asked Trees of Edinburgh for help to save the Ocean Terminal Discovery Garden.

Our communities know gardens are irreplaceable – but their protection comes down to a dull word, ‘governance’. Does the city which launched the heroic plant hunters around the world have the strength of governance – the clout – to protect the long-term public good from the short-term business convenience? I’d like to hope Edinburgh can demonstrate it does. 

"Love a walk within it with my grandson"

Eleanor Harris
Trees of Edinburgh

Thanks to Leith Harbour and Newhaven Community Council for alerting us to the threat to the garden, and for supplying the quotes from local residents.


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