Sunday, 19 September 2010

Princes Street Gardens and a bit more

Princes Street Gardens is slap bang in the centre of Edinburgh, and divides the old part of the city from the new. At one end is Waverley train station, an extremely ugly arrangement of pointed spans of grey roofing, and almost at the other, the Scottish National Gallery, which at the time of our stay not only housed it's usual works by many famous artists, but also had a short term display entitled 'Impressionist Gardens', something that got me really excited with anticipation!
Firstly though, back to the gardens. They are big! We entered just along from the Balmoral Hotel, past a busking bagpiper, and first to catch our eye (well mine, as Amanda told me that they do it every year and she remembered it well from when she lived here) was the Flower Clock. About twelve feet in diameter, it's fully working and accurate, and even has a little wooden house above it from where an automaton cuckoo does his thing on the hour. This sort of carpet bedding I know isn't to everyones taste, but you can't help but admire the design and plantsmanship....I think anyway!

A bit further down the same path brings you out to the main garden thoroughfare, and this gorgeous gardeners lodge. Very fairy tale like, although probably not an ideal place to relax at night.

The garden is very well kept indeed, and being sort of a cross between formal and informal in design, was quite pleasing to the eye.

It's hard to imagine as one walks through these gardens that the main London to Inverness train line runs right through the centre of them, only a couple of hundred yards over on the other side, but almost entirely concealed by being part sunken and part hidden with shrubs and trees.
These flower beds, although they don't look it in the picture so much, were just a blaze of colour and totally dead headed! I know it's sad, but things such as this along with quality of weeding and whether the soil is tilthed matter to me even on holiday.You see, even on holiday the gardening heads are always on. The Scott Monument, which most residents of Edinburgh consider to be an eyesore (and I have to agree) is to the right of the photo out of sight....for now!

.......And here is the little beauty. A huge gothic monstrosity. What would, and always has appeared to be, the only piece of uncleaned stone in the city. It is possible to go up it, but we didn't as it seemed better to save that one for the Koreans and Dutch. Besides, the gallery was a'calling.

There are so many varieties of trees in the gardens, and all in such good condition that one could just spend a day laying under them and dreamily staring up through the leaves. Almost hidden behind these ones in particular is the Scottish National Gallery, the pillars being the giveaway as to which building it is. Behind the buildings in the background is the Royal Mile, and behind me is Princes Street.

When stood in front of the gallery and looking back along the gardens, this is the view that meets you. Awesome eh? With the Balmoral Hotel on the left, and the Scotsman Hotel on the right, it's difficult to imagine that there is a busy city all around you.

Behind the gallery one continues through yet more garden for a while. Flower beds, rose borders, herbaceous planting, and just below the castle, a fountain.
Now, I am big on fountains. I don't want one in our own garden, preferring instead abstract copper water features etc, but large fountains where you can clearly see that the mason could actually give a monkeys about the workmanship rule!  One such fountain is The Trevi in Rome, and another is the one at Linderhof Palace. However, now added to my list, which is actually far more extensive than three, is this wedding cake of a fountain. The first thing that came to mind was that with the gardens on one side as a backdrop, and on the other the castle on top of it's rock, there appeared to be two completely different aspects to view it.
Looking on way, it's quite delicate, and with the flowers some might even say enchanting, with just the hint of water trickling over it.

But from the other side it becomes gothic and harsh. The water looking almost like a wave at sea crashing against it. And with the castle and the greyness of it all, I even think the air was a little cooler. Probably me just getting carried away though!

And so it was that after a coffee and yet another bit of cake in the gallery restaurant, we entered the exhibition. There were so may beautiful works by artists such as Monet, Sisley, Renoir and Manet, and all on a garden theme, but here I found just a few of the paintings by my all time favourite Camille Pissaro.

This first one has the title 'The Artists Garden at Eragny', and the lady labouring in the garden is reportedly the artists wife. This is my absolute number one picture anywhere. I can almost feel the warmth on my back, as she must, and it has that sense of wonderful garden stillness that can sometimes be found on a quiet day.

The second is called 'Lotus Lilies', and reminds me just a little of playing as a child around the lily pond at Hengistbury Head. In the actual painting the parasol is a much deeper and richer green, really beautiful. Don't you just envy the way in which these lady's are spending this warm and sunny day?

There were a number of others, but as his work almost certainly isn't to everyones taste, I will just quickly mention about this third painting. It carries the title 'Kitchen Gardens at L'Hermitage, Pontoise'. Once again the viewer can really get a sense of the atmosphere here. Warm sun and peaceful toil.

Now to the last piece of garden landscaping. This time at the National Gallery of Modern Art, located at the western side of the city at the end of a beautiful river walk. One immediately gets a sense that things will be a little quirky here because, as you make your way through the gardens from the river you are first met with a Henry Moore sculpture completely on it's own even before the building is found. I must say here that I impressed Amanda at this point by knowing it was a Henry Moore by just looking at it's style from a distance. Who says one can't be a common gardener and a bit cultured eh? Having said that, she impresses me every day!
Then on rounding the main building this is what you see. 'EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT!' in bright blue lighting, how different is that at the entrance head of an old building? Inside of course there were the usual array of giants table & chairs, ugly weldings, pornographic paintings and mesmerising film clips, actually all very interesting indeed.

At the rear is the cafe garden. When seated the view is of a lush lawn flaked by two well stocked herbaceous borders. It was incredibly warm and sunny, and the pictures didn't come out too well as I really couldn't be too bothered at this point. After a delicious and gigantic piece of carrot cake and a bottle of local beer, a long walk and gallery watching, all I wanted to do was put my head back....just for a couple of minu.....zzzz!

Awake again, and to an incredible piece of work at the front of the modern art gallery. This isn't the work of a garden designer, but of an artist, and is a permanent feature that one is allowed to walk through, lay on or play, whatever takes your fancy. I just loved looking at it from this spot and admire the way in which the mow lines flowed with the shape. The sludgy pond weed had been removed when we came out, to reveal mirror smooth water. This was water and grass in symbiosis! Now, how to replicate it in my own garden, that is the question.

There you have it folks, just a little bit about some of the garden aspects we found. Of course I haven't said anything about the botanics or city gardens etc, I'm saving that for my last and final post about Edinburgh.
Take care all of you.


  1. Great photos Gary - I'm just back from spending the morning in Edinburgh - you could hardly see the summit of Arthur's Seat today with the low visibility.

    I must make a point of exploring a bit further someday around Princess Gardens by the gallery and that lovely lawn by the water.

    Did you get up Carlton Hill?

  2. Hi leavesnbloom,
    Thakns for the kind comments. It is indeed worth spending a very unhurried time around the gardens and gallery if you get the chance. We did get up onto Calton Hill, albeit on the last day......a very strange place and a bit like a memorial storage yard. Some fabulous views of Arthurs Seat and Salisbury Crags though!

  3. Hi Allan,
    Thanks for the nice comments.

  4. Very fun trip again. Would love to see the gardens and most definitely the art exhibits. always interesting to hear art lovers tell why they ( me included ), like a piece of art, as they typically put themselves in a painting and ' feel ' it or something in the art reminds them of a time in their past. Thank you again for this escape today, Gina

  5. Dear Gary, What a wealth of 'gardenship' you have given us here. So many styles, planting schemes, trees, shrubs and flowers and all so beautifully kept. I am, as you may well imagine, no lover of floral clocks but the one you show really is the most stylishly planted that I have ever seen!

    And, riches upon riches, the exhibition at the National Gallery. I love the Impressionists and have much enjoyed looking at the works you have pictured and described.

  6. Hi Gary, Looks like I've missed a lot on your blog of late. I've been in Alaska for the last month and have lots to catch up on in the blog world. Looking forward to reading about your travels.

  7. Hi Gina,
    It all seems a million miles away now, but are already planning the next trip for next year.
    It was certainly a great mix of gardens and galleries in a small place, quite unique!

  8. Hi Edith,
    When I saw the floral clock I thought of you, and commented to Amanda along those lines. This style, along with carpet bedding schemes, although not to my taste, hold a strange kind of fascination. The impressionists are my favourites. The last exhibition that I was fortunate enough to see was by Monet at the Royal Academy.

  9. Hi there Judi,
    Welcome back to blog land, nice to hear from you and hope you had a good time in Alaska!

  10. I don't get to travel much and so it is always a joy to see photos and read about places such as this. Looks like a wonderful place for a gardener - and art lover - to vacation!