Little-Known Places: Dunbar's Close Garden, Edinburgh

Edinburgh's Old Town is full of narrow passageways and many of those that you are able to take a wander down have interesting little spots that you could easily miss by not taking that chance to turn off into one of them from the Royal Mile. Tucked away down Dunbar Close, near the Canongate Kirk, is just one of these, the charming Dunbar's Close garden.

The Close is named after the writer David Dunbar, who in 1773 owned tenements on either side of it. It was also the home at one time to Mrs Love's tavern where in 1786 Robert Burns watched society ladies downing large amounts of ale and oysters. Whilst some of the Closes in the Old Town can lay claim to a grim history this garden is a tranquil spot and a surprising little oasis of calm. I expect a few people would even be surprised to find such a place given its location in the city. The small walled garden is a pleasure to take a walk around, laid out as it is in a 17th century style with neatly trimmed flower beds, gravel paths and shady trees.

The garden exists thanks to the efforts of the Scottish charity, the Mushroom Trust who support urban green spaces and saved this space from becoming an extension to an existing car park. The land was gifted to the City of Edinburgh Parks Department who enlisted landscape architect, Seamus Filor to redesign it. He chose a 17th century garden as this was the time when the gardens of the Old Town were a common feature and at their most grand with the area being one of the wealthiest parts of the city. The garden includes many plants that would have commonly been found in the walled gardens of the time, including roses, irises and well cut topiary, all grown behind the townhouses on the Royal Mile. In the 17th century this area was a separate burgh outside of the overcrowded city and its proximity to Holyrood palace attracted the nobility to build mansions on the spacious plots that were available. Although this garden only grows ornamental flowers and plants the original gardens were also home to vegetables, herbs and fruit with figs and apricots a common sight.

The garden may be small but it's a lovely little spot to have a walk around and take a moment to enjoy a less well known little green space in the heart of the city. From the gardens you get some views towards the top of Calton hill and can spot some of its monuments peeking over the top of the garden's walls. You can also see the roof of the nearby Old Royal High school above the garden's shrubs and trees too. It's worth taking the time to go and explore this little spot next time you're near the Royal Mile.


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