Rainbows have always been a symbol of hope and inspiration. The beautiful but transient kaleidoscope of colours, the never to be reached pot of gold, and their transitory appearance all contribute to their magical symbolism. The association of rainbows with peace and hope has been with us since biblical times but has found new expression with the posting of rainbow images in windows during the coronavirus pandemic as a visible show of support for the NHS.
Bubbles are even more transient than rainbows but have a magic of their own. In my childhood the gift of a cheap cardboard carton containing a soapy solution and a stick with a metal loop was prized more than an expensive toy. Creating bubbles in fast streams or competing to produce the largest and longest-lived bubble provided much innocent amusement. On streets in major cities street performers often stop milling pedestrians in their tracks as they trailed their long streamers through the air to create hundreds of bubbles or massive bubbles big enough to cover a horse. Nowadays at children’s playgroups a bubble machine is often used to provide a positive feel at the end of a session.
Bubbles and rainbow
[ centre: rainbow of hope on church -photo credit Bruce Ward. Left and right : bubbles from Pexel library ]
Bubbles have another connotation, borne of the thin film separating interior from exterior. We refer to people as “being in a bubble”, isolated from the world outside. During this pandemic, this meaning has been extended to the concept of social and support bubbles, where small groups have been permitted to socialise together and be considered as an extended household. Sports teams have formed bio-bubbles, living in a carefully contained environment, sometimes for weeks on end.
The reality is that most of us are currently living in an isolated bubble, whether singly, as a couple or as a family. Contact with the outside world is limited despite radio, TV, social networks and limited excursions for exercise. We have more time for reflection and may have a greater appreciation of our environment (see previous posts).
Walking has provided a welcome feeling of well being in lockdown but how far we have been able to roam has depended on the restrictions in place. Currently we are being asked to walk from home, so we have been exploring new places to walk within a small radius and we have been surprised at the variety of interesting walks available: along the canal, disused railway lines, in parks and reserves. In Edinburgh we are lucky enough to have these all over the city including the wide-open spaces of Holyrood Park, The Meadows, Leith Links, and Bonaly Country park.
One of the smaller parks that offers a different experience is Saughton Park, with the Water of Leith flowing on its southern and eastern perimeter. Our slowness in visiting stemmed from our memories from the 1990s of windswept sports fields, where youth teams played football. A Hearts supporter, writing in 2009 on the online forum “The Shed”, confirmed this impression and lamented the fact that the park looked so run down: “The gardens looked crap; the car park, where once the grand band-stand stood is in a right state. The roads and paths that circled the winter gardens are now all over-grown and there was just a general shabbiness about the whole place.” He recalled how important the place was in his childhood and remembered the mansion being demolished in 1952.
Visiting the park this January gave a totally different experience. Despite the winter weather with icy paths and the plants in winter foliage there was plenty to admire and the design of the park allowed for varied ambiance in the different areas: boisterousness and laughter in the BMX and playground areas and quietness for reflection in the SiMBA garden just over the hedge. Here people can remember babies they have lost and have an inscription on the copper leaves of the Tree of Tranquillity. SiMBA have also adopted the butterfly as a symbol – reflecting the transience of life.
Saughton park in winter
Rose garden — Willow and grasses
Bandstand — Topiary by Italian garden
There are other parts of the garden that are well suited to reflection. The walled garden is divided into compartments, separated by yew hedges. Each has a distinctive character: the rose garden with patterns described by low box hedging, the bandstand area with the willow tree and flower beds, the physic garden with medicinal plants and the adjacent sunken Italian garden edged by yew hedges sculpted by topiary. Along the southern hedge is the “Dreamer of Peace” statue. This bronze statue, designed by Kaivalya Torpy, is a life-size figure of Sri Chinmoy , the spiritual leader and meditator, who advocated a spiritual path to God through prayer and meditation and promoted interfaith harmony. In his youth, Sri Chimnoy was also an athlete and Edinburgh has a 1-mile circuit in his honour in the Meadows. There are now Dreamer of Peace statues throughout the world from Toronto to East Timor; each has the same form of the dreamer holding a torch, which you are invited to touch to “offer your own hope for peace – a prayer, a good thought, a moment of silence”.
So how did the transformation from run-down council playing field to vibrant community park occur? In 2012, the Parks and Greenspaces section of the City of Edinburgh Council acknowledged the need for radical action and had both the vision and the determination for an ambitious restoration. In 2013 Heritage Lottery funding was obtained to draw up proposals. In 2015 a design plan for the proposed £5.3 million renovation was submitted for round 2 funding and then converted into a final plan by Ironside Farrar.
At the heart of the restoration plans was the aim of making a welcoming park for all by building on the heritage of the park and providing facilities to make it an integral part of community life in a part of the city which has for a while had areas of social deprivation. This included setting up the “Friends of Saughton Park” , an active group that promotes events, helps in the work of the garden and in projects (literally at the ground level!) and provides a forum for park users.
Another aim of the restoration plan was to foster horticultural excellence through a variety of garden areas including a winter garden inside a greenhouse, harnessing volunteers to help the professional gardeners and inviting the Caley (The Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society established in 1809) to make it their home and to be involved in Saughton Park, in addition to their educational and training remit.
Despite visiting first on an icy winter day, with the café and winter garden closed due to Covid restrictions, there was plenty to afford delight in and several reminders of the past glories of the park. The ornate bandstand was installed in 2018 as an exact replica of the 1909 bandstand, which had been removed in the 1980s, and the sundial in the rose garden, with its homilies on each side, had also been restored. The gardens now are a charming mix of old and new.
The park has a long history, first mentioned in the 1128 charter to Holyrood Abbey, and remaining in the hands of one family, the Bairds, for 250 years before its sale to Edinburgh Council in 1900. In 1908 the park was the site of the famous six-month Scottish National Exhibition, which showcased the agriculture, engineering, and horticultural industries. In 1910 the park was opened to the public.
Saughton Park in summer. Photo credit: Ironside Farrar (see acknowledgements)
The official opening of Saughton Park following restoration was on June 6th, 2019. Thanks to the vision and commitment of all involved in the project there has been something that can enhance the well-being of all who live in Edinburgh. I look forward to seeing it full of flowers in summer with the scent of roses and sampling the food from the popular café.
Meanwhile I can find comfort from the rigours of the Covid pandemic by taking a gentle walk, admiring the gardens, observing the many birds around the garden and reflecting. Equally I can press the pause button on life by sitting on one of the many benches and creating a little bubble of relaxation. Wonderful!
Written 27th-30th January
I would like to thank Gillian Smith, landscape architect, and Liz Dominy, plant layout designer (both of Ironside Farrar), for permission to use the photos of Saughton Park in summer. For more details of the project refer to the linked documents. Thanks also to George Kelsey for the wonderful bird photos and Peter Stubbs of Edinphoto for the postcard image of the 1908 Exhibition. The Friends of Saughton Park website provides a newsletter, background information, photos and notice of current events.