Finding Edinburgh’s secret garden is something of an adventure in itself. Tucked away behind a 12th century church in the picturesque village of Duddingston, the green hideaway sits in the shadow of an extinct volcano and overlooks a loch.
On a sunny day, the scene from the garden is simply stunning, boasting gorgeous views across the sparkling water and to the hills beyond. This being Edinburgh, with its famously changeable weather, there may well be a cloudy sky above. But the space itself provides a constant: a place of peace.
The garden, at the foot of Arthur’s Seat (a hill and extinct volcano popular with walkers) was landscaped out of uncultivated wilderness land in the 1960s by the late Nancy and Andrew Neil, both doctors in the city. Their patients had the opportunity to help out in the garden, with the fresh air, physical activity, and picturesque setting acting as their own kind of remedies.
Two features of particular interest are the physic garden, which grows medicinal plants, and Thomson’s Tower. It was constructed in 1825 along with much of Edinburgh’s New Town. The tower was originally built for the Duddingston Curling Society, back when frozen lochs were the grounds for curling and other winter sports.
In the early 19th century Reverend John Thomson was the minister of the nearby Duddingston Kirk and a reputable landscape painter as well. The tower had fallen out of use by the curling team, so Thomson repurposed it as his studio. Over the years he hosted many notable landscape artists including Henry Raeburn and J.M.W. Turner, who used the tower’s vantage point to paint the loch.
These days the garden is run and maintained by volunteers. Depending on the time of year, snowdrops, rhododendrons, and azaleas add a splash of colour, and there’s always the possibility of spotting heron and the occasional kingfisher or bittern. The peaceful setting and beautiful plant life draws artists, writers, and meditators.
Know Before You Go
There is parking at Duddingston Kirk Hall, off Duddingston Road West near the junction with Old Church Lane. There's also a small car park on Duddingston Low Road near Jacob's Ladder.
By public transport, take the 42 bus from the city center and alight at Duddingston Village. Double back and walk down Old Church Lane towards Duddingston Kirk. Enter through the gate labeled Duddingston Manse and the entry to the Garden is on the left. Dr. Neil's Garden is open to the public seven days a week, 10 a.m. to dusk, and is free to enter.