This verdant oasis hides in plain sight on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Tourists stream along the high street, perusing its shops and meandering into the many museums that pepper the thoroughfare, but few take the time to duck into this little green space.
Dunbar’s Close has the design of a 17th-century garden, though it wasn’t created until the 1970s. Landscape architect Seamus Filor, funded by the Mushroom Trust, transformed the old close into a series of parterres sandwiched between the Canongate Kirk walls to the west and a blend of stonework and hedges to the east.
Filor wanted to pay homage to Patrick Geddes, a 19th-century Scotsman well versed in science, philanthropy, and city planning. It was Geddes who insisted that the Old Town be revitalized by what he referred to as “pocket gardens.” Around nine of these community gardens were established by 1911. The Mushroom Trust continues to carry out his legacy of community-focused regeneration.
When you enter the close, you’ll step into a walled garden where the paths meander between manicured shrubbery. The atmosphere is hushed, the city’s din dimmed by the sound of the breeze playing with the plants. Birds flit among the tree branches, whose leaves create a ground dappled with shadow.
Keep walking toward the back, and you’ll see six yew compartments to your right. A mop-headed variegated holly stands in the center of each segment, looking like a leafy lollipop guarded by walls of hedges. To your left, you’ll find two additional parterres. In these sections, you’ll wander among conical shrubs towering atop beds of flowers. When in bloom, these flowers add vibrant pops of color to the earthy greens, grays, and tans that dominate the space. Fig and rosemary sprawl across the western wall’s base, while honeysuckle and jasmine climb the trellises.
Head farther back, and you’ll come across a grassy space, which feels like a miniature park. There are benches throughout the close, giving you ample opportunity to relax within this small slice of serenity before once again braving the crowds that clog the Royal Mile.
Know Before You Go
Entrance to the garden is free. See its website for information about its opening hours, which vary seasonally.