“So, eh, what’s this Neil’s Garden place?” – taxi driver
“Haven’t got a clue,” – me
“Uh huh. So how do you know about it?” – taxi driver
“Heard it exists,” – me
He dropped me off outside the kirk in Duddingston and wished me good luck. Dr Neil’s Garden, was somewhere around here. Who doesn’t love a good secret garden? I walked through the kirk gates and spotted a little tearoom to my left. Must have good cake because it was unexpectedly busy, but I headed straight through it to the lawn outside. I frowned a little, because surely this couldn’t be it…It was generic, well looked after and there were pretty plants for sale. Just like any other garden centre. But still I wandered along the path anyway to see what I could find; and that’s when I saw the arrow to Dr Neil’s Garden pointing back the way I’d came.
I spun around to see what ridiculous clue I had missed, and there, just to the left of the tearoom was a wrought iron gate. Much better! Approaching the gate, I smiled at the iron duck to the left of the handle, and there was a rust green circular plaque where I could just make out the words: Dr Neil’s Garden.
A ginormous tree, the Grandmother Willow of Duddingston (except definitely not a willow tree), was the first thing I came to face inside the curious garden. Paths led away from it in various directions, and instinct took me down the hill on the left. The colours were gorgeous, and I could just spot the glimmer of Duddingston Loch through the trees. When I reached the bottom of the hill, my injured ankle not thanking me at all, there was a tower with the door ajar. Thomson’s Tower, an octagonal pale yellow building, was built to store curling stones because – FYI – Duddingston Loch used to be an ice-rink! Little known fact, you can hire this tower for small functions.
Okay so the garden; it was planted and designed by Drs Nancy and Andrew Neil, a husband and wife duo who loved to explore Europe in a caravan collecting plants. They began planting on an uncultivated patch of sloping land at the foot of Arthur’s Seat, and even encouraged their patients to help grow it as the lochside tranquility and fresh air would benefit their health. Both the Neils died in 2005, and several years later a little part of their garden became the Physic Garden in memory of their work as gardeners and doctors.
The place I loved the most was sitting on the bench in front of the pond with the garden bridge. I could watch the geese on the loch and forget I was just a stone’s throw from the city. They had a giant Monkey Puzzle Tree, lots of strange plants like White Deadnettle, Madonna Lily, and Motherwort (making me feel like I was in a Hogwarts herbology class), and classic beauts like Peonies dotted around. It even had the lovable hedgerow archways which every secret garden should.
Once I’d gotten my bearings, I walked home easily by following the road along the bottom of Arthur’s Seat back towards Queen’s Drive. But, if you’re staying a while, the secret garden is just a few steps from The Sheep Heid Inn which has long been cited as Edinburgh’s oldest pub. Not to mention it has its own vintage skittle alley..