Cathedral Grounds – development


To complement the Scottish Episcopal Church and Edinburgh City Council’s respective commitments to net zero carbon by 2030, the Cathedral intends to develop a community garden on the North-East section of its North Lawn and an area for rewilding on the East section of its South Lawn. Both areas will remain open to the public, whilst enhancing biodiversity across the site.

Further context and description

In May 2022 St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral made a Declaration of Climate Emergency. Part of that declaration reads as follows: ‘We will actively work to imagine and model ways in which our faith and our congregations can enable the planet’s resources to be safeguarded and regenerated.’

As well as efforts to achieve net zero carbon by 2030, the Cathedral is committed to developing a renewed relationship with nature; one that seeks peace with nature for the wellbeing of all. This means renewing our commitment to practices of earth-care, people-care and the fair-share of resources. It means listening to the earth (Rom 8:22) and paying attention to where we dwell.

As part of this commitment, the Cathedral has undertaken a 2-year process of reflection, asking how the Cathedral grounds might better express a ‘song of creation’. This process has been aided by practical gardening projects, 2 co-design workshops, the development of an art and ecology programme (A+E), and numerous formal and informal conversations – between staff, members of the congregation, visitors, tenants, neighbours, council employees, and members of Edinburgh’s wider climate justice community.

Moving from reflection to action, we now aim to:

  1. Develop a community garden on the North-East section of the North Law;
  2. Rewild a section of the South Lawn;
  3. Increase the biodiversity of the grounds throughout.

Telling the story of the Cathedral’s regenerative development will be an integral part of our undertaking. To that end, signage and additional interpretation, including poetry and sculpture trails, will also be integrated into the Cathedral grounds over time.


Building on re-landscaping work undertaken since 2011 – including the recently installed original path layout on the South Lawn (2022) – our plans are as follows:

  1. North-East section of the North Lawn
    To develop a community garden to be used by members of the congregation, the A+E project (an art and ecology project based at the Cathedral), additional tenants of the Cathedral buildings (including Early Days Nurseries and Edinburgh Cyrenians), targeted community groups supporting Edinburgh-based asylum seekers and refugees, and local residents. The community garden will include a border of mixed native hedging (hawthorn, dogwood, wild cherry, silver birch, rowan, and hazel), under tree planting of existing trees, 12 raised beds (with a focus on growing perennial vegetables and native dye plants), 16 dwarf rootstock native apple trees (15 cordoned, 1 free standing), native soft fruit, a herb spiral, the extension of an existing willow tunnel, a green roof rain shelter, a composting area, 2 earth-covered log piles, a small tool shed, and 3 Gothic style water butts to capture water from the roof of Walpole Hall.
  2. East section of the South Lawn
    To further develop an existing wildflower labyrinth on the East section of the South Lawn and designate the area a rewilding Ark ( The labyrinth was cut and planted using an Edinburgh wildflower pollinator mix in 2022. Further rewilding of the site will include bordering part of the site with native hedging (hazel, blackthorn, crab apple, elder, dog rose, and rowan), under tree planting of existing trees, further assistance to rewild the lawn (including the sowing of yellow rattle to act as a beneficial parasite), the planting of 5 dwarf rootstock native apple trees (free standing), the cultivation of a small wildlife pond supported by a swale, 3 earth-covered log piles, and the addition of 3 Gothic style water butts to capture water from the lower roof of the Cathedral.
  3. Increase biodiversity across the site
    To support and, where appropriate, further develop existing planting and additional infrastructure to increase biodiversity. This includes the maintenance and care of a Memorial Garden running from the North Door to Manor Place, a Memorial Orchard and Nursery Garden outside Old Coates House (the former comprising 7 native apple trees; the latter comprising a sensory garden and 2 miniature wildlife gardens in 3 box-lined beds), a native wildflower meadow cultivated along the North Lawn’s North-West perimeter railings, and container planting beside the Memorial Garden Cairn and the West Door.
  4. Ecological literacy and storytelling
    By using traditional forms of interpretation (to identify selected trees and other plants), and through the use of embedded storytelling (using multiple artforms, including poetry and sculpture), we hope that the Cathedral grounds can become an ecological commons for the city; a place to experience the healing power of nature for ourselves, our communities and the planet as a whole.

These plans can also be viewed in the Cathedral, on the Community Board at the West End.

Provost’s message

“Over the last couple of years we have been developing plans for our Cathedral grounds. Through co-design workshops, and work with community groups, we have generated ideas to fulfil our desire to respond more adequately on our own patch to the climate emergency, and to better enable the ‘Song of Creation.’ We have now reached the stage where we want to consult with the congregation as part of the process of obtaining Diocesan permission for the developments envisaged, and consulting with public bodies.

We would be grateful for your thoughts and feedback. The plans reflect a changing understanding of gardens, and their associated aesthetic. Large areas of lawn are recognised to be a poor support for bio-diversity and insect life, and so the development, particularly around the labyrinth, would seek to increase that bio-diversity. We also recognise that our grounds are an important place of meeting: both literally in the sense that they are well-used by many people particularly in warmer weather to socialise in; but also because the grounds and the demands that their upkeep make, can be a way to bring people together, providing a useful meeting point and common purpose. The Community Garden would be a way of realising that: enabling some of the community groups that use the Walpole Hall, or local residents, for example, to work together within a shared gardening project for social benefit.

Please do take a moment to consider the plans and offer us your feedback. And if you are motivated to offer some time to help realise them, that would be wonderful!”

Please send any feedback about these plans to