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The Cathedral Grounds

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The Cathedral has extensive grounds, which are many things to many people.  They are a green place of calm and rest, in the middle of the busy West End of Edinburgh; a space for play for the many children and young people who go the Cathedral or the nursery in the grounds; a place for prayer, especially in our garden of remembrance; and a place where we put into practice our commitment to ecological issues.

Current Grounds


The grounds currently contain a wide expanse of lawn on both the North and South side of the Cathedrals; a memorial garden; numerous mature trees; a labyrinth; and a willow archway.

The Garden of Remembrance 

Work to restore the somewhat neglected Garden by the North Transept was started in 2010 and has continued ever since; it now extends all along the North side of the Cathedral to Manor Place. Old shrubs were cut back or replaced by new ones, herbaceous plants and roses now feature and we have added several small trees.  We have received donations from members of the congregation who wish to commemorate loved ones and we have provided plants and cuttings from our own gardens.  The Garden with its benches provides a pleasant place for rest and reflection and is appreciated by the many people passing by.

The Orchard

Thanks to a generous donation, an orchard was established in front of Old Coates House in 2019.  It consists of 5 heritage varieties of apple tree  - Sir James Grieve, Red Windsor, Katy, Discovery and Egremont Russet and 2 crab apple trees, Toringo Scarlet and Red Jade.  The blossom is a welcome sight in the spring and in the autumn the apples are picked and offered to the congregation.

More information on the recent history of the gardens, by parishioner Jo Hargreaves, may be downloaded here.

Ongoing 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.

Below are diagrams showing the planned work, and a feedback form.


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 Lawn;

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


North-East section of the North Lawn

To develop a community garden to be used by members of the congregation, the A+E project, 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.  See picture above.


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. See picture above.


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.


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.


We are actively seeking feedback from congregants, the local community, and members of the public, on these changes.  Please use the form below to provide any comments, positive or negative, or send us an email.

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