Forgotten plot springs to life again

A derelict yard is being given a facelift with the help of the local community. For schools this means interesting curriculum projects, writes Anne Cowan

Behind an old tram shed on Glasgow's south side lies an unpromising patch of stony ground. In places the tramlines can still be seen. Elsewhere weeds and moss flourish, even through cracks in an area of concrete. Forgotten and overgrown, the 5,000 square metre back yard has become a dumping place for any old iron, a coil of yellow plastic tubing, bits of derelict cars and lumps of masonry. All this has been noted, photographed and written about by the P4 class from Cuthbertson Primary across the road.

Using old maps made available by the city's Mitchell Library, the children could see that the site had been a commercial nursery before it was a tram depot. The main brick building along the south edge of the area is the Tramway Arts Centre. Now the yard has started to return to cultivation, with neighbourhood schools and the local community getting involved at every stage of the project to turn it into a garden.

This December should see the first of several openings of the Hidden Gardens.

It is the brainchild of Angus Farquhar, director of the NVA Organisation (from the Latin for national active life), a Scottish company created to encourage pioneering artists to produce "Europe's greatest site specific events". He has brought together a team of artists, landscape designers and other professionals to develop Glasgow's new permanent public garden, which will be a place for pleasure, activity and the celebration of diverse cultural festivals.

"The surrounding area is rich in Scottish and Asian traditions," says Mr Farquhar. "The whole world is a storehouse of ideas. This will be a strong contemporary garden."

There will be a poetry platform and a subterranean garden. Sculpture and water are to be integral to the design. "We won't pretend this hasn't been an industrial site," says Mr Farquhar. "Though artists like Alec Finlay and Julie Brook will help to create a more natural feel, parts of the boiler house will remain and the chimney will be lit like a beacon.

"There'll be bird boxes, a polytunnel for vegetables and eventually, we hope, a hothouse. Local people will also be able grow herbs in raised beds."

Of the horticultural aspects, he says: "Staff of the botanic gardens in Edinburgh and Glasgow are keen to be involved in developing the planting philosophy."

Also eager to be in at ground level are the P6 and P7 pupils of Cuthbertson Primary. Before Easter, six children joined Jude Richardson, the NVA Organisation's consultant for the local education programme, in uprooting about 30 saplings from the site before the bulldozers moved in. Headteacher Marlene MacKinnon had the idea to dig up and save some of the plants on the site for them to be returned later.

Some of the young birches and willow trees are being cared for at Richmond Park school. Others are being tended by the biology club at Hutchesons' Grammar.

"At the end of July this becomes a construction site until December," says Mr Farquhar. "It's great that these children are removing the trees. The garden will be here for their whole lifetime, a place for people of all ages to learn."

At Pollokshields Primary and Victoria Primary, the Hidden Gardens are being incorporated into different curriculum projects.

"When I go into a school, I consult with staff to see what topics are planned," says Ms Richardson. "At Cuthbertson, the P7 project is conservation, while at Victoria they will be looking at local buildings and open space."

The Hidden Gardens will be an asset to the whole country. Wilma Eaton, an associate of the NVA Organisation, whose remit is the national education programme, says: "One opportunity for pupils all over Scotland is to contribute to The Almanac of Hidden Gardens, Plants and Special Places. This book of artwork and prose, printed on handmade paper, will have its home at the Hidden Gardens but can be taken elsewhere. The gardens are for everyone."

Ms Eaton plans to work with local authority arts link officers and says every school in Scotland should have details about the project before the end of term. "Look out for a leaf on the envelope."

For a virtual tour of the planned Hidden Gardens see www.nva.org.uk

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