Near the top of Glasgow’s historic and forsaken High Street, a long desiderated re-birth is evolving. Not far up from Provand’s Lordship on a patch of scrub lying between the mural of St Mungo the hipster and the Barony Hall a little walled garden seems suddenly to have appeared.

Welcome to the Greyfriars Biophilic Community Garden, a vision of arboreal splendour that’s been 10 years in the making.
Yet, to describe this merely as a ‘community garden’ is to risk underplaying its much wider significance. It represents, perhaps, the first tangible evidence that Glasgow’s most culturally significant street is receiving the love that it’s been too long denied.
Inside this walled Eden are 56 raised beds made of compacted wood where collections of flowers, herbs, fruit and vegetables are providing this end of the town with a vibrant wee eco-system. It represents one of those rare occasions when the aspirations of local residents dovetail with civic and academic dominions to create something rather wonderful.
The Greyfriars Garden is a partnership between Glasgow City Council and local community groups from the Merchant City; the High Street; the Drygate and the Trongate. And by the way; biophilic means humans interacting with nature. So now you know.

The Herald: Greyfriars Garden - Ian Hougton and Mary Jane Albert. Photo by Colin Mearns.Greyfriars Garden - Ian Hougton and Mary Jane Albert. Photo by Colin Mearns. (Image: Newsquest)
Irene Graham, who sits on the residents committee which undertakes the day-to-day running of the garden is showing me round her own plot. It makes me think there should be a Glasgow version of Beechgrove Garden, but with better patter and maybe a hint of jeopardy.
Here, there are enough Brussels sprouts to keep an entire street regular over Christmas, an abundance of peppers and runner beans in pods that look like chibs. And did I mention the cabbage the size of a triffid? And those black grapes from the Middle East, taken directly from an oasis in the Syrian desert?

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I’m not kidding you. They belong to a Syrian woman called Jasmine who brought them here along with some fruit seeds native to her own ancient land.
Next, I’m taking pictures of four goldfinches who’ve rocked up for a nibble from the hanging birdseed baskets. There are sunflowers the size of banjos.
You can get carried away here. Who needs the Chelsea Flower Show when we’ve got this? There’s a miniature eco-system developing here. And I’m imagining Carol Kirkwood presenting the weather from here on BBC Breakfast.
“Could we not just slap on a few wee compulsory purchase orders on some of the other land lying empty across the city,” I beseech Paul, the City Council officer who’s overseeing our visit and getting slightly nervous. And could we not organise an annual Glasgow Flower Show in the Dear Green Place? There must be hundreds of scraps of unused or derelict land around the city that could be re-purposed this way.

The Herald:  Greyfriars Biophilic Garden on the High Street, Glasgow. From left- Yas Mawer, Irene Graham and Sinead Price-Green. Photograph by Colin Mearns. Greyfriars Biophilic Garden on the High Street, Glasgow. From left- Yas Mawer, Irene Graham and Sinead Price-Green. Photograph by Colin Mearns. (Image: Newsquest)
We talk about the walls across the road, part of what remains of the old Duke Street Prison where the last hanging took place in August 1928, one George Reynolds being executed for murder.
For a few minutes, me and Colin Mearns, the Herald photographer, had been mooching about the place, looking for the way in. We were spotted by Matt, who lives in the flats across the street. And so, he popped down to open the garden gate. “It’s not that we don’t want people in, just that we want to ensure that the beds are protected from any vandalism. We plan to have a few open days, so that as many people as possible can see it.”
He and his son had also built a small, paved pathway outside the north end of the garden. “It just helps to give it a welcoming feel,” he says.
THIS has been 10 years in the making. Some of the gardeners had plots at nearby Shuttle Street.
“We were always on a temporary site owned by Scottish Enterprise and leased from the Council down at Shuttle Street,” says Ms Graham. “We moved there in 2012. The original idea was a three-year renewable lease, but it was always subject to development. And then for about five years, Structured House Development, the property and land group, had a proposal under which our garden would have to disappear.
“So, for five years we’ve been looking at other sites. This was the only site that the Council could see which was within the locality. We knew what worked in our old garden and what didn’t work.
“We’d also met with the architect students from Strathclyde University. They produced some designs; we took what we liked and then presented them to the Council and their own architect came up with this.”

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Most of the money came from the Council’s Vacant and Derelict Land fund. And as it’s not for commercial use, no VAT applies to it.”
Veronica Low, Chair of the Greyfriars Community Garden arrives to join us. “It’s brought people together,” she says. “And you can sense real community pride here. This will help give the High Street the boost it badly needs. What a nice take away for tourists visiting Glasgow’s historic quarter - a fabulous sensory garden brimming with biodiversity and friendly gardeners.
“Something that strikes me about growing food together is that no one ever asks you what you do. Food growers are only interested in what you’re growing and they want to learn from and help each other. Working in the garden is a great leveller. There’s no room for egos.
“More importantly, having a beautiful natural space on your doorstep is empowering for local people. And that’s really what it’s about. Because access to nature is an equalities issue. Hopefully this is the start of more biophilic gardens around Glasgow.”
Already I’m thinking about the large gap-site on Sauchiehall Street, which has lain derelict since the fire that burnt the old Victoria’s night-club.
In the course of an hour, around a dozen people have stopped to take a peek through the fence. All of them are invited in and given a mini guided tour. Today, there are a couple from Chorley in Lancashire and another from Australia.
Irene Graham says: “In the three days since the garden opened we’ve had visitors from Colombia, Chile, France and Germany and we’ve had several from London who tell us what they’re doing down there.”
SIX years ago I’d written about the High Street and how it had seemed that Glasgow City Council was letting it run down. Local shopkeepers had told of being pressurised to quit their premises amidst steeper rents and essential being neglected. The Old College Bar, Glasgow’s oldest tavern was also under threat. It’s since been demolished after a fire. Fancy that, eh?
Strathclyde University seemed to have annexed this area with its vast student accommodation blocks: featureless and charmless, brick portacabins.
More than a dozen shop fronts lay empty beneath tenements considered to be among the finest of their kind in Europe. All this in a street that’s home to Glasgow Cathedral, Glasgow Green, the Necropolis, Provand's Lordship, the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art and the Tollbooth Steeple,
Now though, the 6,000 residents who live in the streets around here are hopeful that the Council’s High Street area strategy, four years in the making, will begin to deliver. It was created to address the criminal neglect of this magnificent boulevard.

The Herald: A Goldfinch sits on a branch of a tree in the Greyfriars Biophilic Garden on the High Street, Glasgow. Photograph by Colin Mearns.A Goldfinch sits on a branch of a tree in the Greyfriars Biophilic Garden on the High Street, Glasgow. Photograph by Colin Mearns. (Image: Newsquest)
It envisaged the preservation of the High Street’s built finery and establishing a Heritage Trail to highlight the architectural and historic jewels which adorn it. There was to be an initiative to re-purpose all those vacant shop units into positive use and to support shopfront improvements.
There’s been a two-year moratorium on rent increases for tenants in the upper High Street and Saltmarket and an initiative aimed at improving engagement with tenants and local businesses.
The Covid pandemic obviously cut a large chunk out of that timeline and you’d hope that the strategy will continue for a few more years yet. Many shopfronts remain empty and one young couple I spoke with last week talked about how their attempts to take over a vacant shop space had simply been brushed off. They’ve now lost patience and plan to open their craft beer and wine shop on the other side of the river.
This garden though, is the first real tangible sign that regeneration is happening. But there’s still a long, long way to go.