Cross Sector Residency: Urban Greenspace

A residency for an artist to engage the community in the development of North Edinburgh Arts existing garden space in a creative and inspiring way, and using it as a springboard and example for the eventual redevelopment of the public realm across the area.


My CS fellowship is based at North Edinburgh Arts, but I live in London. Our SURGE policy – Small, Upcycle, Recycle, Grow, Energy – is live,  and as part of our plans (including our Big Lottery stage 2 grant application) I created a SURGE garden in my small walled garden. Here are photos from June 2011 to June 2012.

June 2011 – I plant seeds and source free containers

During a family reunion in Hawai’i in December 2009, I bought many packets of Kitazawa Seeds. Kitazawa is America’s oldest Asian seed specialist (esta 1917), and their products are superb.


I planted Kitazawa seeds, locally sourced seeds (basil, marjoram), and a packet of free salad leaf seeds I was sent by the BBC. I had the best fortune with Kitazawa especially Ryokuho (Chinese Kale) which overwintered without any special care, and Chrysanthemum Greens. I wasn’t able to crop anything from my British seeds except for the BBC leaf greens which grew rather well.

I found my planters by scouring east London streets for rubbish left on the pavement. Best find was two new wood veneer CD cabinets. I removed the shelves, drilled drainage holes (love my power tools! ;) and created two long planters. I found tubs, planters, a flat bottomed wire basket with legs,  and small grow pots on garden walls, rubbish bins etc. I bought soil which I augmented with worm castings and my compost heap, and two dozen orange plastic plant pots, but otherwise I spent very little money.


I found this bench on the pavement and sawed off the ends because they were riddled with rot. Makes a perfect grow bench that I moved in and out of the flat when night weather dipped too low for seedlings to survive outside.



I am a vegetarian. One of my favorite foods is Scottish Pease Porridge. I garnished this serving with Tamari Sauce and my home mixed Furikake.


July 2011




Roasted stuffed peppers baked in a really brilliant Japanese casserole pot. Wish I could remember the name of the village where they are made.


Beardy and Charlie try out the CD planter. They too are my found treasures. Lots of stray and feral cats in my area and I have rescued many – including a pregnant cat during the 2011 riots. Once her five kittens were old enough – all were successfully re-homed. Mum and two kittens went as a group to a good home. B & C are two of my core crew of four.



I crop my first Japanese leaves in early July and make a sandwich with beef tomato, Italian flat peach, roasted red pepper (with a black tail) and a nut cutlet. YUM!


My Japanese leaf crop thrives, and here I augment a vegetable stir fry with Ryokuho leaves.


By late July I can crop enough Japanese leaves to make a salad. Didn’t grow the tomatoes or avocado – those are purchased. I’ve sprinkled a seed mix on top. Extra virgin olive oil dressing.


My beautiful Japanese leaves are enhanced with a favourite – blueberries.

August 2011


Here is a delicacy Michelin chefs would love to get their hands on – the delicate white flowers of the Ryokuho plant. They are delicious.



I cropped free wild blackberries from the roof of the flat roofed garage that abuts my walled garden. I found the wooden mat on the street – the things ppl throw away!


I gathered a basket of apples from the gutter of a street not far from me. Very good and fresh. Look at the next photo I took of the homeowner’s garden – a food recycling bin full of apples. Shameful waste!



Late August salad. By now I’m getting a good mix of different types of leaves.

September/October 2011


Cute little caterpillar. I had quite a few baby white and monarch butterflies in my garden over the summer. I don’t use any toxic sprays inside my flat or in the garden. Quite a bit of leaf damage, but I’m ok with that and I don’t have the heart to kill anything either.

Autumn/Winter 2011


Still getting a reasonable amount of leaves – these are Japanese Chrysanthemum greens.


In the week of Christmas I cropped a multitude of flowers from my Ryokuho plants.

By February it’s cold enough to freeze water in the cat bowl, but my Ryokuho survive.



By March the yellow flower plant outside my window (no idea of the name) is in full bloom.

June 2012


First crop from the overwintered Ryokuho plants. They are brilliant, hardy plants and delicious.


We are at the end of my 2011-2012 SURGE garden review. My roses thrived this year too, and here are a few on top of my desk in front of one of my favourite thrift store finds – a 1950s era paint by number – said to be the largest and most complex of the kits sold during the boom years of paint by numbers.

Posted by Denna Jones


“BIG PROBLEM. ICELANDIC VOLCANO ERUPTION. Flights cancelled 2day. RING ME!” 03:49:11 on 15 April 2010

It was the middle of the night when this text arrived from Rowan Longhurst, the student coordinator (at that time) of the UK branch of ELASA – European Landscape Architecture Student Association.  The biggest and most disruptive volcanic event of the 21st century happened hours before international students were due to fly into Edinburgh for their conference which was kicking off at North Edinburgh Arts. I was lucky. Although I was due to travel within hours from London to Edinburgh, unlike thousands of travellers stranded at airports, I had a train ticket. It was chaos at Euston Station (and I could have trousered big bucks if I’d sold my golden ticket), but I was able to get to Edinburgh on time.

We’d been planning NEA’s Friday & Saturday Gala “Back To Basics” for months. Friday – aka Eyjafjallajökull Volcano Day – was when ELASA delegates were due to convene to landscape the shopping centre adjacent to NEA with the dozens of huge rolls of Lindum grassfelt turf loaned by the wonderful people at Lindum Turf in Yorkshire, sponsored by our friends at Credential Holdings, Glasgow.

Rowan and her colleague Nicholas Gruter were introduced to me by John Stuart-Murray, Head of Landscape Architecture at Edinburgh College of Art  who suggested ELASA might be exactly the right partners to help create a community landscaping event. He was right. Despite the volcano, despite not all the students being able to travel, despite everything – we pulled together and made the event a success. We did this through partnership and teamwork. Lindum Turf were amazing. Roger Moore of Lindum Turf dropped his plans for the day and drove to Edinburgh to make sure the event was a success. He even sculpted a volcano out of Lindum Turf as a focal point! The community gala the next day was in the landscaped space, and it too was a great success.

The point of this story (which precedes my tenure as a Creative Scotland Futures Fellow) is to demonstrate the type of strategic, positive thinking, teamwork and partnerships that are tenets of North Edinburgh Arts. These are the beliefs we’ve used to grow our thinking over the last year. The volcanic eruption didn’t discourage us, it did the opposite. It demonstrated we could overcome huge obstacles. And that is why now, two years later, North Edinburgh Arts is encouraging our community join us to make, build and grow. This is the ethos behind North Edinburgh Arts’ SURGE statement. And it is a direct outcome of a successful Creative Futures Fellowship.


Posted by Denna Jones

April 2011 – June 2012

My Creative Futures Fellowship with one of Edinburgh’s most creative and forward looking small arts organisations – North Edinburgh Arts – is coming to an end. I’ll recap what we’ve achieved in the last fourteen months, and what we plan for the future. Tomorrow I will upload a final entry of images from my London garden that demonstrates NEA’s SURGE strategy. My fellowship has been wonderful and we have achieved demonstrable, measurable outcomes.


The Creative Scotland Creative Futures tenure started with a challenge. How could NEA build sustainability into every aspect of our thinking and carry that thinking into our community and demonstrate it to partners? SURGE – Small, Upcycle, Recycle, Grow, Energy – was agreed by the Board as our sustainable policy. It embraces a “green” agenda for our garden and infrastructure,  but equally it is a holistic approach to managed, sustainable growth with our community and partners to include finances, forecasting and a five year plan.

Creating Shared Value

Our outlook is bold. In April 2011 we announced our new thinking in a double wide opinion piece I wrote for The Scotsman newspaper (available online or contact me or NEA for a PDF)


In an era of drastically reduced public and private sector financing for the arts, the piece recommends the adoption of “Shared Value” thinking, i.e. an evolution of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). The idea places arts organisations at peer level instead of pursuing the “begging bowl” idea of one way largesse. It equalises the relationship and explores how the arts organisation can bring real value to the funding partner. We have successfully implemented this thinking since 2010. One example is our discussions with NHS Lothian and their plans for a Partnership Centre adjacent to NEA. I researched their objectives and presented a plan which factors in “avoided costs” by shifting a percentage of their budget for cafeteria provision to NEA’s existing cafe. Win win. That’s Shared Value thinking.  One year after the piece above was published, I updated case studies and our progress for a second Scotsman article published May 2012.


“I wuz heer and it wuz good!”

Back to plans for the underdeveloped garden behind NEA. We applied for a Big Lottery Grant and were successful at stage one. We have a few more months to develop plans before our final submission is due Autumn 2012. Garden plans have been discussed with our community and we have also developed ideas that evolved from the hard and soft landscaping we reclaimed from the now demolished Craigroyston Community High School a few hundred yards from NEA. I scoped the boarded up school back in 2009, and sensing there was buried treasure, I lobbied City of Edinburgh Council to allow us to salvage. CEC backed our venture and provided in-kind support with their designated contractor Reigart Demolition. One feature we rescued was a wall of palm-sized terracotta plaques made by students in the 1980s. I wrote about the reclamation and our plans in the September 2011 Regeneration issue of Holyrood Magazine.



Mary Fraser Tytler Watts
Scottish designer & architect

The joyful inscriptions on the Craigroyston terracotta plaques inspired our community and NEA. We knew we wanted to include them in plans for the garden redevelopment, but how? Last summer I was invited on a Press Trip to the newly re-opened Watts Gallery in Surrey. The Gallery redesign is stunning but what captured my imagination is the story of how Watts’ wife – Mary Fraser Tytler Watts – plumbed a seam of clay beneath their property and created a sustainable terracotta enterprise (Compton Pottery) to train and employ the community. But she didn’t stop there. She designed and built Watts Chapel near the house/gallery, and directed the making of the hundreds of terracotta plaques by the community. Safe to say Watts Chapel is is the only Grade I listed building built as a community arts project.


This was my “ah ha!” moment. Could NEA adapt terracotta enterprise ideas from Watts Gallery and the Chapel? The image below is Watts Gallery’s in-house terracotta studio where classes are held for schoolchildren and adults.


A terracotta class was in progress during the Press Trip.


NEA and I discussed incorporating a studio space in our garden redevelopment, but the Watts visit sparked the idea of having two studio spaces. One to host a rolling programme of creatives (visual artists, performers, makers, builders, writers, geologists, astronomers, filmmakers etc), and a second for a permanent terracotta social enterprise. Coincidentally (or was it karma?) NEA Director Kate Wimpress knew the perfect candidate for the terracotta studio – Sandra Brown – a potter whose practice is near NEA.  Sandra is already pursuing a sustainable practice and she has identified local schools who use terracotta clay but can’t store it, and rather than throw it away will give Sandra the raw material. Classes are planned as well as a small social enterprise where – like Mary Watts who created a commercial pottery operation with the village -  we will discover how we can create sustainable and educational value in parallel with classes.


Above image shows examples of the type of pots creates by Compton Pottery (ca 1900 – 1955). The image below shows one of several terracotta plaques on the wall of Watts Gallery which celebrate local heroes and/or local memories.



Above is the Pugmill outside Watts Gallery.

While researching the adoption and adaptation of the Watts terrracotta enterprise model to NEA, I wrote a feature on the Chapel for the January 2012 issue of Ceramic Review.


As part of the second stage application to the Big Lottery I’ve achieved in-kind support from the UK’s oldest and best known manufacturer and restorer of architectural terracotta Shaws of Darwen (Lancashire). They are providing in-house support, tour, etc for Sandra Brown and her assistant on a 2012 date to be agreed.

Seems there’s so much more to share, but I will finish by saying we’ve recently partnered with Lachlan Stewart of Anta Architects to visualise the garden design for the second stage submission to the Big Lottery.  I’m thrilled NEA will be working with Lachlan and not just because Anta’s SAVE thinking (Sustainable, Affordable, Vernacular, Ecological) is in tune with NEA’s SURGE , (nor because I’m a fan of Anta textiles and interior designs), but because Lachlan and his architect sons love small vernacular huts and hand built one for his parents as described below in a feature by Jenny McBain in The Scotsman, April 2012.


So that’s all for now. More tomorrow with my final upload of NEA’s London SURGE garden!

Posted by Denna Jones



My first post is an introduction to the way I’m working with the wonderful folk at North Edinburgh Arts, the community and our many public and private partners who are all working to achieve positive change in the physical environment of Muirhouse and Pennywell.

I’ve worked on many urban regeneration projects around the UK, and am currently working with North Edinburgh Arts in Muirhouse as a Creative Futures Fellow allied to the urban regeneration of Muirhouse and Pennywell led by the City of Edinburgh’s 21st Century New Homes scheme. My title shifts from Artist Master planner, to Resident Curator to Creative Consultant, but three prerequisites for these urban regeneration posts remain unchanged:


Regeneration involves many partners. It takes years. Deadlines shift. Political change delays progress. Diaries clash. All manner of circumstances can prolong urban change. Adam Marshall of the British Chamber of Commerce was quoted in The Observer newspaper in May 2011.

“This is the story of regeneration through the ages: it takes vision and time, and it takes a partnership between business and the public sector to make it happen, but political and budgetary timescales don’t always match that.”

A constant challenge when affiliating artists or creatives with urban regeneration projects is the mismatch of timescales, and the need of many arts agencies to put a fixed time frame on spending project grants. This is why – as is happening with North Edinburgh Arts – it’s wiser to let the creative practitioner create and implement short and long term strategy allied to the regeneration goals, rather than insist on permanent physical outcome (e.g. a piece of public art).


I recently wrote a feature for the January issue of Ceramic Review on the creation of the Grade 1 listed Watts Chapel in Compton, Surrey. It was the vision of artist and architect Mary Seton Fraser Tytler Watts who was raised at Aldourie, on the shores of Loch Ness, and moved to Surrey a few years after marrying the (then) famous Victorian painter GF Watts.

It’s accurate to describe her small Chapel as the only UK Grade 1 listed building created as a community art project. Think about that. The only way to gather a community of varying talent, motivation and availability is through single-minded vision. Mary had that. She designed the brick Chapel, decided it would be faced with terracotta plaques, and built a pottery. The critical component – the idea that allowed her to maintain a vision while allowing individual creativity – was she was the lead designer and each terracotta form was her design. Yet she managed to make each villager feel ownership of the building (and thanked each one in a publication), and carried that ownership over to the nearby Watts Gallery where individual terracotta plaques celebrate the wonderful idiosyncrasies of life in Compton.


Vision and compromise do not cancel each other out. A visionary strategist knows which battles to fight and which to let go so they maintain the overall vision and reach their goal. There’s also the business strategy of going into your meeting with “objectives” you will surrender when negotiations get tough. But only you will know that these objectives were red herrings. They are there to distract others from your true objectives. And I’ll bet Mary acquiesced at times with the myriad villagers and colleagues who worked with her to achieve the Chapel. But only she knows where those compromises took place. It’s certainly not evident looking at her Chapel.

So now you know a bit about how our partnership works. In my next post I’ll describe how I used my small walled London garden as a bit of a laboratory this summer for ideas we may implement in the renewal of the garden behind North Edinburgh Arts. Was my laboratory a success? Well come back in a few days to find out, but let’s just say I’m not going to make a living as an urban farmer. Green fingers, yes, but too soft hearted when it comes to wee caterpillars . . .

Posted by Denna Jones