Category Archives: People

Edible flowers, a beginners guide

We grown mixed leaf salad here in the Gairden and its been getting good reviews from our customers at the Greens To Go stall,
“Recommend the veggies from Jock Tamson’s, the salad leaves were not only delicious but had flower petals, so wonderful for presentation. Will be doing this again”.
Nothing looks nicer with salad than a colourful sprinkling of edible flowers, and many contain vitamins, so we try to grow as many varieties as possible; the bed also makes for a glorious view from our Bothy at tea-break time.

I’ve always enjoyed growing things that are unusual enough to catch the eye and to entice people to eat things that they might never have considered before. This started for me when I was gardening at the Camas Outdoor Centre on Mull where part of the job was to entice young people to try eating veg when many of them were highly suspicious of anything green. Actually showing them a tomato growing in the polytunnel, for example, was enough to reel them in.

All of the flowers described here are very easy to grow and can mostly be started in modules in a cold frame or sown direct. All of the seeds are readily available, cheap to buy and easy to collect after the plants have flowered. I hope you’ll try your hand at your own edible flower border.

Calendula (calendula officinalis)

Also known as the ‘pot marigold’ this lovely daisy-like bloom comes in a variety of bright yellows and oranges. This hardy annual is very easy to grow and will readily set seeds for next year which means you’ll find lots of wee seedlings appearing in the bed the following year. Just gently pull off the seedlings and sprinkle over your salad or put a couple of whole flowers on the side of your head. Calendula also has several medicinal uses but I’ll leave that to you to research yourself. Modelling the Calendula today is one of our fabulous hard-working Gairden volunteers.

Clary sage (salvia sclarea)

Modelled for us here by another marvellous volunteer – he leaves us all standing when it comes to digging power! He is always cheerful, despite claiming that he never smiles for photos….
Clary is a tri-coloured beauty and a member of the sage family but doesn’t have the same in-your-face smell as its common cousin. The colourful parts are actually bracts whilst the flowers are tiny and white. This one has a long history with its medicinal uses being mentioned by Pliny. A short-lived perennial, it is best grown as hardy annual and either started off in a cold frame or sown directly; it soon grows a glorious display of colours.
Btw, the name ‘clary’ originates from the practise of using the sticky seeds to remove foreign object from the eyes and hence help you to see ‘clearly’. While that’s a fascinating bit of etymology, I wouldn’t recommend trying this at home, no really – use water!

Nasturtiums (tropaeolum majus)

I nabbed the Rev Jim Jack whilst he was passing because I reckoned his blue clerical shirt would show these little beauties off to their best advantage. These are truly marvellous plants with so many uses – just grow them for their cheerfulness alone. All parts of the plant are edible: the flowers, the leaves (full of vitamin C) and the seeds (which can be pickled and used as a substitute for capers.) They attract beneficial insects such as bees; their strong scent repels certain pests and they can also be used as a sacrificial crop to encourage cabbage white butterflies to lay their eggs on their leaves and not on your brassica crops. ‘
They come in all sorts of bright colours, traditionally yellows and oranges but have a look for ‘Baby Rose’ a newer variety – a deep pink-red that looks fabulous in the salad . The various varieties also provide a range of leaf colours: dark blue ‘Blue Pepe’ to white/green variegation ‘Alaska Mixed’. They prefer poor soil – or else they’ll put a lot of effort into growing masses of leaves – so mix some of last years spent container compost in with the new stuff.
Incidentally their name – tropaeolum comes from the Greek ‘tropaion’ (a trophy) where the flowers were originally used for the trunk of a trees where the shields and helmets of a defeated army were hung: the leaves resembling the shields and the flowers the helmets. Who’d have thought this innocent wee blossom would have such a gruesome association?

Hollyhock (althaea rosea)

This one is modelled for us by the volunteer you’re most likely to find concealed behind the jungle-like growth in the polytunnel, we think she enjoys the heat in there. This flower is an absolute big show-off! It comes in a huge variety of colours and can reach up to eight feet tall. It’s a short-lived perennial, so best grown as an annual, but will readily self-seed around the bed. All parts of the plant are edible and it has numerous medicinal uses. Just one of these big fancy blooms will enhance any plate, transforming a run of the mill dinner into a tropical delight….probably best with something fancier than mince and tatties though.
The name hollyhock – is said to come from the ‘holy’ land where the petals were used as a poultice on the ‘hocks’ of injured horses during the crusades. Jings, these flowers and their military origins.

Viola (viola tricolour)

Shown here by another volunteer who claims not to smile for photos, I don’t know so much about that, but I do know that his cheery banter makes us all laugh a lot. This wee flower is, in my opinion, the prettiest of all small garden flowers with many varieties providing a great range of delicate colour. It’s a perennial but often looks quite scruffy by the end of the season so grow it as an annual starting the seeds under glass before hardening off and planting out. It will readily self-seed too. Again, this one has a wide range of medicinal properties one of which giving it the common name ‘Heart’ ease’ because a brew containing the flowers was thought to ease a broken heart: hmm, don’t’ try this one at home.
The flowers will make any salad or dish look very posh indeed. There are lots of varieties to try, I’d recommend ‘Jump up Johnny’ and ‘Chickychicks’.

Borage (borago officinalis)

Modelled for us by a visitor to the garden who I met whilst she sorting out her wee boy’s shoe laces whilst cradling her new baby. I first met this lovely woman when she and her husband were celebrating their wedding in the Garden Room a few years back.
This prolific plant gets its name from latin ‘burro – a hairy garment’, describing the furry, slightly jaggy leaves. Both the blue and the white varieties are hugely attractive to bees and therefore encourage pollination in your garden. Top tip: when you’re picking the flowers, take care to shake the plant first to make sure you don’t get stung – I speak from personal experience here.
Again, this one has many medicinal uses with its most famous being ‘Starflower Oil’ – widely available to purchase, it is full of gamma linolenic acid which helps regulate hormones – for all you premenstrual and menopausal folks out there.
As well as looking fab in the salad, you can also set the flowers in ice cube trays for adding to drinks.
This is a hardy annual and is very easy to grow. Caution: will self-seed like mad – pull it out if it’s in the way or leave the odd one to act as a pollinator amongst other crops.

Sunflower (Heliantus anuus)

Here we have Claudia from Dr Neil’s Garden demonstrating that these are truly edible. The helio (sun) anthus (flower) gets its name from its bold good looks and from the fact that it is heliotropic, i.e. throughout the day the flowers turn their heads to follow the sun’s journey across the skies. Add to salads and garnishes by pulling the petals gently from the flower. Leave the heads on the plant to produce seeds to sow next season or to provide food for the birds. This one comes in a variety of colours ranging from the classic yellow all the way through oranges and reds to browns. Brown flowers? Really? I always associate them with 70’s wallpaper.
Originally cultivated as a crop by the indigenous people of North America, the sunflower is now widely grown for the production of oil. They are also widely grown in gardens the length and breadth of the nation, in fact I think it might be illegal not to grow them in a community garden.

The edible flower bed was built by our team of volunteers who made many, many trips across the field with loaded wheelbarrows. A huge thanks to Edinburgh University’s Edinburgh Local Community Grant Scheme for their donation which made the construction of the edible flower bed possible.

Lizz, project manager

Childhood memories

Seeing the abundance of crops in Jock Tamson’s Gairden at the moment brings back a happy childhood memory for one of our trustees:

Flowers in the Glebe
Flowers in the Glebe

When I was a wee boy my mother used to give us (me, sister & brother) a big basket of peas to shell and a bowl for the pods and one for the peas and we would sit  on the kitchen doorstep in the morning sun. 

Vegetables flourish in the Polytunnel

My mother told us that while we were shelling peas we had to keep whistling, no matter what, because it bought good luck. 

Not peas, but potatoes.

So we would go out and think it was hilarious and we would happily shell peas and whistle and giggle and if we stopped whistling my mother would shout “ don’t stop the lovely whistling” so we whistle and giggled some more and had lots of yummy fresh peas at lunchtime. 

It was years before I realised that you can’t whistle and eat peas at the same time. 🙂

Blooming in Jock Tamson’s Gairden

Editors note: This is also the reason why on sailing ships in days of yore the cook was the only one allowed to whistle!

Trustees at work

Trustees at work

The trustees recently had a development day in order to learn more about what is involved in being a trustee and to consider future plans.

We met in the Gairden and the sun came and went throughout the day, but we stayed warm and were able to have a very convivial and constructive session.

It was a delight to be in the Gairden and see how much growth there has been recently.

Herb garden

The recently planted herb garden, including many varieties of mint, sage and much more. This was just tiny seedlings a few weeks ago.

Jock Tamson

A bit more information on John Thomson – better known as Jock Tamson in his native tongue.

Jock Tamson
Portrait of The Reverend John Thomson, Minister of Duddingston (oil on canvas) by Raeburn, Sir Henry (1756-1823) oil on canvas 75.5×63.5 Private Collection © Christie’s Images Scottish, out of copyright.

John was born to a minister, Rev. Thomas Thomson, in Dailly, a small village in Ayrshire. Early on his father decided that John should follow him into the ministry. However, John was not of a mind to do this and much preferred drawing and wanted to become an artist. This desire fell on deaf ears and therefore he started studying for the ministry at Edinburgh University. This turned out to be an advantage as the city provided an opportunity to gain more knowledge of the arts. One of the leading artists then was Alexander Nasmyth with whom John became acquainted and studied under for a while. Examples of both their works can be seen in Roslyn Chapel and the National Galleries of Scotland.

John’s father died in 1800 when John was only 21 and he returned to Dailly to succeed his father as minister. This turned out to be a big mistake as neither John or his parishioners were happy with the situation as it was obvious that he preferred painting to the ministry and this secluded village in Ayrshire wasn’t the place for him. His artistic leanings also meant that he had a sense of humour which did not go down well when leading his congregation. By 1805 things had reached a stage where it was better for him to leave Dailly and he headed to Edinburgh to continue his ministry at Duddingston Kirk. It was noted, however, that at no time did he neglect parish in either location. At Duddingston he was able to fulfil both his pastoral duties but also indulge his love of painting in the beautiful location of the manse looking out across the loch.

There is the famous tale of him converting the upper floor of the tower on the loch shore into an artist’s studio which he named ‘Edinburgh’ – that meant, with a clear conscience, he could leave a note for his housekeeper to tell any visiting parishioner that he had gone to Edinburgh, meaning he was undisturbed!

Over the next years he became an established artist and his sales of painting brought him an income well beyond his stipend. He was also an accomplished musician and entertained many celebrities of the day at the manse.

He died in 1840 at a manse window overlooking the loch.

Thomson's Tower
A view of Duddingston Loch from the Manse

Since then, Duddingston Kirk has been blessed with a long list of able clergymen continuing John’s good work.


We are always happy to welcome you to the Gairden and to have a chat with you, so please feel free to approach our volunteers on site.
We’ve had a huge number of people asking about volunteering -especially after the end of lockdown so we’re in the happy position of having a full team of helpers at the moment.
There will be spaces available as the year progresses so please let me know if you’d like me to add your name to the waiting list.
Message us using the contact page. Please be sure to put volunteering in the subject
Lizz Spence, Manager Jock Tamson’s Gairden

Duddingston Kirk Garden Club

As I peer out the window rain is expected, which will please gardeners after a long dry spell. As you will see the Duddingston Kirk Garden Club plant sale is returning on Saturday.

So you can get your bedding and other plants.

Also Lizz from Jock Tamsons Gairden and some Trustees will be around to talk about all the exciting things we have going.
An unmissable occasion I’m sure you will agree!

Duddingston Kirk Garden Club

How ‘Jock’ got his name.

On the first of September 2020, OSCR awarded charitable status to Jock Tamson’s Gairden;  two hundred and forty two years before that,  on the very same day,  Mary Hay of Dailly in Ayrshire gave birth to her fourth son, one John Thomson. 

Jock Tamson
John Thomson (Jock Tamson)

When John grew up he followed in his father’s footsteps and became a Church of Scotland minister and later Duddingston’s most famous resident. He served here for thirty-five years as a greatly respected parish minister, much beloved of his congregation.  One story exemplifies his kindness:  upon apprehending a thief making off with a quantity of linen which had been laid out to bleach on the Glebe, Thomson took the unfortunate man back to the Manse for interrogation.  After delivering  a stern lecture on the error of the man’s ways, Thomson gave him a  hearty meal and sent him on his way with money in his pockets.

Thomson learned the rudiments of painting from the village carpenter when he was a child and later took lessons under Alexander Naysmith, the celebrated Scottish landscapist.  His love of painting led  him to spend hours in his studio which later became the Playfair-designed building known as the Thomson Tower – it stands next to the Loch in Dr Neil’s Garden.  As well as a studio, it became an emotional refuge for him when his wife, Isabella Ramsay died.  The story I was told was that Thomson’s friends took one of his paintings to a gallery in the town and that it was purchased by a widow called Frances Ingram Spence.  When he and Spence later married they each brought  five children from their first marriages to live in the Manse, then went on to have four offspringof their own.  When the second Mrs Thomson introduced the children to visitors, she’d say, “Those are my family, and those are John’s, but these are ours.”  Then Thomson would say, “they’re a’ Jock Tamson’s Bains”.  I’d love to believe that story was the origin of the saying and that we could truly lay claim to the original Jock Tamson, but several other parts of Scotland claim him and to argue would be to go against the egalitarian spirit of the expression,  we’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns.  By the way, if you’re unfamiliar with the phrase it means:   we are all the same under the skin….if that still doesn’t clear it up, ask your mammy to explain.

It took the interpretative boards in the present-day Thomson tower before the connection dawned on me and it was a real revelation.  That’s when I decided that the Glebe must have a garden to commemorate Duddingston’s most famous resident and to honour the egalitarian spirit of the saying.  That’s how Jock Tamson’s Gairden began, and how, four years on you can actually go and sit it in it.   I hope you do – take a flask and a picnic, take your pals, take your bairns – enjoy the gorgeous view out over the Loch. 

Wee Jock Tamsons Gairden
Wee Jock Tamsons Gairden

From the wee gairden by the loch, came the big JOCK TAMSON’S GAIRDEN which is the name chosen by the Trustees when they came to form the charity to take forward the work done by the Glebe Project.  They thought it said a lot about what we’re about here:  Jock Tamson’s Gairden – a garden for everyone to enjoy.

Lizz Spence, Jock Tamson’s Gairden Manager
January 2021

Lizz Spence

P.S. lots of planning, heavy-lifting, digging, sawing and sweating went into our lovely wee garden, so check back here soon for stories and photographs telling that tale.

JTG sign

Tales of a volunteer

Dr Jack assists
The Rev Dr James Jack is always willing to lend a hand

A few thoughts from one of our wonderful volunteers:

I recently retired and was looking for volunteering particularly something completely different from my working life.  I applied to Jock Tamsons Gairden and have been going weekly now for about a year and a half.  My gardening skills are limited, however I can say that I absolutely love my days at the garden, I have learned so many new skills and have been encouraged to tackle a variety of jobs always within my capabilities.  

Building the seat
Building the seat, which gives a lovely view over the loch. A grand spot for reflection or to share company

I have met so many interesting people from such a wide variety of backgrounds.  My mother died a couple of years ago and I have found my weekly visits therapeutic in the peaceful setting beside Duddingston Kirk looking out onto Duddingston Loch.  I really enjoy meeting the people who use the garden for activities, volunteering or just to soak in the quiet peaceful atmosphere. I consider Lizz and many of the volunteers as friends who provide laughter and support especially during the last few difficult months.  

The volunteers are at the heart of Jock Tamsons Gairden

One thing I have loved is seeing the changes in the garden not only with every season but with the projects as they develop.  I feel proud to be a volunteer at the Glebe.

Fiona Scott.