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Diary of a Rusty Bucket


It ain’t pretty, but it’s ours.

For months, I’d been asking the Council if I could look after the Arthur Street corten steel planter. As far as rusty buckets were concerned, it was one of the better ones. It helps to block the end of Arthur Street, and being in the middle of a street, gets good sun each day. Not too much rubbish gets dumped in it, as it’s right next to some bins, and away from the bustle of Leith Walk. It was a pocket of green in a growing sea of concrete.

Then on Friday 10 May I got an email from Edinburgh Reporter asking for my comment on the fact the tram planters on Leith Walk were going to be removed due to graffiti and litter problems. Flabbergasted, I pondered the situation… If they took away the planters, would we have any of the promised landscaping? Any green? Any trees for Leith Walk? I had to act.

Monday 13 May

I tweeted all and sundry that Griffen Fitness would like to adopt a planter. I had sunflower seedlings at the ready.

Cllr Scott Arthur requested an email and I pinged off a planter proposal. Unbelievably, within 24 hours, I received the magic email:

‘Thank you for looking after the planter on Arthur Street – very happy to leave in place if you are happy to continue to look after it. And, as you say, it blocks off Arthur Street to through traffic’.

Cue happy dancing.

Tuesday 21 May

All the chickweed was weeded out of the planter. It looked worse than it was – a few plants that had grown tall looking for light as the soil level was so low. I tried digging it. Rock hard. Hardened clay interspersed with gravel. No way I could pop those sunflowers in, yet. This job was going to be bigger than anticipated.

Wednesday 22 May

‘Operation Soil Improvement’ put into place. A wee sprinkle of garden lime to start, then covering front half of planter with recycled black plastic compost bags, pegged down, to suppress weeds. The back half had partly-decomposed lawn clippings spread on.

Thursday 23 May

Heavy rain all day and municipal planter got a good drink. I tried scratching at the soil, it slightly more friable when soggy, but a stiff and icky growing medium. Some bags of peat-free compost will be required. And more lawn clippings.

Saturday 25 May

The big day, lifted the plastic, and added another layer of lawn clippings then 3 bags of soil improver on top. Ready to plant. There was an eclectic mix of plants already in the planter that weren’t weeds: an unbroken maple tree (Acer platanoide), seven municipal silver leaf evergreens (Brachyglottis greyi), three mahoosive thistles (Cirsium vulgare), a couple of lilies (Lilium) and what looked like a curcubit plant.

Keeping up the random selection of planting, I added teasels (Dipsacus sylvestris) as birds love the seeds, self-seeded buddleia (Buddleja davidii) also known as butterfly bush, nastursium seedlings (edible flowers and leaves) and some Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) as it seemed appropriate that the local fitness studio planted spinach.

Got chatting with Sandra who’s lived behind me for nearly 20 years, but we’d never introduced ourselves. Next thing, she’s bringing her two houseplants out for me to see – they were very healthy.

I also got chatting to a neighbour and his Mum, wearing matching hot pink wool jumpers: they often sit outside Artisan Café across the road. And it’s amazing how much gossip you can catch up with when gardening.

Sunday 26 May

Couldn’t resist scattering some California poppy seeds (Eschscholzia californica) for bright orange flowers and adding spearmint (Menta spicata). Then emailing the Council to let them know it’s planted up and not to remove it.

During the final week of May clients and neighbours offered plants. We’d take them all, we decided. With the golden rule that all plants had to be free or grown from seed, so it wouldn’t matter if they didn’t survive.

In celebration of Leith Festival, early June we added more plants: Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), honesty (Lunaria annua), poppies (Papaver) and a sprinkle of out-of-date radish seeds, variety Flamboyant 3.

Chatting with the beardy man with chihuahua, who I’ve known for nearly a decade (no idea of his name!) we agreed height was of the utmost importance. The straggly acer needed company up high. So four giant sunflowers (Helianthus) were popped in. They’d been growing nicely in the studio front window, it was their time to go outside.

The great thing about a metal planter is that slugs molluscs will not touch it. I was confident they’d grow better than the sunflower seedings at the allotment, that had been completely decimated by slugs during the rainy spell.

Any municipal landscaping needs regular maintenance. Not hours of work, but a check every day or so, and a watering can in hot weather. You can’t just plant something, leave it, and hope for the best.

So the brutalist rusty planters were destined for failure.

At the time of writing, on Leith Gala day weekend, all planters are still on Leith Walk, some apparently destined for community gardens.

Who knows what will happen? There’s never a dull moment on Leith Walk… ■

X: @tracygriffen

Tracy’s planter has just been seeded, so here’s one on Constitution St in full bloom

I tweeted all and sundry that Griffen Fitness would like to adopt a planter



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