The lovely Queen Street Gardens on the south side of the street were laid out more than a decade after the buildings were finished. Until then the land was in mixed ownership and use. Part of it was used as a bleaching or drying green and Elizabeth Grant who stayed at Number 4 in 1817 saw washerwomen working there.

In 1822 an Act of Parliament still in force today brought together the land and provided for the laying out, upkeep and protection of the gardens. All proprietors in Heriot Row and Queen Street opposite own the land jointly, have access, and collectively cover the maintenance costs. This is an interesting early example of what has come to be known as a community buyout. People who live in adjoining streets can rent keys so that they too enjoy the gardens' tranquillity. Office workers and nursery children based in Queen Street also enjoy them.

The gardens facing the eastern section of Heriot Row were designed by Andrew Wilson, a landscape artist who had lived for some time in Italy. He was involved at Hopetoun House in West Lothian, both in the landscaping and the buying of major works of art.  He received financial aid at one stage from the Spalding Bequest.

He matched the palace front of Heriot Row with a small version of a romantic landscape, using the natural valley, winding paths and the pond with its island. The gardens' privacy was protected by planting tall trees at its edges. Wilson even designed a folly - a small Grecian temple, built at a cost of £47. The pond had had a previous life as Farmer Wood's cattle pond. Its island is reputed to be an inspiration for Treasure Island, since Robert Louis Stevenson spent many hours in the garden during his childhood living at Number 17. There is also a nissan hut dating from the Second World War.

In 1867 the Scotsman described the two Queen Street gardens facing on to Heriot Row. "The western division, laid out in park-like style, though now a little over-grown, on the whole combines very well a certain feeling of interior privacy with fine peeps of grassy slopes from outside the railings. The central area.... is a complete specimen of exclusiveness; even in winter its interior is a sealed book, the encompassing line of trees and shrubs being all but impenetrable.".

 

The gardens are a green lung for a street so near to Edinburgh's city centre. Informal in layout with small paths, trees and bushes, they provide plenty of space and hiding places for children and are referred to fondly in most childhood recollections by street residents. They support a variety of wildlife - squirrels, garden birds, nesting ducks and passing foxes. Dogs are walked there and cats wander.

The full story of the gardens can be read in The Edinburgh New Town Gardens 'Blessings as well as Beauties' by Connie Byrom (Birlinn).

Informal in layout with small paths, trees and bushes, they provide plenty of space and hiding places for children