Birds suddenly appear
Glasgow’s Hidden Gardens is one of the most tranquil, enchanting spots in the city. Calum Ritchie finds out about a new way to get more out of your solitude.
The Hidden Gardens, tucked away behind Tramway, may have been open for five years, but many people aren’t aware of the rich cultural history that’s entrenched in the foundations of the site and built into its design.
‘When the Gardens opened, we deliberately tried to keep them as sign-free as possible,’ says general manager Linda Macdonald. ‘ We were determined to keep physical information to a minimum so that people could make their own way round and create their own experience of the place, rather than being bombarded by botanical signs and instructive notices every couple of steps. A lot of the detail, design and ethos underpinning the Gardens is hidden, though, and people were coming up to the staff and asking us more and more.’
Lovingly, and with proper reverence for the site, the staff have put together a comprehensive new audio guide to the Gardens, with money from the BBC’s Breathing Place scheme, and by the Scottish Arts Council. Unlike the usual tourist headphone sets, the Hidden Gardens Audio Guide features poetry, botany and birdsong.
‘There’s a range of information on there,’ says Macdonald. ‘We start off with the history of the site – it housed illegal coal mines and was used as a plant nursery before being co-opted into Tramway in the late 1980s. Each visitor gets a map, so they can still create exactly the sort of experience they want, just with a bit more information.
‘It talks a lot about the art works on site, too – when the Gardens were first designed we had a number of artists like Gerry Loose and Stephen Skrynka create site-specific art works that are so well integrated into the site, I’m not sure whether a lot of people actually realise that they’re actually art!’
There’s also a reading of The Parliament of the Birds, the poem Glasgow writer Suhayl Saadi created for the opening of the Gardens, and recordings of ten of the most common bird sounds that can be heard in the trees, too,’ says Macdonald. ‘We want to encourage people to become small-scale twitchers!’
Saadi himself, a long time friend of the Gardens, was the first visitor to try out the audio guide.
‘I used to come here as a child to the Transport Museum that’s now at Kelvingrove,’ he said, in his review of the new initiative. ‘The past is all around you, it builds into the present – and that comes out in the Guide, but in a very laidback way.
‘Listening to the Guide, there was lots about the Gardens I’d forgotten, and some new things that I wasn’t aware of. The feeling you get here is one of energy and wellbeing; a certain seam of Glasgow culture.’
The free Audio Guides are available from the Hidden Gardens at Tramway, 25 Albert Drive Glasgow. For more info, see www.thehiddengardens.org.uk or call 433 2722