Tenement gardening

We all know gardening is good for our own physical and mental health - but did you know it’s also good for your tenement’s health? These four stories will tell you how good. And there are hints and tips at the end if you plan to follow their example and make a start on improving your own tenement garden.

Keep reading to learn about four tenement garden success stories, as well as some hints and tips for improving your tenement garden.

East Pollokshield's Quad

When the state of the back courts had got so bad that one resident suggested the best thing to do would be to use them for parking second-hand cars for sale, members of the community decided they had to act. Ungated lanes meant there was easy access to the back courts, where the central area (belonging to the corner tenements) and the bin stores were becoming subject to fire setting and vandalism. Their answer was to form a community association, access funds from Area Partnership budgets to support their own contributions, and turn the central areas into a community resource behind designer gates. 

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East Pollokshields QuadAnnie FlintThe gates help prevent fly-tipping.

Part of the ground is used as an events area, where bands regularly come and entertain. Another part is a communal rose garden. The events allow neighbours to get to know one another and make for good community health all round. 

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East Pollokshield's QuadAnnie FlintChildren's art work features in the common area.

The community association also purchased a communal lawnmower. Residents could use it for their own gardens, as long as they also cut the grass in the communal areas. The result is that all the gardens surrounding the community areas are now lovely gardens full of flowers.

East Pollokshield's Quad Facebook Page

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Gardening is contagiousAnnie FlintA corner of one of the back courts maintained by an individual tenant.

Frank’s garden

Frank was forced to act when the ground floor pub in his building tried to take over the communal back courts as a beer garden. He takes care of three linked tenement back courts and makes extensive use of recycled materials to keep costs really low.

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Frank's gardenAnnie FlintA sunny corner hiding an air conditioning unit.

Frank recycled the stone he didn't want into a turf seat, with the aid of wire fencing, and used pallet wood to edge plastic drink bottles full of plants. He grows plants from seed or buys cheaply. The only help he has had from other owners has been money to rebuild the bin stores, but now he opens his garden for charity every year as part of Scotland's Gardens Scheme.

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Frank's gardenAnnie FlintOpen Garden Day.
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Frank's gardenAnnie FlintTurf seat made from found stone and wire fencing.

BMC Association

Narrow back lanes and careless parking meant the bins for over 220 flats just didn't get emptied and the rats rejoiced. Attempts to involve the police were occasionally successful, with them contacting offending car owners to get cars moved. So, the BMC Association took up the cause. Posters were put on the back of doors and circulated door-to-door, with copies of the bin collection schedule and reminders not to park on critical days.

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BMC AssociationAnnie FlintBin collection schedule is a keeper - and a regular reminder about parking.

Owners were encouraged to join the associations' Facebook page which posts polite notices, such as "Anyone who knows the owner of this car, could you ask them to move it…." and details of events such as the summer BBQ. All the 221 owners (except three) pay £12 per annum to maintain the communal triangle. The fees are collected through the various property factors who pay over the money on receipt of an annual invoice from the association.  The funds employ a regular grass cutting service and the use of an occasional gardener. Surplus funds have been used to improve the area, which was heavily used this summer.

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BMC AssociationAnnie FlintThe children's garden.

The BMC Association use Facebook, Twitter, and email to keep in touch with co-owners.

Peel Street

The garden of this 16 household tenement block is surprisingly large - certainly people are taken aback when they first see it. 30 or so years ago there were a couple of nicely kept borders at one end but the rest was a barren wasteland of weeds and mattress springs. The area was divided in line with the title deeds and no-one would stray into another other close's part.

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Peel StreetAnne RitchieBefore work started, complete with mattress springs.

Initially, a few new residents started to clear up the worst of the mess and eventually got agreement that the whole space should be used communally.

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Peel StreetAnne RitchieA few years on...

Since then, piles of rubbish have been landscaped into rockeries, bare walls covered with climbers and shrubs, and flower beds created. Plants have been sourced cheaply from a variety of sources, divided into more when large enough, and spread round the garden. Most of the work over the years has been done by the women in the block, jokingly known as the Slab Girls because of their efforts laying new paths and a patio. Sometimes, there have been several keen gardeners, despite the horrible poor, soil but at other times there have been only one or two people keeping the momentum going.

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Peel StAnn RitchieFlats are now advertised with "the best garden in the West End" and priced accordingly

The use of the garden has changed and evolved over the years, depending on the needs and interests of those living there. There has always been a large drying green and an area for football (well away from the washing!), but other things, such as areas set aside for individual flat owners to use for growing vegetables, a sandpit, various constructions for kids to play on, and innumerable picnic benches have come and gone.

Hints and tips

Plant sources

A lot of people who are a bit scared of gardening start with annual plants put in pots. Annual plants only last a year. Perennials, plants which come back and grow bigger every year, are less work. Some of the most reliable perennials are easy and cheap to come by. Bulbs like daffodils and crocus also reappear year after year.

  • ask any neighbour you see gardening if they can spare any plants
  • check out the 'clearance' beds at garden centres
  • check out local plant sales - there are almost always plant sales at gardens which open for Scotland's Gardens (like Frank's)
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Garden health

It's worth washing the soil off the roots of any plants you are given, so you don't bring in pests like Spanish Slugs, Vine Weevils, and New Zealand Flatworm that will destroy all your hard work.

Keep people posted

Regular events in the garden involving owners and tenants are not just fun and community building but a good time to remind people of the rules and what you've been up to. Facebook pages, email lists, Twitter accounts, Whatsapp groups, etc., can also form part of your communication strategy - the more the better.

Knocking down walls

If all owners in all blocks agree, it is possible to knock down walls between back courts and gardens. It's theoretically possible that a new owner could come in and demand walls are put back around their bit, but this is unlikely and would need a majority of owners in their tenement block to agree. Creating spaces that individuals can garden for themselves and planning for privacy around ground floor windows can prevent these kind of requests.

Making decisions

Parking advertisements

The BMC Association found estate agents and AirBnb hosts advertising flats with “free parking at rear”. These types of advertisements need to be challenged.


The Slab Girls from Peel Street found a piece of string across the top of the lane with a sign saying “No fly-tipping” eventually worked to stop people from dumping rubbish in their shared garden area.

Work with your factors

Apart from collecting gardening subs for you, make sure your factor, if you have one, knows what is happening in the garden and checks out issues with you before taking action themselves.