Leading Edinburgh author celebrates the healing power of gardens

17 August 2023
Alexander McCall Smith at RECHG 2023

Yesterday, Edinburgh author Alexander McCall Smith, writer of the bestselling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and more, returned to Cyrenians Community Hospital Garden at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital to treat patients and volunteers to a special book reading.

The author read a new poem written especially for the occasion and gifted books to hospital patients and staff as part of the mental health hospital’s Summer Fling.  

Following this Summer Fling event, the gardens will be open to all as part of Doors Open Days, on Sunday 24 September, 11am-3pm, where visitors can enjoy a variety of activities and workshops for all ages. 

The Community Garden is run by homelessness prevention charity Cyrenians, and provides a welcoming and relaxing green space for patients, staff and local residents where they can work together with the shared goal of improving mental health, wellbeing, and community connection. 

It is the second time McCall Smith, who has written at length about the importance of community, has supported the event. He read from his new 44 Scotland Street book, the world’s longest running serial novel, which will be appearing in The Scotsman on a daily basis from early September, and also presented his new poem, “Planted in Scotland”, in which he reflects on the healing role of gardens.   

Two attendees at the Spring Fling hold hands as Alexander McCall Smith reads a poem (photo: Phil Wilkinson 2023)

[Photo credit: Phil Wilkinson]

Over 40 staff, volunteers and patients at the Royal Edinburgh attended the event in the sunshine and enjoyed the reading, refreshments and conversation surrounded by the beautiful garden space. Mr McCall Smith also generously provided signed copies of his books for attendees, as well as donating copies for use in the hospital library. 

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The community garden, which is planted and maintained by a wide range of volunteers from the hospital and surrounding community, is one of two run by Cyrenians in Edinburgh. It provides an opportunity for patients to build connections in the local community, helping prevent the isolation and social exclusion that often leads to a higher rate of homelessness among those leaving hospital. One regular volunteer told us: “This is what keeps me well, it gives me a sense of purpose and achievement”. 

Alexander McCall Smith and Cyrenians Gardens staff Hannah MacRae and Lucy Gilroyd hold flowers by a sign reading Cyrenians (photo: Phil Wilkinson, 2023)

[Image credit: Alexander McCall Smith, Lucy Gilroyd, Senior Recovery Manager, Cyrenians and Hannah Macrae, Gardens Manager, Cyrenians. Photo by Phil Wilkinson]

Cyrenians Gardens Manager, Hannah Macrae, said McCall Smith’s reading was a great opportunity for the hospital’s patients, staff and volunteers to come together as a community and have fun. She commented: “I would like to thank Alexander for returning to the garden and offering a great opportunity for the hospital community to come together and enjoy his reading in this lovely tranquil space.  We have enjoyed collaborating with our third sector colleagues on site to provide numerous activities as part of the hospital’s Summer Fling festival.   

McCall Smith said, “Being in a beautiful garden like this, it is quite easy to understand how this project makes such a difference to people’s mental health and quality of life. "

"It’s been a delight to join in today’s event and to continue my support for Cyrenians. They're doing marvellous work here, and at their other projects, to tackle the causes and consequences of homelessness.  I’d warmly encourage everyone to support them if they can.”