Norman was baptised in St Cuthbert’s Church whose gates open onto the gardens. These gardens with their backdrop of the castle formed part of the backdrop of Norman’s youth.
As a child, Norman went to picnic and play in West Princes Street Gardens, to throw sticks and dig and paddle in the Ross Fountain. There was a whole childhood spent in the gardens: country dancing, concerts and shows in the Ross Theatre.
His first job in the early 1960s was in Edinburgh’s St Andrew’s Square and Norman spent his lunch hours around Princes Street, viewing the artworks in the National Gallery or on sunny days taking a book to read in the gardens. He enjoyed the peace and was glad of this oasis in the middle of his city. As he read in the sun, the gardeners tended the lawns and flower beds and the fountain’s water flowed. He went to concerts and fireworks, heard a thousand trains rumble into Waverley past the northern edge of the gardens, raised his head countless times to view the castle’s stoic silhouette.
Older now, Norman took his children, one, two then three, to the gardens, pushing prams up and down the steep inclines. His children picnicked and dug and splashed in the Ross fountain just as he did. He repeated this with his grandchildren; digging, picnicking, splashing, pushing prams up and down steep slopes, working close by, the years rolling by, the gardens providing a haven, some tranquillity in the city and a peaceful space for him and his family to enjoy.
There came a point when water stopped flowing in the fountain and keep-out signs and fencing surrounded it. There came a consensus that the steep slopes and many steps made access impossible for people with wheelchairs or buggies or canes. Even walking from one end of the gardens to the other was impossible because of the locked gates and the layout of the Ross Theatre’s open air arena.
What did Norman do, the man whose boyhood and adulthood – and whole life in fact – was enhanced by the gardens? He championed a project to make the gardens world class.
And we come to the present day. He stands beside the fully functioning, fully flowing Ross Fountain wearing suit trousers and polished shoes and a light jacket. Gardeners work around him, clearing leaves from the paths. Water pours down the restored fountain, Norman’s pride and joy. The water is clear, the fountain’s basin is clean. The ebony statues gleam in the sunshine. A tourist takes a photograph.
Norman is at the start of a project that will take years to complete. The fountain is restored, yes, with lights that make it even more stunning at night, and the gardener’s cottage is refurbished too. Architects have been commissioned and plans drawn to create a space for all, in the heart of Edinburgh. It’s a big project and one which Norman is at pains to say will change nothing yet improve everything. ‘I think you’ve got to look at the gardens and say it is a lovely space. It is a garden rather than a park so it, to my mind, should be retained as a garden and therefore have peace and tranquillity and be an oasis in the middle of the city.’
As he speaks, children play in the playpark, tourists walk along the esplanade and, above them, buses and trams and cars and taxis trundle along Princes Street.
‘How can we improve the gardens for the benefit of generations to come?’ Norman asks. Perhaps that’s what happens when you feel a city has been good to you and your career and your family, when you have some pennies and you want to do something that means something.
Norman turns away from the finished fountain which stands striking against the stark blue sky, strolls past the statues and memorials, the hushed Ross Theatre, the trees and flower beds, the people enjoying their peace in the city, and gets back to work.
Excerpt from interview transcript by Alison Irvine – February 2019
West Princes Street Gardens' Head Gardener, David, talks about his passion for gardening - including the floral clock of course - and reflecting on how West Princes Street Gardens have changed over the years.Read David’s Story
Our Chairman, Norman Springford, talks about his memories of visiting the gardens as a young boy and his pride in leading their reimagination.Read Norman’s Story
Moira Hepburn (or Auntie Moira) recalls fond summer days playing the piano at the Ross Theatre for Children's Hour.Read Moira’s Story
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