2022 marks not just the centenary of Colvin’s landscape architectural practice and the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, but also the 75th anniversary of the founding of Scotland’s first New Town, East Kilbride. Colvin was employed as the landscape consultant for East Kilbride’s development, with a particular contribution to shelter and amenity planting as well as kickstarting annual Arbour Day events in which local children planted trees (Development Corporation Minutes, 4 April 1950).
Drawing upon archival material held in the Landscape Institute Archives at MERL and in East Kilbride’s library, we are beginning to piece together the story of Colvin in East Kilbride. Working in Scotland meant that Colvin, renowned for her understanding and use of trees in landscape architecture, had to change her palette of species to ones more suited to the climate. Elizabeth Mitchell, one of Scotland’s town planning pioneers, recorded Colvin’s contribution in her memoir, The Plan That Pleased, saying that the principal of not being too clever, but to plant trees and shrubs that would ‘soon settle in and look at home’ was critical. This added to the retained trees which added to the character and sped up the maturation of the New Town, creating ‘nooks and corners about the town which were the pleasantest and the most photographed’.
Having visited East Kilbride this month to look at the Development Corporation Minutes and plan the start of the travelling exhibition which will sit in the New Town’s library this autumn, we were struck by the legacy of the planners, architects and Colvin as landscape architect. This legacy is apparent in the striking use of trees and the masterful manipulation of contours in Headhouse Burn, the only intact greenway plan produced by Colvin. East Kilbride’s rolling contours were described by Sir Patrick Abercrombie as ‘more difficult but so much more interesting’.
The travelling exhibition in the autumn will feature images of Colvin’s original plans for East Kilbride, in particular sites in The Murray development and our public event will invite contributions from residents who grew up in the town to tell their stories. We are looking forward to hearing what people’s memories are of the parks and greenways that Colvin created, and what the landscape of East Kilbride means to them 75 years after it began.