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Hortus Homicida – on location in Edinburgh’s Old Town!

Anouska Curzon, MSRO at SRUC Edinburgh Campus, shares her account of filming the teaser video for the Hortus Homicida show garden.

When the theme of this year’s show garden for Gardening Scotland was announced it immediately captured the imagination and instantly brought to mind images of a dark and eerie Edinburgh from the past.

Garden Design student Heath Urquhart had based the show garden design on the murder of Lord Darnley, Mary Queen of Scots’ second husband, at Kirk o’ Field in Edinburgh.

The murder was so important that an illustration of the crime scene was commissioned by Lord Burly, The Queen’s top advisor, in order to make sense of the events. The result was the first pictorial depiction of an actual garden in Scotland.

Kirk O Field Murder Scene

By unknown – Immediate image source: [1]. Original at the National Archives of the UK., Public Domain,

We felt that the narrative behind the show garden would lend itself extremely well to a visual social media campaign which could bring the story to life and showcase the project ahead of Gardening Scotland.

Having had a brainstorm session with lecturer Matt Jessop, which conjured up ideas ranging from a Blair Witch Project style video mixed with a homage to Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues, we decided that dark capes and Edinburgh’s creepy Closes would form the foundation for the film.

Digital Marketing Officer, Rich Gordon and I donned our Danny Boyle and Steven Spielberg caps and headed off in to Edinburgh’s old town to meet with the students. We arrived early and took a stroll down the Royal Mile, peering excitedly in to each Close to detect how tainted by modern life each one was.

Our mission was to find one that could provide the atmospheric backdrop we required to bring Hortus Homicida to life. Venturing down to Canongate we came across Bakewell Close which led to the courtyard of the Edinburgh World Heritage Centre, a courtyard which not only looked authentically 16th century but also contained a garden plot and a stack of chairs (a chair was found overturned at the murder scene).

We called in to the centre and secured permission to film in the courtyard and then continued on to Dunbar’s Close. Dunbar’s Close is a wee hidden gem of a secret, located further down from Canongate Kirk; the Close leads to a hidden 17th century garden laid out across three quarters of an acre. We felt like we had won the location lottery!

We met the students in Starbucks and eagerly told them of our location finds. Keen to get filming whilst there was still light, we headed to Bakewell Close and set about turning student Francesco Mari in to the mysterious, masked figure that would take the lead in the film.

Plague mask on and fully adorned in black, Francesco instantly transformed in to a shady, menacing figure that could haunt nightmares; he was perfect.

Francesco Mari, 2nd Year Garden Design HND student poses in a creepy mask behind a hedge

Francesco Mari, dressed as the mysterious figure in black.

We upturned a chair in the garden plot and directed Francesco to loom and walk past the prop. It was important that we captured as much footage as we could during the shoot so fully took advantage of every corner of the courtyard, from the dark, heavy wood door to the sinister chain hanging from the wall.

On to Dunbar’s Close where we felt it was important to keep the film focused on the plant element of the project and so set about filming amongst the rows of hedges and using ivy as a backdrop to Francesco’s sinister presence.

We had Francesco running up and down the well manicured garden, cape flapping in the wind behind him. We had him peering threateningly round hedges and stood intensely in the dark corners of the garden.

Rich came up with the brilliant idea to play the part of one of the dead bodies in the garden and, thanks to his pure white, ghostly Scottish legs, he bought the part of the corpse to life!

We had managed to get a lot of footage that afternoon and it was now up to the talented Mr Gordon to weave the footage in to a short film for social media that was not only compelling viewing but also managed to tell the story behind the gardens concept.

Here is the finished result:

I hope you’ll agree it’s a wee masterpiece.

Learn more about Hortus Homicida and keep up to date with the project over on the Hortus Homicida Facebook Page.

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