curiosity about the ways of the world

Category: Accidental gardener (Page 1 of 2)

Successes, mistakes and surprises

Wanted: a deep mulch of money

”Pond Cottage is an acreage of weed, rot and litter but Fay Young intends to turn it into a Scottish horticultural paradise”.   That was The Herald almost thirty years ago in a quirkily offbeat introduction to my new dream commission: a Weekend Extra series about Scotland’s gardens and gardeners on a trail following my own discoveries. It was a happy year, leading to an unforgettable spell with Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh as contributing editor and writer and ultimately to membership of Scotland’s Gardens Scheme. But back to the beginning…

Flashback to October 1995

Here, republishing my first Weekend Extra column in The Herald (don’t take that bit about horticultural paradise seriously!)

If you squint, the garden round Pond Cottage looks almost planned.

The stone path to the front door is lined with catmint covered with butterflies and bees. Hastily sown Alaska nasturtium seeds have grown into a convincing hedge around the vegetable plot. Red-stalked spinach contrasts cheerfully with yellow spaghetti squash plants and (as long as you are still squinting) a fresh green semi-circular lawn is marked by newly planted rowan and cherry to light up autumn and spring.

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Bye bye blackbird…and our Edinburgh urban jungle

Through the window I saw a robin on the bird table, two blackbirds underneath, a grey squirrel in the white stemmed birch, four fat pigeons and three pretty doves squabbling on the ground.  If we had a pear tree perhaps there would have been a partridge in it.  A record-breaking cold spell brought hungry wildlife into our back garden. That’s something to celebrate just a short walk from Edinburgh city centre.  Oddly, it added to my sense of loss as we packed to leave our old urban jungle home.

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No garden retreat at Little Sparta

“I plant what grows,” the words of Ian Hamilton Finlay echo in my mind when I walk round our rain-spattered midsummer jungle. At this time of year the most sumptuous growth is in stuff we didn’t plant.  I think of him again as the grass path cuts through a particularly belligerent looking bunch of nettles, docks and thistles. “Certain gardens are described as retreats,” said Finlay, “when they are really attacks.” 

I was very lucky to get the chance to interview the poet-artist-revolutionary-gardener in real life almost twenty years ago. I approached him in his windy hillside garden a little warily, on guard in case of attack, and found instead a gentle man coming to terms with his recent stroke.  It was one of the unforgettable privileges that sometimes come the way of a journalist. I have been to Little Sparta several times since and, though Ian Hamilton Finlay died in 2006, it is good to see the garden still grows true to the creator’s spirit.

Little Sparta is next open under Scotland’s Gardens Scheme on Tuesday 5 July.  Meanwhile, I’m reprinting the article which first appeared in the (sadly) short-lived Scottish Garden magazine in 2003.

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Welcome to The Pond

At last, leaves are turning. Autumn has been a little late this year, at least it is in our neck of the woods. But as our autumn colour ‘season’ draws to a close, we have greatly enjoyed welcoming visitors to The Pond Garden for the first time as part of Scotland’s Garden Scheme.

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Fine weather for flamingoes?

It’s not always easy, summertime.  Fish are not jumping. And the nettles are high. In the last month at Pond Cottage we’ve had high winds and low temperatures. Delicate flowers compete with weedy thugs and then heavy rain has a good go at flattening them all.

But when the sun shines the world changes. And even when it doesn’t there are long hours of daylight and beneath grey skies a defiant burst of bright colour covers the ground.

That’s what the music celebrates in the new video Tommy has made for Scotland’s Garden Scheme YouTube channel.  It was recorded at the pond by Tommy Perman and Morgan Szymanski two years ago in the pre-pandemic midsummer of 2019.

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Ad neverendum?

Two grenades top the entrance posts to Little Sparta, Ian Hamilton Finlays garden in the Scottish borders

Retreat or attack? Welcome to Little Sparta

I loiter in the garden and find myself longing for this election campaign to end. And I’m not alone. Over the last few days I’ve been meeting people – politicians, academics and ordinary voters like me – desperate to see the end of #GE2015, as the Twitter hashtags identify this unseemly mess. Continue reading

Vertically challenged

It’s a dreary grey dawn but there’s a blaze of red outside the bedroom window and it’s twittering with sparrows all ready for the day.  After a proper hot summer, the autumn display of our rampant Virginia creeper has never looked more spectacular but I have mixed feelings listening to all that bird life. Continue reading

Social climbers


Suddenly autumn has arrived on my windowsill and dumped a load of red leaves at the back door too.  Hard to believe we once doubted the weedy little Virgian Creeper would rise further than the garden shed.  Now it has not only reached our roof but it is working its way along the houses on either side of us. Luckily we have lovely neighbours.  Or maybe they just get a kick out of watching Ray collect the leaf mould from their kitchen roof every year. Continue reading

accidental gardening


It’s working. Two years ago with Susie’s help, I planted a B&Q buy-one-get-one-free special offer of miniature narcissus round the stone cairn built by Richard. Moss is doing a great job of covering the stone but the ground was a bit of a problem: too many weeds and it was difficult to mow the grass round the cairn. So we tacked a bit of plastic sheeting round the base, more like dressmaking than gardening, and planted the bulbs into it. And for once one of my planting schemes has actually done what I intended. Continue reading

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