Well then, H is for house, home, hidden, heartsore…and so on. J is for junk, just junk. But what is I for? On yet another sleepless night, rummaging through my newly made house-moving alphabet, it’s odd I can’t remember.Continue reading
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.Continue reading
The winter sun just hangs over the ridge of the Coolags. Its setting will seal the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice. At this season the sun is a pale wick between two gulfs of darkness.
So wrote George Mackay Brown, the observant eye of the great Orkney poet seeking out the touch of magic conjured up by the Neolithic architects who created Maeshowe with hard-hewn rock and a knowing eye on the heavens. Continue reading
‘But it’s the right kind of mess,’ she says, as I apologise for the tangle of wayward weeds tumbling across the path. ‘It’s so liberating. I’m going home to release my free spirit.’ Our garden visitors at the end of the season have been very kind. After a summer of unforeseen events the Pond Garden is wilder than ever.Continue reading
Sustainable flood management enables communities to adapt to the realities of climate change. Restoring natural defences against flooding brings social, economic and environmental benefits to the whole community.
Pity the people of Somerset Levels. The last thing they need as the weather report threatens more rain and gales, is a rush of politicians anxious to pour blame on the other party. And they certainly don’t need some smart-arse copywriter at the other end of the country blowing the dust off an old manual on natural flood management in Scotland.
[This was first published in 2014, reposting in August 2022 as climate extremes demand we start to learn from nature] Continue reading
“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.Continue reading
Take a seat. There’s a bench by the pond, or a stump from the old ash tree over there. I’m sitting on the edge of the beechwood which has suddenly turned the freshest, brightest green. A treat for ears and eyes, it’s ringing with birdsong and bluebells.Continue reading
How to look a daffodil in the eye? It’s not always easy. You might need to get down on your knees, or lower still. Last year I laid down on the ground and – as the darkest days of Covid seemed to be retreating – enjoyed a full frontal blast of spring colour with a sense of hope. Surely better times were on their way?Continue reading
Remember that ancient Chinese saying –
And may you live in interesting times?
It sounds like benediction, blessing,
but no, it’s contrary, not what it seems.Alan Spence Interesting Times: 2021
Alan Spence the fifth Makar of Edinburgh has written a poem to be buried in the ground. A time capsule poem for future generations. It was his last official commission at the end of his four years as poet laureate for the capital city (the original three year term was extended by a year thanks to Covid).
With the Makar’s blessing, I had started to post this wryly gentle poem before Putin invaded Ukraine. A time capsule poem reflecting on our shared experience of the last two years seemed to belong in what was likely to be the last scheduled publication of Sceptical Scot [and it came to pass, see Sceptical shuts up Shop statement – not buried but safely secured in the archive of the National Library of Scotland]. With obscene cruelty the President of Russia had added his own crude lines to the Chinese curse.Continue reading
Thursday 17 March 2022. Approaching Census night the old kitchen has the look of a Victorian museum, or maybe a low budget costume drama. Granny’s white cotton nighties hang in front of the shiny black range. Crisp and cool to the touch, they are the very devil to iron.
These are things of impressive though now impractical beauty and I rediscovered them during one of those lockdown cupboard clear-outs of 2020. On impulse, I dug them out again to spruce them up in time for our Scottish Census 2021 – postponed because of Covid. Removing the creases and wrinkles from yards and yards of best cotton, tackling the finicky fine tucks and broderie anglaise round the neckline, I’m thankful for the steam iron. A Victorian maid standing in the old scullery (more or less where I am typing now) would have been applying flat irons heated on the coal-fired range, and no doubt listening out for the bells summoning servants to other tasks in grander parts of the house. Let’s call on Elizabeth…Continue reading