curiosity about the ways of the world

Welcome to The (lily) Pond

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?

March 2023 update

Hello, and a warm welcome. Good to see people visiting the website. We’re looking forward to opening again for seasonal highlights as soon as our essential building works are completed (see more on Tales From Pond Cottage pages). Bluebells and daffodils are a treat. Please check again around Easter.

Tales From Pond Cottage…in Scotland’s Gardens Scheme

This spring the wider world is darker still with daily news of Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine.  It’s not possible (and I think not right) to avoid that grim reality of death and destruction. And yet it also feels more important than ever to celebrate what Nature brings us in the turning cycle of life.  Renewal and recovery. Gardening is not an escapist retreat: in a violent world, to reword Ian Hamilton Finlay, it’s almost an act of defiance, planning and planting for the future. People and plants. We need each other.

So it’s good to open The Pond Garden to visitors at the start of another garden visiting season with Scotland’s Garden Scheme.  We’ve begun the new year with a few disruptions but that can bring gains as well as losses as you will see in the old ash trees.  Four of the oldest have had to be felled because of ash dieback, but even here there’s some reason for hope.  The old trunks are left standing to provide new habitats for all kinds of wildlife. Dead wood is a vital resource for thriving woodland rich in living diversity.

Not so dead…wildlife monolith by Martin Nimmo

But looking on the brightest side, come and see the daffodils. You will find the oldest under the trees around the pond. They are probably the wild Narcissus pseudonarcissus – ‘Lenten Lilies’ – the reason local people called this their ‘lily pond’.  They used to be quite common in wooded areas so I’m curious to know if they were here before the pond was dug for duck shooting more than 100 years ago, or planted afterwards.

These and other wild flowers (bluebells, wild garlic, wood and water avens, primroses, celandine…) are thrilling evidence that there has been some kind of woodland here for a very long time.  Snowdrops are not strictly native but they light up the ground in February and this year they seemed to sparkle with more energy than ever. The challenging terrain which seesaws between steep sandstone and low-lying swamp (old quarries surrounded by wetland) has deterred both property developers and intensive farming which is good news for the plants, birds, bees, animals and people who like to be here.

How did we get here?

Spring colour starts at the gate.  At the road end a big blackthorn is white with blossom. A long line of bright yellow daffodils run beside the hedge welcoming visitors as if they’ve always been here.  When Ray and I first came to Pond Cottage in 1993 there was no hedge, no daffodils, and no road. We climbed the fence and walked through a field beside the streamside line of beautiful old oak, beech, ash, pine – and dead elm.

We were here for the trees which was just as well. The cottage was derelict. A sturdy ash tree grew through a hole in the roof.  The pond was silted up and the old quarry was a neighbourhood dump.

But we heard water flowing over the sluice and sun was shining through autumn leaves.  We were well and truly caught. No-one else bid for the property being sold by the Kinross Estate.  So, with excitement and trepidation, we secured ten acres of swampy woodland – and a ruined cottage without electricity, plumbing or planning permission.

What got into us?  I blame the good friends who commissioned me to research and write The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Book of The Scottish Garden in 1989.* That took us to magical places. And the woodland gardens of Scotland’s wild west had cast their spell.

What’s in a name?

From Edinburgh allotment to Pond Cottage

We’ve added a lot more spring bulbs over the past 29 years, starting with clumps of bulbs dug up from our allotment in Edinburgh. These are bigger and brassier, spreading in clumps rather than the more delicate drifting of the smaller ‘lilies’ by the pond.  And then so many others. I wish I knew their names – belatedly this year I have started recording last autumn’s plantings (I know, I should have been doing it long before now!). But I will have to start putting discreet labels in the ground. 

Is this Narcissus ‘Jetfire’?  Every year the clump grows bigger and brighter, casting a cheering blaze of colour on the dry ground beneath a spreading Korean fir.  The BBC Gardeners World description seems to fit apart from the ‘short-flowered’ bit. Our display has been going on for at least two months, it makes you feel better just to look at it, especially in the late afternoon when the sinking sun glows like a halo round the flower heads.

Let’s take that as a good sign.

We look forward to seeing you during our second season with Scotland’s Garden Scheme. Just give us a call to fix a time. Bluebells and wild garlic are worth seeing in May. Planted by Nature.  

*RBGE Book of the Scottish Garden – amazingly, I found one on eBay today.

The image at the top is Narcissus poeticus – ‘Pheasant’s eye’ – which has also been growing here for many years. Perhaps planted in honour of the game birds which were reared in the woodlands for winter shooting? Now pheasants seek sanctuary with us.

Narcissus ‘Jetfire’ maybe?


  1. fay

    Thank you Margaret, and to everyone for your kind comments. It’s also very rewarding to be meeting the new visitors this spring. And once again we’re discovering how important it is to have access to gardens and wildlife. Some people are still highly vulnerable to Covid and it was very touching to learn that one of our visitors had not been able to enjoy a garden visit since 2019. Ours was her first since before lockdown.

  2. Margaret gimblett

    Loved your celebration of spring and meditation. Couldn’t agree more. Hope to come and see spring in all its Hope, beauty and energy very soon

  3. fay

    Thanks for your sharp eye Trevor, I’ll take a look – and it will be great to see you in bluebell time. Sorry we didn’t make it to your Burntisland exhibition. Hope it went well.

  4. fay

    Thank you Roberta, I really appreciate that.

  5. Roberta Buchan

    What a heart-lifting post, Fay, thank you so much for crafting and sharing it.

  6. Trevor Davies

    Fay there are clumps of “Jetfire” just inside the East Gate of the Botanics. You could check and compare! Definitely going to come and see you and the garden in May.

  7. Jean

    A brilliant piece Fay. Best wishes for the garden openings.xx

  8. fay

    Gardeners of the world unite!
    Thank you, David and Jean.

  9. David Gow

    Another lovely piece that makes you want to get up and go/come visit. The narcissus names are striking and their longevity surprising…and IHF is dead right: gardening is a celebration of regeneration/renaissance as well as an act of defiance (against the gods, violent autocrats, self-doubt…)

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