BurnedThumb

Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer


garden


  • How Green is My Hilltop

    a clear plastic dehydrator tray with fresh alchemilla leaves ready for drying

    Everything greened up overnight. The alchemilla went from a tight nub of unfolding leaves to a whole clump of spreading leaf-fans and a fountain of emerging acid-yellow flowers. The thyme stretched five centimetres and put out purple buds. The broom bushes are fountains of gold and the hawthorns look like the last scene of Ghost Busters, with foamy cream coloured blossom sprayed everywhere.

    Last year the weather was so cold and damp for so long I bought a dehydrator, but even so, drying herbs for the winter was long and tedious, and I had to have three or even four sessions for some things. This year was a very different story. I harvested thyme, alchemilla and purple sage in great quantities, and stuck everything in at once. And ten hours later, I had a lot of good quality herbs, with no wastage. I am very impressed.

    The last few days of hot and sunny weather have done wonders for the seedlings. The tomatoes are in their final pots already, and and growing visibly. I’ve planted up some pots for the summer, with santolina and purple sage and lavender and bergamot, and I’ve planted out southernwood and mugwort into the garden. I had to clear a space for the mugwort in the magical border, which you might think has enough gallus herbs already, but I think it will cope. I am intrigued by this herb, as a great many people have been before me:

    First, you are called, oldest of herbs.
    You have the power · over three, over thirty.
    You have power over venom, · over airborne infection.
    You have power over the evil one · who wanders the world.

    Lacnunga

    Many people use it for magical purposes, to protect against evil, or to develop their feminine side, their sensitivity, or prophetic abilities. It is one of the large group of moon herbs, perhaps because of the silvery felted underside of its leaves, and Lucy Jones, the herbalist, says ‘If you find yourself travelling along (country) lanes by the light of the moon, you will notice that the silvery leaves of the Mugwort shine prominently…. if you have never noticed the appearance of Mugwort on a moonlit night, you have missed something special.’ In my garden it is just to the left of marshmallow, and in front of elecampane (also known as elf-wort), behind the ‘little wizard’ alchemilla, and not far from vervain and yarrow, so this is one powerful magical cocktail, if that’s your thing. I’m not sure if it’s mine, but I like the idea of the mugwort leaves at night, like Coleridge’s icicles, quietly shining to the quiet moon.

    As well as herbs, I’m growing flowers for drying, statice, safflower, teasel and for seed heads, quaking grass, poppies and nicandra, which has papery twisted seed cases of a dramatic inky blue. Most of them are in the front garden, in the pollinator patch, but poppy and teasel rogue seedlings turn up everywhere, along with the delightful surprise of heartsease, which hitched a ride in the flower pots I brought with me. There isn’t much colour in my garden yet, but it’s lush with green. I can’t get enough of it.

    a green border, with (left to right) fern, willow periwinkle lily of the valley, witch hazel shasta daisy,at the back, yellow flag iris meadowsweet, primroses, orpine, hyssop, dyer's greenweed and  roseroot in front


  • The Dominion of Mercury

    trees and shrubs, with a lower growing very leafy plant in the foreground. In the middle ground a tall plant with yellow shaggy daisy-like flowers

    This tall plant, towering over everything else, is elecampane growing in a herb garden somewhere along the Clyde. I do have some in my garden and it is indeed as wild and rampageous as this, at least two metres tall, and flowering madly through the late summer. When I first got to know this garden I was convinced it wanted me to plant elecampane, and because I thought I had enough space for it, I was glad to do it. It’s bright and cheerful, it has an ancient traditional place in herbal medicine, and it grows wild around here, in neglected spaces. It thrives here, to the point where I’ve had to thin it out already.

    Culpeper claims that this plant is under the dominion of Mercury, which is reponsible for herbs governing the mind, nerves, respiration and communication. This has been a promising wormhole to explore. I had thought that the astrology of herbs was a useful classification system before Linnaeus, and to some extent this is the case – complaints and areas of the body are atrributed to the various planets, and relevant herbs are assigned to them. There are common characteristics, too – moon herbs are often sappy, gentle and water-loving, whereas sun herbs are upright, warming and mostly have golden flowers. Saturn owns a lot of cold soporific and poisonous herbs, and Mars has stimulating ones with harsh tastes, and prickles and thorns. Mars has a lot of wound herbs and Venus helps with gynaecological issues. I know herbalists who can assign a herb to its planet and function by the taste or look of it and some categorisation must have helped.

    The interesting thing I found when I compiled my list, was how many of the plants which do unexpectedly well in this garden are under Mercury – lavender, santolina, southernwood, lily of the valley. The soil here is less acid than in my previous garden, and the climate is gentler, so I expected some difference, but I never looked at planets. Moon herbs and the herbs of Venus are doing well, and the sun herbs are not too bad, but herbs belonging to Saturn and Jupiter are struggling. I am not convinced that actual planetary influences are at work here, but when our ancestors drew up these categories, they weren’t working simply with superstition and magic. There are characteristics in common that I just don’t know enough to spot. I am looking forward to finding out more about soil, aspect, drainage and plant associations as the growing season goes on, and particularly what it was about the garden that convinced me elecampane was the right plant.

    a clump of miniature daffodils

    We have just reached this point in the garden, where the daffodils are out, the tulips are thinking about it, and the primroses and violets are blooming and colonising new space. The first trees are at bud burst and there’s an exciting green haze on the hedges. Most of the perennials are now showing new growth, and the greenhouse is full of hopeful seed trays. I’ve heard the first bees on sunny afternoons. There is an enormous magpie’s nest in one of the trees behind the house, and whole squadrons of them terrorise the other birds, lining up like storm troopers in an ambush on the roof-tops and shouting at everything that comes too close. There is a robin’s nest in the hawthorns growing over the burn, and the trees lining the footpath are full of sparrows and bluetits, blackbirds, wren and chaffinches. The ground is very wet and all the burns are running high, but the soil is not so saturated that anything has come to harm.

    I have made a new propagation area beside the greenhouse where the noonday sun will hit it, and I reckon I will have a lot of plants to share. (If you’re in Glasgow and would like some, please ask!) I took cuttings and saved seedlings as insurance against the cold and damp of winter, but I lost very few plants apart from purple sage, and when this year’s seeds come through I won’t know where to put everything. I’m going to have a nine herbs bed beside the apple tree (the nettle is going to be hidden behind the shed) and a scented garden below the damson. Culinary herbs will be closer to the house, and flowers for cutting and drying and pollinators will be in the front, where they will make a change from the conventional grass and bedding. Someone asked me if my garden was full of weeds, and frankly, yes it is – but also bees and butterflies. Mercury is a very unconventional planet – I’m not surprised this garden is too.

    a herb plot with fennel in full flower centre, southernwood to the left, a rose bush to the right


  • The Tipping Point

    bramble bush with pale, red and blak berries. Dappled sunlight.

    It is peak bramble time, jam-making, pickling, apple cake and plum crumble time. The first geese are here, and the last housemartins are lining up to leave. The bird population in the garden has changed – the sparrows are mostly in the fields just now, so the blue tits have a chance at the feeders. The magpies are mostly bothering something else in the woods, there are starlings along all the roof tops, and the robin is noisily staking out his winter territory in the hawthorns over the burn. The temperature has dropped ten degrees over the last week, and I’m about to pick the last tomatoes and move the lemon verbenas and the scented leaf geraniums into the greenhouse before the frost. I’ll be stripping out the spent annuals, and sowing the seeds I’ve saved to jump start next summer’s flowers, and I’ll be making pot pourri and some dried flower arrangements to give us scent and colour through the dark days.

    Because next week is the equinox, one of the tipping points of the year, and we’re heading for winter. I’m having a tipping point of some other kinds too. I seem to have shifted from ‘learning about’ this new territory, to ‘getting to know’ it. I am aware, not only of new facts as they come to my attention, but how they impact things I already know. I understand more about why some plants are thriving and some aren’t, how taking out all the stones from the front garden changes not only the drainage, but the feel of the soil, and I can hear when there’s a new bird in the garden. It feels like a more mutual phase, as the garden responds to what I’ve done – and not always in the way I expect. I had no idea the marshmallows would grow so tall, or how much shade the lilac tree casts.

    And in writing, too. I’ll be in the house more than the garden, in my head more than the world. I’m out of the note-making, researching, puzzling, planning stage and into the real words on the page. Unwilding is still very short – less than five per cent of the total, but there are actual words! And more importantly, as it turns out, the next poetry collection has begun to happen. It is tentatively called The Midsummer Foxes but it is also going to have bees, weather, music, herbs and the moon. I have always wanted to do a ‘four elements’ collection, and this may well be it. I am embarrassingly excited about it!

    left, a ceramic eggshell with gilded edges, middle, and arrangement of dried grasses, right a porcelain egg-shaped trinket box


  • The Second Year in the Garden

    rose border, fronted by opening daffodils

    This year’s gardening has started in earnest, now that the frost is over, and the borders are beginning to fill up. The early morning is full of birdsong from the trees in the valley, and a lot of very excited rooks, jackdaws and magpies from the gully behind the house. The burn is flowing strongly and the early shrubs – wild roses, honeysuckle and hawthorn – are showing their first leaves. In our garden I can see the beginnings of bud burst on the damson and apple trees, and I am cautiously optimistic that we will have blossom, although this is only their second spring here.

    There is good progress on the greenhouse, and I am hopeful it will be finished soon, as there are a lot of seeds waiting to move in!

    aluminium farme of small greenhouse on the patio
    cold frame full of seeds trays and young plants

    I have even started some opportunistic early potatoes in bags beside the shed – my favourite Pentland Javelin. After Sunday, when frost is forecast, the hardy annual herbs – chervil, parsley, dill – will go into the garden, as well as annual flowers for cutting. And then the real adventure will start, as I sow new perennial herbs. My aim is to get the overall structure of the garden in place this year, and try to attract as many pollinators and butterflies as I can, but I know I am already distracted by the thoughts of vegetables I can sneak into the gaps.

    In the house there is the same sense of burgeoning chaos. Editing slipped a bit during StAnza, but I’m almost finished one book, and getting started on three more. There will be a LIVE launch for The Well of the Moon – among many others which came out in lockdown, at a Red Squirrel Press showcase in April – watch out for more about this next week – and the Ceasing Never website went live. There are three articles up now, and it has attracted a lot of interest, and some very favourable comments. The collective includes eleven exciting poets, so there should be a lot to read and think about over the next few months.

    And also there is a new booklet in the works from Roncadora Press

    bracelet formed of tiny red and black books, containing an illustrated poem
    left page Hugh Bryden's picture of an owl, right page poem In Darkness
here the howlet sing/through the desolate night./Who will comfort you?/Oh, who?who?/ Who? Me! She answers

    The poem is a tiny sequence of Charms for the Healing of Grief, which I wrote about in the Group Hug post. There are seven charms, five herbs and two birds – all iconic Scottish species. Hugh Bryden illustrated it, and made the beautiful breaclet – which you can wear, if you dare. Because it would be so expensive to buy, (but get a look at it, if you get the chance – the construction and the little zoom-in pictures are FABULOUS!) he has also created a limited edition of the booklet, and there will be more about this when it is ready.

    I’m still reading a lot – I sold eight books at StAnza, and bought eleven, learning Irish and planning a big review of Jim Carruth’s amazing Auchensale Trilogy as well as my own stuff. No wonder I feel breathless! But there are moments of loveliness – this is my spring garden, finally doing its thing.

    white hellebores, red wallflower, some snowdrop and primrose plants in dappled sunshine

  • Days of Growing Light

    witch hazel in full blossom

    What a difference a year makes. Last year our front garden looked like this:

    brick wall, scrubby grass, a pile of stones

    but this year the witch hazel is out, the first snowdrops – a generous gift from a friend who sent five clumps, including some very special varieties – and wild daffodils are just coming through, and the primroses, rather battered from the heavy rain we’ve been having, are settling down for a long session. Elsewhere, roses, fruit trees and the dwarf willow are in bud, and most of the new plantings have survived the winter, and are showing new growth.

    I’m not used to this. In the quieter garden in Stirling, you could guarantee that a lot of plants would sulk, succumb to the wet or take a dislike to the acid soil or the lack of sunlight and give up, but here most things seem to thrive – unless the slugs get them. We have begun the process of putting up the new greenhouse, much hampered by Celtic Connections, which has been marvellous, and the weather, which has not. The seeds are waiting for a bit more consistent warmth, but light is growing by the day, and it won’t be long.

    Celtic Connections has been a joyous release – noisy, enthusiastic, a riot of languages, instruments, musical genres, melodies and creativity. Several gigs were not only a delight to listen to, but thought-provoking and inspiring too. The Trio Kali were a member short, because of visa hold-ups, but they performed anyway, with Scottish musicians playing in. There had been a crossover project during the summer, with Scottish and American musicians learning Griot music from Mali, incorporating native American and African influenced styles into Cajun and Appalachian traditions, and ‘closing the circle’ – showing how traditional Scottish music crossed the Atlantic and was enriched by the cultures of African and Indigenous people caught up in the colonial process – an example of acknowledging the history of slavery and oppression through collaboration and cooperation that will stay with me for a long time.

    Roisín Remembered was a different example – a fusion of traditional and Classical music that brought together language, poetry and history as well as music. As I go deeper into Seamus Heaney and Eavan Boland, I’m beginning to appreciate that this is really important, and it throws up something quite dysfunctional in our attitude to ‘culture’ – our assumption that culture is elitist, or an optional add-on, unrelated to ‘real life’ is something most other cultures don’t share, and the need for poetry to justify the time and effort we spend on it would be incomprehensible to most people.

    The other strand throughout Celtic Connections seems to have been protest. From the roar of support when the missing musician from Trio Kali finally arrived, to the Songs of Sorrow performed by Angeline, reclaiming the stories of black people in the English tradition, to the protest songs by Eliza Carthy and the Unthanks, the political tradition of folk music has been reassuringly obvious.

    Celtic Connections comes to an end this weekend, and then gardening, editing and writing will begin in earnest. We are all slowly coming back into the light,


  • Returning to the Light

    snowdrops coming up through snow

    If it seems like a long time since I posted here, it’s because it is. There was Christmas and New Year, with its cold and rain and merriment – we did have a very merry Christmas this year – and then my daughter who has a complicated bunch of ailments, had an attack of the one we had taken our eyes off, and she has been very ill. It’s a bad time to be ill, but her support services have been there for her exactly as we would have hoped. Things are slowly improving, so I can now think about other things, as the days slowly stretch, and there is a bit more brightness about.

    Although it’s been very cold today, it’s been sunny and we’ve been thinking about the garden. All my seeds for this year have come, and I’ll be setting up the propagator for chillis and tomatoes at the end of next week. My Christmas present tiny greenhouse is here and we have been clearing the site for it, which gave me a chance to spot the new shoots of fennel and wild pansy, to hear the birds – suddenly noisier – and see how much the bulbs have been growing.

    tulips daffodils and auricula - plus emerging willowherb and hairy bittercress

    Mostly the garden seems to have come through the cold, though there is one lavender that looks to have succumbed, but I won’t really know for sure for a month or two – last night with its temperatures down to -6 came as a shock! Outside, there are hazel catkins out beyond the haggard at the back of the house. All the burns are full and running fast, even the ditch beyond the back fence, and a lot of the grassy places are waterlogged. Robins are getting territorial and once the fireworks at New Year finished we began to hear the strange mating calls of our local foxes.

    There has been a lot spoken and written this winter about using the dark time of the year for recovery and reflection, and I’ve certainly been doing a lot of that. Last year brought me a lot of change and new understanding, not only of the place I now live, but of the way my mind works, and what I bring to the dialogue I hold with the territory. This is taking my thinking about poetry in a completely unexpected and exciting direction. I decided to spend a lot of the year reading Irish poetry, starting with Seamus Heaney and Eavan Boland, but also Yeats, Moya Cannon and Kerry Hardie, and it opens new possibilities in my thinking about the relationship between place, community and language. I have begun learning the Irish language – you would think I might have started with Scottish Gaelic, living where I do, but somehow Irish fits my brain and my ear much more sympathetically, and I hope this will give me a way into Scottish later.

    I have a full editing list for this year, too, which looks very promising, and a poetics project on the verge of becoming real in a couple of months which I hope start some good conversations. Throughout the pandemic, the possibilities for decent poetry conversation have been limited, and I have so missed it, but I hope that we are finally coming back into the light!


  • The Rune for Harvest

    on a wooden background, a pewter pendant with a rune on it

    This is the s- rune, which is never a good one to pick. In The Wren in the Ash Tree, which formed the last section of Haggards, there are lines about runes:

    And the völva is casting the runes.
    The leather bag is thick,
    tough and unbending,
    and gives away no secrets,
    but the stones mutter
    and grind against each other.
    The black angular lines –
    tree, hammer, wealth,
    ocean, ice – will come together,
    fall in the right configuration,
    give their bleak verdict soon enough.

    The rune for harvest is the same
    as the rune for the day of reckoning.

    Even the right way up the S is ominous, and if it is reversed, it foretells the apocalypse. That bit of The Wren is pretty apocalyptic, though it does move to a more positive mood later on (and the wrens are quite cute!), but the S-rune feels appropriate for the time we are in, not altogether doom-laden, but preparing for winter, warm clothes, jam and pickles and facing the realisation that what you have done is what you’ve got.

    Now work in the garden is coming to an end, the trees are losing their leaves in a blaze of magnificence, and before we start thinking about next year, next time, I’m making my reckoning. A few weeks ago we reached a whole year in this house, and we are no longer the newest on the estate. I’ve seen the seasons change, discovered the potential of the garden, worked out how we are going to use the rooms, begun to understand the weather and the seasonal changes. The house and garden have revealed their personalities, and roots are being set. There are poems at last. We have more herbs and less grass, more bookshelves and fewer cardboard boxes – we gave thirty boxes to one of our newer neighbours when they were moving in.

    We have weathered several changes in our family awareness as we navigate the ways to live with neurodiversity, and the need for more support. Some things will never be as easy as we hoped, but there is more kindness and help than we imagined. We have learned new ways to be involved in our community and different responsibilities. You have to deal with many more guisers at Hallowe’en here!

    Hallowe’en is a good time for this kind of evaluation. My pagan and witch friends are celebrating samhain and their ancestors, my folklore friends thinking about ghosts and hauntings and my own tradition makes this a time to remember our dead – the famous ones in Heaven and the dearer ones we hope are there, but who are still with us through the communion of saints. And I know everyone is trying to finish up the last jobs, the last maintenance so everything is ready for Christmas.

    Harvests are not all feasting and celebration, especially this year when there seems to be so much more cause for anxiety, but when the harvest is in, there is time for rest and recovery, for remembering and coming together, creating space for something new.

    an apple hanging from a branch against a blue sky

  • Lights, Camera, Action

    very green spring grass, with the first cuckoo flower

    On Sunday, I saw my first of these ladys smocks (also known as cuckoo flowers) growing in the forecourt of the police station. They are much earlier here in the west, than I was expecting, but it seems to me that the celandines, which have appeared en masse this week, are rather later. Along the footpath and in the park, the green things, which seemed to have stopped and started during March, have suddenly stirred into action. Ferns are unfolding, sheets of acid green petty spurge (also known as milkweed), dogs mercury – which indicates ancient woodland – and bluebell leaves are showing in the wilder bits of the park, and shepherd’s purse, ground ivy and whitlow grass are along the pavements. I never expected so much plantlife in this built up suburb, but it seems even more abundant here than back in Stirling.

    shepds purse showing seed heads and some flowers at the top

    The birds are busier too. We have several goldfinches, siskins, blue tits and chaffinches as regular visitors to the bird feeder. Though the sparrows seem to have dispersed a little, the blackbirds are back and the starlings are still here in their bronzed summer feathers. The common gulls have been joined by lesser black-backed gulls, and I can hear woodpeckers drumming in the trees along the footpath whenever I go out into the garden. All the smaller trees are wearing more green – hawthorn, birch, bramble, poplar and hazel, and the pink cherry trees the builders scattered around the estate have fat buds just ready to open.

    In the garden, I have seeds germinating in the cold frame, leaves on the dwarf willow and new shoots of lily of the valley and martagon lilies. The culinary herbs are settling into their new patch, and the first flowers have appeared on the rosemary. The beds at the back are looking a little bare, as I’m moving some plants to the front, and the new herbs to replace them won’t be ready for a while, but there are tulips I didn’t expect coming out all pink and scarlet, and plenty of purple blossom developing on the lilac.

    camellia in flower. To the right, a lilac in leaf, to the left daffodils

    Settling into this new space is like folk dancing – advance and retire, hands across the set, turn and progress. You think you discover something, you realise you got it wrong, then maybe, after all …. This garden does have more light and air than our previous garden, as I expected, and the soil is as heavy, but it isn’t acid, and barren. It is rich, and though full of stones, it’s also full of worms and grubs and ladybirds, and bumble bees have come out in hundreds now the weather is warm. In winter the back of the house was in shadow all morning and the sun rose straight into my study window, but now the first light shines into the windows to the right, and by ten the sun is so high over the roofs that most of the back, as well as all of the front, is in the light. The soil is not as wet as I had imagined on the south side – in fact it seems to have dried out a lot in the last coouple of weeks – but against the north and west fences, it’s still very wet. I think there may be an underground watercourse running down into the burn behind the house, and I’m planning to move all the wet-loving herbs – the marsh mallows, the flag irises and the meadowsweet there.

    It seems appropriate too, that there are finally new poems to think about, and new kinds of writing to experiment with. I haven’t done many reviews lately, because I still have fourteen boxes of books waiting for shelves, but I am working on an essay about geopoetics as a commentary on a discussion project I am working on with Pentland poet Helen Boden, whose debut collection A Landscape to Figure In was published by Red Squirrel Press last October. Look out for this in my next newsletter, which I hope to send out next month sometime.


  • Signs and Portents

    a pot of violas with a dark blue iris reticulata just opening up

    We are expecting two named storms this week – Dudley tomorrow, bringing wind, and possibly rain, and Eunice on Friday, bringing heavy snow. This winter, for all its mildness and rain, is testing me sorely. And yet—

    The birds know spring is on its way. There was a pair of robins in the garden, not attacking each other, so possibly pairing up, the crows and jackdaws are working on their nests, and the woodland strip down to the park is full of birdsong. I discovered that our soil is even heavier, fuller of stones, and stickier with clay than I feared, but I have planted an apple and a damson tree, and some fruit bushes. There are more daffodils and tulips in the garden than I expected, all lengthening and greening every time I look at them, and I have a witch hazel in full flower, just waiting for the border to be cleared for it.

    Other things are happening too. After two years of Zoom only launches, Red Squirrel Press have two LIVE events in the next fortnight – books by Helen Boden (A Landscape to Figure In) John Bolland (Pibroch) and Laura Fyfe (The Truth Lies) will be launched at Avant Garde

    Avant garde 34 King Street Glasgow G1 SQT, at 7pm. Please book in advance.

    and on Saturday 26th February at 1pm in the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh. You will need to book tickets to ensure covid compliance and you can do so here.

    I edited all three of these, so I know you will be in for a treat.

    Poetry too, is beginning to break through – no finished poems, but a couple of drafts:

    Time to look at the chaffinch on the feeder
    the first primrose, almost transparent
    in the winter wet – look, how beautiful,
    look, how stubborn persistence wins through
    against frost, look, pigeons amorous already,

    look, catkins, look –

    And some non-fiction projects have moved from the vague pipe dream stage, to structural plans and reading lists and task sheets. There are review notes in the planning process too, but they will have to wait. In March, someone is coming to build us a LIBRARY, and until then, all the books are in boxes. There will be painting of walls to do first, because the library is in what used to be a children’s playroom, painted lemon yellow and with cut-out woodland animals on the walls. I think there was a meme going around about women wanting a cottage in a forest with a herb garden and a library – and it does look as if I am getting close!


  • Ploughing the Rocks of Bawn

    Come all you loyal heroes wherever you may be

    Don’t hire with any master till you know what your work may be

    Don’t hire with any master from the clear daylight till the dawn

    For he’ll want you rising early to plough the rocks of Bawn

    The Rocks of Bawn – Irish traditional

    By some oversight, I don’t have any photos of the front border from when we came. It was a tangle of potentilla (a pale pink, rather washed out and struggling), senecio bushes, wildly overgrown, and a sinister sprinkle of creeping buttercup and couch grass. This is what it looks like now!

    bare soil with three rose bushes, and daffodils and tulips just showing through

    It was a sair fecht! And I have had the words of that song (sung by Christy Moore), running through my head ever since. The senecio wasn’t that bad, though it had layered itself and overgrown itself and died back and resprouted, but I got it out, eventually. What made it such a pain was the soil, mostly sticky clay, but also some rather scratchy sand, and these:

    pile of stones against a brick wall

    These are what I dug out of the planting holes for the roses. I should have known – there is a geology report of the area which describes the ground as heavy silty clay with cobbles inclusions, over coal measures. I had to look that up too, but it means the sort of thing you find where coal might be present – siltstone, mudstone, and limestone, which explains why the soil, although wet, isn’t as acid as I thought it might be. But I had no idea how many stones there were, nor how hard it would be to get them up. But there are now three roses, Maidens Blush, a delicate pink alba rose, Buff Beauty, a creamy-yellow musk rose developed in the early twentieth century, and Tuscany Superb, a variant of the Apthecary rose (gallica officinalis) I’ve grown for years. It’s a deep crimson, and richly scented – as in fact they all are. There’s no point in a rose without a scent!

    The other excitement was discovering that there are airvents in the wall, which were covered up by soil on one side, and lawn on the other.

    grass growing up to a brick wall, in which you can just see the vent, almost buried

    The garden slopes down towards the south, and clearing those vents is going to involve creating steps down, so that soil doesn’t just wash downhill. My conversations with this garden are becoming steadily more feisty!

    I’m still getting used to the east-west orientation. The light is never where I expect it to be, and the wind, which is still mostly south-west, pats and plays with the house, like a cat with a ball, or hurls rain against the kitchen windows, living the sittingroom peaceful. We can’t hear the slates rattling here, partly because they are heavy concrete ones, mostly because we’re not directly under the roof. In the old house it was easy to imagine trolls riding the roof until it broke, as they used to in Icelandic sagas, but the draught whistles through the windows. All of which means that my planting designs are being revised again and again, as I find cosier corners for things that like sun or shelter, more open ones for plants that are hardy, or want shade. It’s as disorientating as learning a new language, but as fascinating.



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