BurnedThumb

Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer


gardening


  • The Gallus Herbs

    witch hazel against a brick wall. A slanting line of sunlight. rather weedy foreground.

    I have been out weeding this patch of the front garden before the rain gets here this afternoon. Although it looks better, I couldn’t say I’d made a meticulous job of it, but then my allegiance is divided. Because it is the front garden, overlooked from the sitting room, and faces directly onto the street, I really wanted it to look cared for and intentional, with scent and colour all the year round. But on the other hand, I can’t help wondering if a lot of what I’m taking out isn’t at least as interesting as what I’m leaving.

    a clump of snowdrops

    I will admit I can’t get too enthusiastic about hairy bittercress, which gets everywhere there’s an inch of bare soil, but some people eat it as a salad or a spring tonic. I could probably do without willowherb too, but buttercups? I do like them, in their proper place. And dandelions? They are very useful, for salads and to make into a salve for aching muscles, a dye herb, a coffee substitute, and pollinators love them. I like their brassy cheerfulness, their delicate seedheads and their folklore, but I have to admit there’s nothing makes a garden look neglected more quickly than a bunch of seeding dandelions. I’ll have to move them behind the shed or up against the back fence, or behind the greenhouse.

    The plants I’ve left aren’t much of a guide – the meadowsweet and ragged robin, the wood violet, foxgloves that hitch-hiked on the pot plants from my previous garden, the betony and woundwort, the field poppy that has seeded itself even in the gravel of the parking spaces, the dog rose I found behind the buddleia. If I keep them, shouldn’t I keep the stitchwort, the eyebright, the red clover? And as for the chickweed, if I pull it out I’ll need to forage for some to make soothing cream for my skin, but I really don’t think I can let it smother my pansies.

    The problem with the gallus herbs is that they are relentless and stubborn. They give no quarter to their neighbours, and they won’t stay where they are put. Invincible champions, in fact:

    Praise-Poem for Weeds
    I call on the gallus herbs,
    the wild herbs of verge and scrub,
    the loud and flashy herbs,
    the herbs with the souls of weeds,
    the unrelenting invaders who blow
    their seeds over the hills,
    send their roots rampaging
    through the ditches, between
    my lettuce and cabbage and kale.
    I’ll butter their feral paws,
    tame them in my pestle, they’ll guard me
    from elf-shot, the stitch, the sudden
    pain that sneaks between the light
    woven shield of my ribs.
    Feverfew, plantain, red dead nettle!
    Come, smother it all, you little witches,
    you ghosts of old gardeners,
    you tough, bristly, bitter
    invincible champions.

    (from The Well of the Moon)

    They can stay. Probably not in the front garden, but wherever I am, I am sure the gallus herbs will follow in my footprints.

    a pot of helleborus niger. Two terracotta pigeons stand in front of it

  • After the Storms

    A pale blue iris just opening in a very wet border

    We have had two named storms in three days, which is something new. Now things are quieter, but still very wet and the burn behind the house, which is normally nothing more than a deep damp ditch, is running noisily down the hill to join the Lightburn and into the Clyde. I went out to see if the greenhouse and all my pot plants were intact, which they were, mostly, though I think I’ve lost a cowslip seedling. The quarter tray it was in was spun round and upended, and the contents are probably halfway across the garden.

    But the new warmer temperatures have spurred the garden into growth. Everywhere I look there are daffodil, snowdrops, tulip shoots and iris springing up, even a lone and battered crocus underneath the roses.

    snowdrops, their flower-heads showing but not yet open, coming up between houseleeks.

    The first witch hazel blssom is out and many of the perennials in the garden are putting up vigorous shoots. Of course, the place is a mess, as I try not to cut everything down too vigorously – if you leave the dead stems it provides hibernating spaces for ladybirds and other useful creatures, but I must admit, I’m longing for a dry day to get out and create a little order and room for the new plants. I have bought many of my seeds now, mullein and agrimony, soapwort, wormwood and mugwort. I’ve tried several times to save seeds from the wild plants down along the Clyde Walkway, but without success, so I bought some from Earthsong Seeds, whose seeds worked pretty well for me last year.

    I have some more ordinary seeds too, thanks to my grandson who say he wants to grow rainbow carrots and lettuce and some gigantic yellow sunflowers with me, and I’m going back to my favourite Harbinger tomatoes. I tried Ruthje from Vital Seeds last year, but I wasn’t impressed, though I think the (relatively) cold summer, and the late start might have had a lot to do with it. And now my fingers are itching to get started.

    The birds are getting restless too. Before the cold snap there was a definite increase in birdsong, though it seems to have tailed off a bit, and the pigeons are playing kiss chase in the cedar tree two gardens down. There was a robin staking its claim to one of the hawthorn trees along the burn, and the magpies are playing King of the Castle along the rooftops. It’s been a long dreary January, but finally, we are inching towards spring.

    witch hazel branch, the first blossom untangling itself.

  • Coming into Flower

    There’s a whole lot of progress and change going on in this territory. The herbs are full and lush, and sage and thyme are drying in the kitchen for the winter.

    The iris border has come magnificently into flower, all at once this time, instead of spreading itself out over a month.

    The lavenders I bought last summer are bulking up, and beginning to show their true colours.

    The pond is midge heaven this week – very annoying for me, but rather delightful for the tadpoles who are beginning to rise to the surface to catch them. And maybe this is what I have to thank for the large numbers of swallows, martins and especially swifts I am seeing in the early morning. I’m sure there are many more than last year, although the picture isn’t uniformly good, as I’ll tell you later.

    Closer to the house the first rose is in flower.

    And the vegetables are beginning to grow with a will. There are no lettuces from seed, nor spinach, as the slugs have had the lot, but peas, beetroot, leeks, sprouts, broccoli and courgettes are doing well, and in the greenhouse the tomatoes and the cucumber have made the most of last week’s good weather.

    On the riverbank, there is still a lot of feeding of baby birds going on. Blackbirds, wrens and dunnocks, are especially busy. The black-backed gull chicks have hatched, but not even the sight of the endearing balls of fluff running around the warehouse roof on their disproportionately long legs can reconcile me to the fact that the martin’s nest I spotted two weeks ago is silent and abandoned. The gulls had the lot. I had hoped that the martins had just moved in under the roof of the tenement, but no, that is the starlings on brood#2!

    There is also some exciting geopoetics news. We now have a facebook page and a twitter account @SCGeopoetics. I hope a lot of people who read this blog will like the page or follow the feed, and get all the news as it happens!


  • Thinking Like a Tree

    These are pictures from last year, and choosing them really showed me how late everything is. This time last year the alchemilla looked like this:

    and it does, just about!But in my May folder there are pictures of my iris border in full flower, and it’s only just in bud now, and all these aquilegias – barle a twinkle in the border’s eye!

    Things are beginning to move very fast now. I still have the very last daffodils, the cowslips, the lily of the valley and the tulips, while the rowan and cow parsley are in flower and the sweet rocket – which may well go on all summer is begiining to show. The housemartin nests under the eaves across the river are full of noisy chicks already, though they only came back at the beginning of the month, and the first birds – the sparrows, starlings and chaffinches have fledged, and there are young greenfinches on the riverbank, while the black-backed gulls are still sitting tight on eggs.Tadpoles in the pond are large and very lively, and the magpies are courting disaster trying to fish for them – mostly without success. All the vegetables are planted out now, and the window-boxes are ready to go into place.

    On the writing front, things are maturing nicely, mostly thanks to the conversations I have having with a poet I met at Wiston Hall – Cora Greenhill, which have not only moved me in a new direction, but made me more aware of the complex and multi-layered processes that go into my work – all of which should mean a bit less thrashing about in all directions trying to get moving, and a lot less settling for the quick and empty image-grab. If I’ve been a bit quiet lately, that’s mostly why. I’m having a moratorium on the whole jumping-in-with-both-feet thing, becoming less of a magpie-mind and a bit more grounded, persistent and nurturing to my ideas – more like a tree, maybe? It’s rather a pleasant process!


  • The Merry Month of May

    As I look out of my window, May doesn’t seem so very merry. There is a mass of thick grey cloud away to the north, and a cold wind blowing intermittent rain showers at the window. Moreover, I’ve been out of action with a bad headache, and not feeling disposed to be merry at all—
    However, we do seem to have turned a corner. It’s much warmer than it was, and there was at least one day of welcome sun. All the trees, even the ash and oak, are in leaf, the pear plum and cherry trees are in full bloom, and I’ve just seen the first apple blossom on my neighbour’s trees. The swallows and martins are busy, I’ve seen the first swifts, and the birds are all carrying food, not nest materials. Every time I look at my garden, I feel happier.

    The productive bit of the garden is beginning to shape up too. The vegetable seeds are in, and coming on nicely and there are blossoms on the fruit bushes. Because of the current anxiety about bees,I am trying to take photos of all the bees I see in my garden, and there certainly seem to bee a lot more about this week.

    They aren’t very bright! This one was trapped in the greenhouse for ages, as unlike wasps, they don’t seem to understand glass. Butterflies aren’t much better. There was a peacock trapped in there last week, as I tried to waft it towards the vent or the door without success. The warm weather brought out a lot of butterflies. I’ve seen tortoisehells and peacocks and the first whites.

    And I’ve tried my hand at a more complicated sourdough mix, this time including rye and barley flour. I was really pleased with it – I can see that I’m going to have to make a lot more sourdough in the future!>

    On the poetry front, I’ve been working on some of the poems I started in April, and I’m very excited by it. Having to produce so much in such a short time pushed me out of my usual range, and meeting so many good poets at the Dark Mountain Writing Weekend really helped me raise my game.


  • Dark Mountain Writing

    Last weekend I was at the Dark Mountain Wriiting Weekend at Wiston Lodge, organised by Susan Richardson and Em Strang. Sue was someone I’d got to know via the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics, and you can read some of her poetry in the new issue of Stravaig, and I’d come across Em’s work in Earthlines so that was encouraging. Then the good people of Wiston Lodge coped easily with my awkward dietary requirements, so it was aways likely to be a good experience. It was better than that, however. The peace and the structure that was set up gave me a chance to forget all the stuff happening at home, and just write; the workshops and the conversations they generated were inspiring, and I met some wonderful writers and made some excellent friends. What more could a person ask?

    This is the campfire we had on the Saturday (that’s Sue in the photo). Some very exciting ideas were hatched and there will be more about them over the next few weeks and months. Several of us have blogs, and I’ll put links to them in the sidebar.

    But now I’m home, and busily catching up on the garden work, the housework and all the dealings with medical services which are making up a large part of life just now. But at least spring has happened. Every day there is a new flower, a new bird (swallows arrived on Wednesday!) or new leaves of another tree. Even the hail this afternoon doesn’t seem to have stopped it. These are the latest – cowslips in my tiny woodland garden.

    And I have finally achieved a long-standing ambition. I’ve baked our own bread since I was married, but sourdough has eluded me. This is my first edible sourdough loaf, and it was lovely. There are so many recipes I’m going to try now!


  • Rain!

    Most of the garden seems to have been in suspended animation lately.I’ve been looking at the rhubarb for a month, saying “Another week will do it!” with no result. On the other hand, the primroses are thickening up nicely,

    and the whole spring border seems to have made a step forward.But everything was getting very dry – an odd thing, after all the rain last year – and despite the gathering cloud, the dropping pressure and the humidity, it never rained. The wind remained in the east, and it was cold.

    This morning, though the wind remains easterly, it has rained – half-hearted drizzly mist at first, but now genuinely wet stuff. I’ve just been out to water the greenhouse, and it smells wonderful!

    There’s been very little gardening lately, what with the frost, my arthritis and my daughter’s illness, but I’ve been keeping up with NaPoWriMo – more or less, and so far I’ve written:

    • Nettle Shirt
    • Dum Y At(haiku)
    • Ruined Abbey
    • MurmurationHaiku)>
    • Opening Autumn
    • You Will Get Lost(from a prompt from Jo Bell)
    • Primroses(haiku)
    • Chant for SpringPrompted by Jo Bell, again

    And the new issue of Stravaig is now online. I don’t have any poetry in it, but there’s an essay about my territory, and a review of last year’s Dark Mountain anthology – a beautiful book, with an awful lot to say.



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