Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer


  • Limestone, Mudstone, Clay

    sedum, poppy, cranesbill in front, hyssop,dyers greenweed and hypericum behind

    The front garden is quite colourful this week, but it is telling me very forcefully that I have a lot to learn about this soil. Oh good, I thought, when I tested it in spring. It’s neutral and holds water well. No, it isn’t. It is alkaline becuse of the drift of coal measures just below the surface – pebbles of limestone and mudstone embedded in thick rubbery clay. It is neutral where the previous gardeners put lots of peaty compost, but where I dug up the scrubby lawn and corporate clumps of senecio the developers left, the soil is fine and stony, and where I have sifted out as many stones as I could bear to lift, the rain drains away as if through a colander. The camellia I brought from Stirling is not happy, but the lavenders love it. They like the fine soil and the sunshine, too. I hadn’t appreciated just how much more light and warmth this garden gets either – there’s a hosta in the back that looks positively bleached. Plants like the violets I thought would relish a sunnier place than they had in the old garden are telling me it’s all too much, and clamouring for a bit of dappled shade.

    Living here is like learning a new language. There’s a fizz and a sparkle about it, a generosity of flowers and insects that I didn’t know, but also a ruthlessness in the slugs that have eaten all my seedlings and the sawflies that have decimated the roses. I can grow things here I never expected to grow before, but I have to water and mulch more often. There are ladybirds and blue tits in abundance, but they aren’t dealing with the aphids as well as I expected – I think there isn’t yet enough cover for them to feel safe here, especially as there are a lot of cats in the estate. I’m going to have to plant more and save water, learn the new pests and deal with them, follow the patterns of cloud and sun – which I still can’t help feeling is in the wrong place, or coming from the wrong direction. It’s complicated too, by the dips and hollows, the angles at which the garden slopes away towards the south and west, and the insistence of plants I thought I would leave in the haggards. Look at this St John’s wort, crashing my planting of borage behind the juniper!

    borage seedlings and a lot of st johns' wort, prostrate juniper in the foreground.

    The poetry is struggling with this new territory, too, but there are lines coming through, and a whole new poem, which I’m going to be reading tonight at this lovely on-line event – Chill Out Session organised by fellow Red Squirrel and Stirling Makar, Laura Fyfe.


    It would be lovely to see you there!

  • The Year Among Herbs

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was taken in the wonderful garden at Poyntzfield this summer – one of the highlights of a busy, fascinating and frustrating year of Half a Hundred Herbs. There were the three gardens I visited in the summer – Culross, in Fife, Poyntzfield, near Cromarty, and the Secret Herb Garden on the outskirts of Edinburgh, all full of scent and colour and inspiration.

    There was the Herb Society which I rejoined in June. When I was last a member, this seemed to be a backwater for romantic amateurs and unreconstructed hippies, but it is now a more grounded mix of botanists, medical herbalists, cooks, gardeners, academics and folklorists. There are more events, a wider membership and a lively news network, not to mention a quarterly journal full of well-written articles and information, and I’m getting a lot for my subscription.

    As I went through the year, I moved from a feeling of despair about the standard of writing about herbs, to discovering some fascinating historical research, beautiful illustrations and soundly based practical information about growing and using them. Some really excellent books have come my way, and I’ll be adding a bibliography to the Half a Hundred Herbs page over the Christmas period. Blogs have emerged that go beyond the gossipy journal, the sales pitch or the cut and paste vignette. As well as Whispering Earth which I mentioned here, I’ve come across two. The first is written by Renee Davis, and though it isn’t very active, the articles are current, well-researched and relevant. You can find it at https://www.goldrootherbs.com/

    and then there is the excellent blog on the JustBotanics site, written by Debs Cook, well-written, thorough, and with lots of useful links. You will find it here: https://www.justbotanics.co.uk/blog/.

    I’ve had a really interesting time growing, propagating and harvesting the herbs in my garden. I’ve succeeded with bergamot and chamomile for the first time, propagated horehound, hyssop, and mullein, and managed to get hold of the genuine orris plant, scented leaf geraniums and a new mint – which is still shedding its own distinct fragrance round the greenhouse.

    Two small scale projects I’m thrilled to have tried are the chamomile lawn – a mere six feet by three, so far! and the knot garden, which is barely four inches high just now, but which has established good roots, and should get away early next spring.

    worlds smallest knot gardenNext year this blog will be focussing more on the different ways of using herbs. I have my eye on recipes for herb salt and pepper, flavoured vinegars, candied angelica and seeds for flavouring bread and cakes. And I’ll be thinking of how our use of herbs affects our relationship to the earth, to nature, our senses, our health and our food; how we acquire transmit and value knowledge, how we use them to reflect our values, create political and economic practices and express our creativity, traditions and tribal allegiances. It’s a big intellectual burden for a bunch of small green plants, but herbs can take it!


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