Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer


  • Lavender’s Blue

    a border of lavender just about to open

    It is Midsummer Day and the cloud is thick and heavy, though it is quite warm, and there hasn’t been much rain. The burn is quiet and the muddy banks are drying out. The pollen count is very high, so I am not even thinking of going into the garden until the next shower. The roses are in full bloom now and the tutsan bush and the dyer’s greenweed make a bright flash of yellow among all the leafage of the front garden, where the lavender borders are just thinking of coming into flower.

    This week’s harvest has been the quaint stems of quaking grass:

    seedheads of quaking grasshanging like Chinese lanterns

    which will dry so they will last all the year round. I will add the heads of poppy and teasel, when they ripen – their pale neutrals will make an airy display on my window sill. The poppies are at their best, though they seem to flower erratically, never more than two or three at a time, and dropping their petals within twenty-four hours, so there is a constantly moving flash of fire against the green.

    The weather has been so cold at nights until the last week that the cuttings I took have not yet rooted and the tomatoes are looking puny and miserable. The herbs are thriving, however – the vervain and wormwood I planted out have taken well, and chamomile, yarrow, honeysuckle and marigold are on the edge of flowering. And finally we have meadowsweet in flower in the dampest part of the front garden – I didn’t feel properly settled in this garden until the meadowsweet and lavender have made themselves at home, so this feels significant!

    The cold seems to have been tough for the birds too. Although this year’s broods fledged about when I expected, they are still coming to the feeders in great numbers, which seems to show that there isn’t so much alternative food about. We have a great spotted woodpecker too, conspicuous among the drab juvenile starlings by its flashes of scarlet, but the magpies seem to have intimidated the robins and goldfinches.

    On the solstice we went to Cathkin Brae to watch the sunset. It was a disappointingly cloudy night, and the midges were out in force, but there were two thrushes singing against each other from the tallest trees and the air was full of the scent of elderflower. Let’s hope for less cloud and more sun this summer!

  • Lavender’s blue


    Well, you’d think, wouldn’t you. But sometimes lavender can look like this – lavender stoechas, possibly ‘Avignon’


    or this

    Pink lavender

    Which is lavender rosea, or this

    white lavendar

    which is lavender alba. They are all flowering their lovely heads off, and I’ve taken cuttings. With luck there will be some to share with poets at the Callander Poetry Weekend, which falls this year on the 2nd to the 4th September. Usually I would be encouraging people to sign up for a reading slot, but it seems that the word is out already and there is a wonderful programme in prospect, with the usual mix of readings, book launches, performance pieces, discussion groups, and a lot of good food and conversation.

    The weekend got plenty of publicity at the Callander Haiku readings last night, as many of the contributors had met, or learned about haiku at previous weekends. I can’t recommend this weekend too highly, particularly as all the events are free, so if you are new to poetry readings, it’s an easy way to dip your toe in the water.

    But in the meantime, I’ve been gardening, harvesting gooseberries and redcurrants, drying oregano for the winter, and beginning to cosset the first tomatoes. The roses are in full bloom and the honeysuckle is just beginning to flower – I think the combination of warm weather and torrential rain which we’ve had this week has really suited the garden! And there are flower buds on the myrtle bush for the first time.

    In the quiet of the school holidays, I’ve taken time to rethink the next phase of this blog. I have a couple of poetry projects cooking – some translations from Old English, and a LONG poem dealing with land ownership and exile, environmental neglect, femininity, wildness and poetry. I’m getting sidetracked by research into wrens, fairy tales, folk music and early monasticism, but if I can bring it off, it’s going to be enormously satisfying. I may post scraps of it here every now and then. And I’m focusing my reviews to come up with a poetics of inhabitation – more human than eco-poetry, but less anthropocentric than pastoral. But I have no doubt that there will be the same mix of territory walking, domesticity and comment as usual. I hope those of you who are kind enough to read this regularly will enjoy it.


  • Half a Hundred Herbs Week 39 – Bay

    bay1Once we had a bay tree. At its best, it was about seven feet high and as vigorous as anything in the garden. It survived temperatures of -20 degrees, and there was a blackbird’s nest in it. Unfortunately, however, it took up a lot of room and shaded out everything else in the herb patch, so it had to go. We cut it down, dug up roots and punched copper nails into the stump, but for years it kept coming back, and this is one of the suckers thrown up in its last days. For all the vigour of the stems, they don’t root particularly easily, and to be honest, this is my sole success.

    Bay is very slow to get going in the spring, which used to cause me some nervousness after the very cold winters, as I wondered if it would ever get going. In France it used to be said that you could tell when you could move your orange trees out of the greenhouse by noticing when the bay started to put out new leaves. But it’s hardier than you would think.

    Bay is the first herb I ever used, in savoury mince in my Domestic Science class – you can guess my advanced age by the fact that I not only had the classes, but we actually cooked in them – and it is probably the herb I use most often, in meat sauces, stocks and stews. Its scent is rich, and to me, unmistakeably savoury, but there does seem to be a vogue for putting it in sweet custards, which I don’t really get.

    It has some medicinal uses, for liver and stomach complaints, and can be used in pot pourri to add depth and a more masculine edge. But most of its non-kitchen uses are magical or symbolic. Wreaths of the leaves symbolised victory, and it is said that the oracles at Delphi were given under the influence of the smoke from burning bay branches. Trees were planted to provide protection from demons and witchcraft, and the sudden death of a bay tree was regarded as an omen of disaster. Bay and rosemary were used as decorations for houses at Christmas before the introduction of Christmas trees, and the twigs were burned on Twelfth Night, which may have provided a very welcome disinfectant and insect-repellant smoke after the crowded and stuffy holiday season.

    bay2This is a plant I bought when I was feeling pessimistic about the prospects of the rooted suckers. It’s doing pretty well too, a little ahead of my own plant. I’ll keep them in pots, clipped small, and harvest the leaves regularly.

    The garden is doing very well, in spite of the heavy rain. Chervil and coriander have germinated, and the first harvests of chives and mint are in the freezer. The little plants I put in the revamped culinary patch have settled in well, though I don’t know how much growth the sage plants will put on. Woodruff and cowslips are in flower, and the new lavender hedge and the chamomile offsets I planted out are beginning to thrive. Now it’s all about keeping ahead of the horsetail, hairy bittercress, willow herb and creeping buttercup which will take over if I take my eye off them for a minute!

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