You are cordially invited to3

Thursday 28 November 2013, at 6.30pm at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

This summer, the SPL has placed poets and their iPads in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s four Gardens across Scotland in a project that perhaps re-invigorates nature writing in the 21st century.  In Benmore, Edinburgh, Logan and Dawyck, the poets have used blogs, Twitter and Facebook to share their experience of these wonderful gardens.  At this celebration, Sue Butler, Mandy Haggith, Jean Atkin and Gerry Loose will read poems inspired by their residencies and will tell us about their time in the RBGE’s Botanic Gardens.
If you are in Edinburgh tomorrow evening, we would be delighted to welcome you to this celebration of Walking With Poets.

This project has been made possible thanks to: Year of Natural Scotland funding from Creative Scotland, and additional support from the Big Give donors and Cove Park.  

Into the Forest cover

During the evening, Mandy Haggith will be launching her new anthology of poems based on the Gaelic Tree Alphabet into the forest.  (You will be able to purchase a copy for £20 cash only.)

All four participating poets-inresidence will read from the book

Please note:  Entry only via RBGE Staff Offices at 20A Inverleith Row (look out for the flags!), Edinburgh EH3 5LR.

 Join us if you are free.  Book via eventbrite

A tree from a lost world

20130712-202125.jpgIn July Mandy blogged about this beautiful tree.  On this bitter cold, bright November day it seems fitting to enjoy it again!  Frances

Until the 1940s, Metasequoia trees were found only in fossils, and believed to have been extinct for 20 million years. So when a Chinese forester, Chan Wang, found them in 1943 in Hubei province, it was like the discovery of a lost world. There was endless speculation about what other relics of the age of the dinosaurs might turn out to be hiding in remote valleys.

The metasequoia was christened the Dawn Redwood, and a few seeds were sent from China to horticulturists in Europe and America. Then, in the late 1940s, the bamboo curtain fell, and there was no further access to the mysterious land they had been found in for more than 30 years. One of the seeds grew into a tree in Edinburgh, and it has turned out to be a beauty: elegantly pyramidal, with delicate leaves and an ancient-looking, flaky-barked trunk.

Now the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens has a flourishing relationship with China, helping to record and protect the country’s extraordinary biodiversity. Who knows what other wonders are yet to be discovered there?

Dawyck cycle paths – with Gerry Loose in early September

not a road

not a path

not a track

we pedal trunks

not fallen


with us

for cloud

for sun

for seed


My garden visitor was an elderly forester who had worked for the Forestry Commission in the 1950′s. One of his jobs was the collection of seed from Dawyck’s Douglas Firs. Then, as now, Douglas Fir was a commercial timber tree. Native seed was scarce, and imported seed expensive. Nothing simpler then, to collect seed from Dawycks’s Firs, even sixty years ago, matured specimens. Collect seed, stratify it, germinate and grow into year-old whips for planting out.

It was the method of seed collection, however that was interesting. In order not to damage Dawyck’s fine specimens, which conventional tree climbing spikes would have done, he used a Swiss Tree Bicycle. This bike had horizontal steel band wheels which circled the tree and to which were attached pedals. Each time the foot was lifted – pedalled – he rose a little further up the trunk.

Dressed in ordinary working clothes, with no protective equipment, my visitor cycled up the Douglas Firs, pausing only to trim protruding boughs with his handsaw, pocketed seed and cycled down the way he’d cycled up.

Chainsaws have overtaken the handsaw and cherry pickers the Swiss Tree Bicycle, but it was a fine thing to have this story and this forester’s connection with Dawyck’s vanished recent history.


( I want to have a go on a Swiss Tree Bicycle!  Frances, Project Manager)

Re-Listen to the dark-shade silence

At Midsummer this year, Sue Butler was celebrating in Benmore Garden.  There are two reasons to re-post this blog, the first is easy – its very cold this Scottish November day and secondly in Sue’s post that day she introduced me to William Cullen Bryant – and as it was his birthday just a couple of days ago I think it is timely to repost Sue’s blog – he would be 219 years old now!


Path in wooded shadeI’ve just been talking to one of the gardeners at Benmore about what they do with all the timber they must get here (trees that need to be felled, storm damage etc.) and it got me thinking, not for the first time today, about William Cullen Bryant who was born in 1794, in a log cabin near Cummington, Massachusetts.

The person who introduced me to Bryant’s poetry, told me, He often gets a bad press, but if you listen carefully you’ll hear solitude and the kind of dark-shade silence that you only encounter in woods.

And that does seem to be the case, because even when Cullen is talking about the heat of midsummer, I can, if I listen really carefully, just about hear, that dark-shade silence.

But don’t take my word for it, have a read and a listen for yourself.

Midsummer by William Cullen Bryant

A power is on the earth and in the air,
From which the vital spirit shrinks afraid,
And shelters him in nooks of deepest shade,
From the hot steam and from the fiery glare.
Look forth upon the earth—her thousand plants
Are smitten; even the dark sun-loving maize
Faints in the field beneath the torrid blaze;
The herd beside the shaded fountain pants;
For life is driven from all the landscape brown;
The bird hath sought his tree, the snake his den,
The trout floats dead in the hot stream, and men
Drop by the sunstroke in the populous town:
As if the Day of Fire had dawned, and sent
Its deadly breath into the firmament.


Single tree trunk in shadeCullen is also known for his line, Truth crushed to earth will rise again, which Martin Luther King quoted in his ‘Give Us The Ballot’ speech.

It’s a line that came to mind much earlier on today when someone at Benmore was showing me pictures of how fire burns through a Redwood forest and although it kills or damages many of the more mature trees, it triggers the germination of seeds that have been lying dormant.

And in terms of poetry, this Midsummer Day has seen the germination of many dormant seeds. Thanks to everyone I have walked and chatted and written with today. (Sorry there were so many midges.)

I hope much has been planted that will grow and grow.



where may they ‘find my bones’?

'They may only find my bones...'

‘They may only find my bones…’

In August Jean Atkin met some awesome children – here’s two of them with poems more than suitable for the night that’s in it!

Frances, project manager

Two frisky fantastic kids bounded into the Poetry Yurt this afternoon.  They ran round reading lots of poems, and telling me about themselves.  Mum looked in so we took off all together to explore the Gunnera Bog.  Damian and Cheyenne squirmed into the core of the Gunnera, leaving a trail of shrieks.

When they came back to the Yurt they wrote poems about their experience on Logan Poetry Postcards.  Here’s an extract:

‘The leaves feel like sharkskin 

and I feel like Thumbelina’  Cheyenne

‘It’s a world where size goes wrong.

I was in a green tunnel.

They may only find my bones.’     Damian

Later I set off into the Garden, where I read poems to visitors, by the Poet Tree, by the beech hedge (while a sweet baby of 11 months cooed at flowers), by the Millstones and back at the Poetry Yurt…

A Book of Six Leaves
A Book of Six Leaves

I handed out some copies of ‘A Book of Six Leaves’ too, so people can make their own poems as they explore the garden.

Still walking …

Poems to Hang in a Walled Garden driftwoodFor four months this summer, four fine poets took up residencies at each of the four gardens of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.  I have had the great job of driving around Scotland to beautiful gardens working with interesting and lovely people.  And it’s not quite over!

On 28 November a celebration of the project is being held in Edinburgh at the RBGE.  Full details can be found using this link at eventbrite – join us if you can!

Between now and then, our online celebration begins with a reprise of blogs and poems from Gerry when in Dawyck, Jean in Logan during August, Mandy’s month in Edinburgh and Sue’s June at Benmore.  Relive summer 2013!

Here are two short poems from the anthology Sue Butler created to celebrate the glorious redwoods at Benmore –

Redwood Avenue at Benmore Garden

Redwood Avenue at Benmore Garden

Sad trees by Rosemary Owen, Glasgow
Puck’s Hut:
A beacon in the distance.
Trees dance to the melancholy of the wind
As I descend.

Untitled and anonymous
Tall, tall trees
with green, green leaves
are nature’s key.
This I now see.

Project Manager

That which was broken

A small, exquisite and fragile artwork arrived at Dawyck, sent from Finland by the artist Hannele Rantala. She writes: “Inside of this package should be an egg. It was once broken, but I made it as new as I possibly could. Somehow it is not, after my restoration, as good as new. Something very big is missing. . . . find a peaceful place for this broken (but repaired!) thing to rest.”

Fragility, ephemerality, trust, wisdom and art are what Hannele sent.

So: Hannele Rantala, with Morven Gregor‘s photography, Dawyck Botanic Gardens & my suggestions:









I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong.


Morven Gregor’s Guest blog

Walking with Wilson & Wang Wei

Plant hunter Ernest “Chinese” Wilson (1876 – 1930) built his reputation gathering plant specimens from across China and bringing them to the UK. Many of the specimens he planted thrive in Dawyck today.

Wang Wei (701 – 761) was a poet, painter and writer on painting. He is credited as being the first Chinese pure landscape painter. His work became a model for future generations.

At Dawyck in the 21st century, we walked among Wilson’s now mature plants and landscape that was animated by Wang Wei’s poems.




a burn of light

Autumn renga composed at Dawyck Botanic Garden, September 30th, 2013
by Colin Will, Gerry Loose, Morven Gregor, Stewart Keith, and with an opening verse by Taneda Santoka.


I sit down

in the midst of

my local dialect

                grey cloud threatening

                shining ceramic

a burn of light


ten thousand leaves

                is that the tree

                that smells like toffee?

parachuting spider

do you care

where you’ll end?

                freewheeling Dylan in Dawyck

                no hard rains after all

I’ll give you

the big half

of the apple pie

                fattening fruit

                the grower eyes each one

tea from the terraces

green on green

fold on fold

                coorying in

                wool blankets and rum

home comforts

out the window

on a starless night

                drinking until dawn

                a hint of hyacinths