Sunday mornin’ Comin’ Down…

Bridge in Chile

Well, I woke up Sunday morning
With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt.
And the chocolate cupcake I had for breakfast wasn’t bad,
So I had one more for dessert.

Sunday mornin’ Comin’ Down…

Kris Kristofferson (with cupcake substitutions)

… not from drugs and beer and wild, all-night partying I hasten to add but from the exhilaration and unalloyed pleasure that has been coursing through me during my month at Benmore Botanic Garden.

Thank you to everyone who made it possible. You’ve not only given me a whole heap of fun but I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll be a better writer, and no doubt at all that I’ll be a better gardener, for having had the experience.

However, if I wasn’t feeling sad enough, my faithful boots have split.

Split boot

I bought them for fifty pence, a good few years ago, at a car-boot sale and they have been my trusty companions ever since.

However, after tramping miles along the East-Anglian coast, the Yorkshire Dales and numerous other places, not to mention the miles they’ve done in Argyll, for example, up and down Puck’s Glen

Puck's Glen like a jungle

they’ve finally worn out.

I’ve laid them to rest at Benmore.  They were happy there.

Lawn with path

And, to delay my leaving just a little while longer, here is one last four-line, tree-themed poem…


The Same by Trinath Gaduparthi, India
We are the same.
Reflect the light within.
A thought photosynthesis.
Spread the word pollen.

I’ve been amongst poets

HK tree branch

On my last full day in Benmore Botanic Garden I would like to acknowledge all the people who have taken the time to tell me their very poignant and personal stories.

I’ve been trusted with stories about lost loved ones and lost or missed or wasted opportunities.

I’ve heard about fears that a time for something people could or should or now wish they had done has passed.

So many people told me time in general was passing too quickly… much, much too quickly and they didn’t have enough left.

I feel privileged to have been told about searing, hurt-to-the bone, can-sleep-at-night loneliness and mistakes that have had consequences unimaginable at the time.

I have also been told about regrets. I just wish there hadn’t been so many stories about regret.

Spray of white flowers

I say stories, but to my ear most of what people shared had the raw-truth and heart-felt lyricism of poetry.

And, as I get ready to leave, it is lovely to know that people use Benmore as a place to come and remember, grieve, contemplate and generally take advantage of the peace and tranquillity.


I hope the garden and walking and talking and writing eased whatever was troubling them; gave them respite, even if only briefly.

Bamboo by a tree

I do a lot of work in museums and often Memory Boxes prove to be a way of helping people deal with gnawing emotions or adapt to difficult changes in their lives.

They are a way of gathering together all the thoughts and feelings that people have been carrying around – either because they can’t unload the weight from their shoulders or because they fear someone or something precious will be forgotten.

Once the box is filled, many people feel more able to continue the process of adapting and changing.

I’m not in any way saying the process is easy; just that a Memory Box can sometimes help.

Lawn and path in Formal Garden

Many people wrote poems that were not necessarily tree related and so did not want to submit to the Walking with Poets website.

But they were Memory Boxes.

Or to put it another way their poems were time capsules, capturing a moment in their lives, an emotion or a memory. However short or long and whatever its style, their poem captured something very important to them that can never now be lost.

And after talking to some of the gardeners at Benmore it’s got me thinking that our 150 poems, written to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the planting of the Redwood Avenue, would sit well inside a time capsule. Alongside detailed botanical records and pictures of the Redwood Avenue it would provide a sense of what these trees, and trees in general, meant to people in the summer of 2013.

It’s just a thought…

The fourth line has been found


A week or so ago Billy (pictured on the right in the cap) said he’d got three lines of his tree-themed poem but was waiting for the fourth and final line.

I’m delighted to announce that the final line has arrived.

Survival by Billy Walsh
Standing above an evening sky
Like some ancient weary travellers
These ancient beings from another world
Will hopefully survive to see another day

And will the Redwood trees survive to see the 200th anniversary of their planting? When I ask this question at Benmore it seems no one knows because, while Redwoods live to a huge age in their native environment, they were only introduced into Scotland in the 1850s. So, with Benwood’s trees being planted in 1863 they are in the vanguard of revealing what happens as the years pass.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed that they do survive; and that I’m still around to collect 200 poems as part of the anniversary. celebrations.

Looking to the future

Lichens - Climate research

I’m trying not to think about the future because that, for me, that involves leaving Benmore.

However, Benmore has to be constantly looking forward.

I’m afraid that yesterday the lichens Neil has drying by the photocopier ended up playing second fiddle to Sybil’s, not-at-all-dry, chocolate cupcakes, so today I just want to spend a few moments explaining about some important research being undertaken at Benmore and some of the other Botanic Gardens.

The RBGE Regional Gardens at Dawyk, Logan and Benmore offer ideal and distinct climatic conditions in which to assess how lichen growth responds to such diverse settings.

Within each garden an identical set of epiphytic* lichens from Scottish native woodlands have been placed.

Lichen experiment  cage



Every month their growth is being measured by garden staff (for anyone who likes detail, the samples are weighed on a top-pan balance).

These measurements are then compared to the meteorological data (temperature and rainfall) collected in the Garden.

It’s hoped that the data gathered from experiment will provide insights into the role that climate plays in shaping the future distribution of these species.

[*Epiphytes are plants that grow non-parasitically on another plant or object. They derive their moisture and nutrients from the air, rain and accumulated debris. They are usually found in the temperate zone e.g. some mosses, liverworts, lichens and algae, or in the tropics e.g. some ferns, cacti, orchids, and bromeliads.]

Mossy logs

And I’m delighted to say another poem has found its way through to me.

Blairmore Redwood by Janice Hampson
My roots are in the soil of Benmore,
My canopy in the moist air of the glen.
But far away from my native land
Like the Scots diaspora I make my mark.

Redwood lawn

I think we must be getting pretty close to having 150 poems; 150 mini-celebrations of trees; all combining to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the planting of Benmore’s Redwood Avenue. Which, while we are talking about the future, I hope will be here and thriving for many years to come.

It’s later than you think


Not that you can tell the time from the Benmore sundial because today the cloud is dark and low and the rain is a terrier… a wall of water… a sullen, grey, sulking… well, I’m sure you can imagine what the rain is like.

Sadly, I leave Benmore on Sunday so, if you have a tree-themed poem that you would like to share as part of our celebration of the 150th anniversary of the planting of the Redwood Avenue, please submit it today or tomorrow.

Thanks for the lovely poems below which have just crept in under the wire.

The first is from one of my home crowd down in Hertfordshire, who has not only been writing poetry but has been repairing my very ancient, person-powered lawn mower. I couldn’t help but cheer when he told me he’s also given the mower a test run over my lawn. So many thanks JimHenry for the poem and for your help with making sure my garden isn’t a total jungle when I return.

Robbie by JimHenry of Great Amwell
Robbie the reindeer of willow was made,
by beautiful people with binding and blade.
Flower bedecked, four feet tall,
he stands at the entrance to welcome you all.
 The following poems were left in the box in Puck’s Hut.


Freedom by Collette, USA    
Find a tree
That speaks to me
Whispering secrets
Of how to be free





 Colin, Kentucky, USA

 A suggestion by Maj, Ayr
How beautiful are the trees I see
When I am with my family.
The beauty and the sharing,
Let us be loving and caring.


A busy news day at Benmore


Lichens - Climate researchMost people have paperclips and piles of paper by their photocopier. We have a microscope and a crate full of moss and lichen samples.

I’d like to tell you more about the lichens and the important climate-related-research being done at Benmore Botanic Garden but, I’m afraid the scientific stuff will have to wait until tomorrow, because there is more pressing news… much more pressing news.

Sound of heralds playing a loud fanfare on golden trumpets.

Sybil has made cupcakes.

Sybil's cupcakes

And, at risk of sounding like the M&S TV advert, these aren’t just any cupcakes. These are soft and luscious, melt-in-the-mouth, sweet-treat mountains of deliciousness made with care, skill and chocolate containing 85% cocoa.

Which is an ideal, opportunity for me to explain that Theobroma cacao is a small (4–8 m tall) evergreen tree in the family Malvaceae. It’s native to the deep tropical region of South America. Its seeds are used to make cocoa powder and chocolate.

But oh dear, already I’m back to the chocolate containing 85% cocoa and the 200% pleasure.

The reason for these chocolate temptations is that four students (three from Slovenia and one from France) leave Benmore at the weekend, as do I.

I’m trying hard not to think about that sad day so will move on quickly to thanking Sybil for her much appreciated chocolate creations; to apologizing to Neil for making the lichens wait until tomorrow and to posting two poems about chocolate.

When you call round, demanding
the last of your things, I make tea,
tip chocolates from a bag
into your cupped hand. They spill
until you hold just one—
a heart. We stare at
the awful power of chance. And I know
I’ll never smell chocolate again
without thinking of this. Us. Bravely,
I pick it up, careful
not to touch your palm. I let it melt
on my tongue. Eat another,
another—even the spilled ones.
Outside in sleet your dark hair
is plastered wet to your head
as you load your car—books, socks, ties.
Two shirts escape, ghosts
in a fight. One flies down the lane.
One waves.

Sue Butler

Some cut to forget. Sleeves or trousers hide
that and needle marks. Some drink
too much, work an artery hardening
ninety hours a week. I eat

sitting on the floor by the open fridge,
swallowing envy of my brother’s success,
cheese, profiteroles, potato salad,
the child I never had. I eat

her 70% cocoa eyes, her roast chicken flesh,
feel sick, bin what’s left. At night
a fox, ripping the bag, drags out her
bones and pizza boxes.

Sue Butler

Fair quiet, have I found thee here

White Rhody close up

For the last three weeks or so I’ve been encouraging everyone to get creative and write tree-themed poems to help us celebrate the 150th anniversary of the planning of Benmore Botanic Garden’s Redwood Avenue.

And if you’ve written one and haven’t yet shared it then please do so.

But as I cycled from my accommodation towards the garden this morning (battling maybe a better word than cycling, considering the wind, the rain and the ferocious midges) I was pondering the joy of reading.

Last night, I sat on a bench looking over the Firth of Clyde, out towards Bute and the Isle of Arran. The sun shone and there were no midges, as I read about Frank Kingdon-Ward tramping through Chinese valleys filled with rhododendron, pine and bamboo and being utterly incensed when one of his most precious possessions, his thermos flask, was stolen from his tent.

F K-W was in search of plants but I kept thinking how lucky I was to have found such a peaceful location and of Marvell’s line Fair quiet, have I found thee here.

So today, please consider finding a few moments, to revisit a poem you like; or perhaps one you used to know by heart but can’t remember how line six goes. Or take a few moments to pick up a book by a poet you’ve been meaning to read but haven’t quite got round to.

And so as I’m not asking you to do anything I’m not prepared to do myself I’m going to revisit Andrew Marvell’s poem The Garden. Marvell is a poet, who every time I read him I think, I must do this more often. And then other things get in the way and the book waits unopened on my kitchen shelf.

But not today. Today I am going to read… and restrain from making clichéd puns about marvelling and marvellous.


The Garden, by Andrew Marvell, (1628 – 1671)

How vainlymen themselves amaze
To win the Palm, the Oke, or Bayes;
And their uncessant Labours see
Crown’d from some single Herb or Tree,
Whose short and narrow verged Shade
Does prudently their Toyles upbraid;
While all Flow’rs and all Trees do close
To weave the Garlands of repose.

Fair quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence thy Sister dear!
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busie Companies of Men.
Your sacred Plants, if here below,
Only among the Plants will grow.
Society is all but rude,
To this delicious Solitude:

No white nor red was ever seen
So am’rous as this lovely green.
Fond Lovers, cruel as their Flame,
Cut in these Trees their Mistress name.
Little, Alas, they know or heed,
How far these Beauties Hers exceed!
Fair trees! where s’eer your barkes I wound,
No Name shall but your own be found.

When we have run our Passion’ heat,
Love hither makes his best retreat.
The Gods, that mortal Beauty chase,
Still in a Tree did end their race.
Apollo hunted Daphne so,
Only that She might Laurel grow;
And Pan did after Syrinxspeed,
Not as a Nymph, but for a Reed.

What wond’rous life in this I lead!
Ripe Apples drop about my head;
The Luscious Clusters of the Vine
Upon my Mouth do crush their Wine;
The Nectaren, and curious Peach,
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on Melons, as I pass,
Insnared with Flow’rs, I fall on Grass.

Meanwhilethe Mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness:
The Mind, that Ocean where each kind
Does streight its own resemblance find;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other Worlds, and other Seas;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green Thoughtin a green Shade.

Here at the Fountains sliding foot,
Or at some Fruit-trees mossy root,
Casting the Bodies Vest aside,
My Soul into the boughs does glide;
There like a Bird it sits, and sings,
Then whets, and combs its silver Wings;
And, till prepar’d for longer flight,
Waves in its Plumes the various Light.

Such was that happy Garden-state,
While Man there walked without a Mate:
After a place, so pure and sweet,
What other Help could yet be meet!
But ’twas beyond a Mortal’s share
To wander solitary there:
Two Paradises ’twere in one
To live in Paradise alone

How well the skilful Gardner drew
Of flow’rs and herbs this dial new;
Where from above the milder Sun
Does through a fragrant Zodiack run;

And, as it works, th’ industrious Bee
Computes its time as well as we.
How could such sweet and wholsome Hours
Be reckon’d but with herbs and flow’rs