Pen Ultimate

Although it’s my last physical day at Dawyck, I give fair warning that you will need to continue reading here. I have more posts – a wee backlog (not inappropriate for an arboretum) to put up:

One concerning knitting

Guest blog from Morven Gregor (concerning Walking with Wilson and Wang Wei)

One initiated by the Finnish artist Hannele Rantala (installations)

and finally, the Dawyck Renga

(though of course, finally is a hard word!)

Watch this space. Please do.

Unbidden they come

My fondness is for our native wild plants. But at Dawyck, as at any botanic garden, indeed most other gardens, many plants are judged and found wanting. A weed, however, is simply a plant in the wrong place.






Natural geometry

Here at Dawyck we are all close to plants and therefore close to ourselves. Sometimes things seem clear, which of course does not make them true.

There are many carved finials here, embracing steps to different garden levels, alongside fine mown paths. They are triumphs of both geometry and of the stone-carver’s art: an ancient art.


They are sisters to the neolithic carved balls which have intrigued me for many years. They are to be seen in museums across Scotland, from Edinburgh to Dollar, from Inverness to Glasgow. Archaeologists are vague about their purpose (everything needs a function to rationalists) mentioning only that they may have served some unknown ritual purpose.


Ritual magic – neolithic – takes many mimetic forms. One has only to see images of rock art; Lascaux for example, or Tassili. Those of us close to plants might then be forgiven for noticing a certain mimesis and magic at work with the similarity of the museum artefacts and seed pods:





Linnaeus at Dawyck

Strindberg said of Linnaeus that he “was in reality a poet who happened to become a naturalist.”
I concur. His system of taxonomy is pure poetry: visit Dawyck (or any botanic garden) to discover examples of his poetic namings.

There are persistent rumours that Linnaeus visited Dawyck and may have helped plant the European larch by Dynamo Pond in 1725. While a fine story, Linnaeus would have been 18 at that time, with his nose firmly in books: he “read day and night, knowing like the back of my hand, Arvidh Mansson’s Rydaholm Book of Herbs, Tillandz’s Flora Aboensis, Palmberg’s Serta Florea Suecana, Bromelii Chloros Gothica and Rudbeckii Hortus Upsaliensis.”
Not much time for travel. In fact his first recorded travel was to Lapland in 1732; but the larch is here and the first baronet certainly planted it (or had it planted, not quite the same thing) at Dawyck, where it remains to this day. Naesmyth was also a disciple of Linnaeus and certainly knew him.




That infamous poet, Anon (actually one of the brilliant Garden staff here at Dawyck) has been at work.Handed this by a third person this morning I post it here in full. Seems I have a nickname.


The Wandering Poet: A Dawyck Odyssey

The ‘Goose’ is back, to Slovenia he’s been

To look for a ‘bon mot’, the right phrase, a theme

He wanders through Dawyck, the trees such a tonic

Finding rhythm and flow with words so euphoric.


Made my day!

Biters, stingers and nippers


Harry and Marion Slaughter are soon to celebrate their 60th Anniversary. They’re visiting Dawyck today from Dunfermline, and we fall into conversation. Harry, a shipwright to trade, tells me (of the Douglas Firs) that he’s glad to see something older than himself. His stories and memories of poems (I think that I will never see / a poem lovely as a tree) are wide ranging. On insects, he says he has been bitten by every insect in Scotland: clegs, midges ticks among them, and something new to me: the birch fly, which it seems is a little larger than a midge, but twice as virulent. Black flies; but they’re only after our sweet blood.

Harry says that they’d not bite him if they knew his surname, because that’s what he does to them.

Susan Nuttgens, a ceramicist, another visitor, who showed me images of her handbuilt stoneware outsize conkers, inspired by Dawyck and set in another garden, has memories of big black Mayflies clattering round her bedroom as a child – she’d try to swat them; though she thinks that mayfly may be a local name.

Morven Gregor, on the other hand, rescues spiders who invade her boat. She captures them in a tumbler and puts them onto the pontoon where her boat is moored. I suspect they wait until she’s not looking and spin themselves back aboard, pirate-style.

The poet Jean Atkin also tells me she rescues spiders from the bath.

Some folk care.

Spiders eat other beasties (and each other) too, though this afternoon all they are catching in their Dawyck webs are tiny raindrops.