Cutting back, Seeing Through

This is  a time for reassessment in many ways and I’m finding that it’s not only the garden that is benefitting from a season of pruning and clearing out .20230212_133312_resized

There are times when you have to shed too many belongings, times when overgrown shrubs and plants need to be cut back and times when you look at a poem and find there are too many unnecessary words that can be cut.

Out in the garden yesterday I decided it was time to tackle an area that had been neglected for too long. It took far longer than I thought, but as I worked away I found it was very therapeutic. I was left with a pile of stuff to be either shredded,  composted or binned but I was also left with the feeling that I’d also shed a lot of thoughts that had been troubling me. As well as the garden looking clearer my mind was also. 20230212_142942_resized

Time to look at some poems and cut out the dead wood from those!

Winter Sleep

It’s New Year’s Day
the garden has been left
left to sleep under a blanket
of wet leaves for weeks

Leaves have been caught
among marjoram and sage that
overhang the bed of herbs
in the Buddha garden

Buddha observes silently
his ‘teaching’ hands fixed
in position as I cut back
and pull up unwanted ivy

Ivy provides birds with berries
but also chokes the clematis
with strangling tendrils
in a cat’s cradle of tangles

After a day of flooding
the sun is shining    no wind
disturbs the peace as I
work while the garden sleeps

Pruning Back

New Year’s Day         the garden
sleeps under a blanket of wet leaves for weeks

Leaves   trapped among marjoram and sage
overhang  beds of herbs in the Buddha garden

Buddha observes    his ‘teaching’ hands fixed
in position as I cut back     pull up unwanted ivy

Ivy provides birds with berries       also chokes the clematis
with strangling tendrils in a cat’s cradle of tangles

After a day of floods                    the sun is shining   no wind
disturbs the peace as I work        absorbed

I look forward to the first signs of spring           spears of
snowdrops appearing        white lights to pierce the dark



Letting the Sun in

Today, on one of the hottest days for a while, we finished taking down an evergreen that had sadly developed a blight. Its lush green had turned to rust and the ground beneath was littered with russet needles. No evergreen now.


It wasn’t the best of days to be doing it. Yesterday, when I started, I was in the shade for a while. We did need to remove it fairly urgently in case the blight spread to the trees on either side. Today we were in full sun by the afternoon.

Later on, I came across a poem that seemed rather apt – see an extract below

When people are born they are supple,
and when they die they are stiff.
When trees are born they are tender,
and when they die they are brittle.
Stiffness is thus a companion of death,
flexibility a companion of life.

Thomas Cleary

Our tree was certainly brittle, the branches that had been so supple were transformed into brittle, fragile fronds that shed their needles onto the ever thickening layer carpeting the soil.

Sadly this tree, planted we were told back in the early 1990s, will no longer shade the path to the side gate but, as we cleared up, we could see that this particular corner of the garden will now get the benefit of more sun. In the autumn we’ll plant wood anemones and wild daffodils around the tree stump and, now we can get to the part of the ground that was smothered in ivy, we hope that next year we’ll see a clump of bluebells to complete a bright natural patchwork.


In a time when we should be planting more trees, it seemed sad to have to take one down but, it’s not just Covid 19 that’s causing loss of life. In the natural world there are constant battles against various diseases and many of our woodland areas are witnessing a loss of larch trees. We hope our other cypresses survive to be ever green.

As people, we have to learn to be supple like willows, not stiff like an oak. Both our minds as well as our bodies need to be flexible, open to ideas, suggestions from all directions.  A violinist who is standing stiffly needs to learn to bend like the willow, letting the music flow through him. If in our thinking we refuse to change old attitudes, refuse to learn and absorb new ideas then we will remain as one turned to stone by Medusa. We need to be ‘open to the light’ from all kinds of sources.

Shades of Rhubarb

This is a year that everyone will have a number of reasons to remember. Not least Covid 19, the shambolic state of politics here and elsewhere and the dire state of the economy of so many countries. Then we have the ongoing tragedies of refugees, the rise of anti-semitism, homelessness, climate change – all of which are major problems that seem a long way from being adequately addressed. It’s no wonder that more and more people are finding the natural world can give some moments of joy.


During the long weeks of drought and lockdown, the daytime hours for me have been divided mostly between gardening and taking local walks. The garden has certainly needed the extra attention it’s had this year and it is now becoming more how we want it to be.

However, there are a number of shrubs and trees that were well established when we moved here nearly five years ago. One of these is a very healthy honeysuckle which is right next to the greenhouse. This is significant because apparently honeysuckle is a big attraction for certain insects and especially Elephant Hawk-moths. We have been finding them on our morning visits to check the plants. Presumably, when they land on the honeysuckle, they are attracted by the warmth of the greenhouse.

Elephant Hawk-moth

Deilephila elpenor

Today, there’s one safely hidden

among strawberry leaves

another, caught in a web


Greenhouse spiders weave

lairs in corners, capturing victims

daily but one, was destined to live.

Largest of moths – caught by a tiny spider,


You free it from sticky tether,

it remains on your hand

motionless –


Rhubarb pink and green markings,

soft majestic moth,

now on your shoulder, reluctant to move.

It clings.

Trust from a moth,

a gift you savour.


Celebrating Gardens

Living through this period of social-distancing and self isolation, it does make us appreciate more and more the need we have to connect not only with other people but also with the natural world.

I can only imagine how much more difficult it must be to be living in a city, cooped up in a flat in a high rise block. No wonder more people have taken to growing things from seed. Even seeing things grow in a window box or on a window sill indoors can help. I can remember as a child seeing the idea of a miniature garden planted on a large plate or saucer, where cress seeds and carrot tops grew around a small mirror placed as a pond.

Having a garden has been a life-saver for many this year. Having the perfect weather to be outdoors has also been a huge bonus. When working in a garden, even weeding can be a peaceful, almost meditative occupation. In a garden the plants and shrubs continue to blossom and grow in spite of all that is going on in the world of politics and economics.

It is certainly the case that more folk are realising the benefits of growing vegetables and salad crops; exchanging seedlings,seeds and young plants of all kinds has become a popular part of life now.

Tending a garden, clearing overgrown areas and making space for more flowers or vegetables, watching rhubarb plants grow like triffids – all these things help to raise spirits and let us appreciate a positive aspect of having more time on our hands. One day we’ll be able to share these activities with family and friends other than on facebook and in emails etc.


Apart from gardening, another essential part of each day has been to go for a walk – our permitted exercise beyond the garden. This poem seems appropriate here –

Put on Your Boots

Put on your boots; leave your desk.

Let’s go for a walk.

We’ll listen to music in the sky

from swallows circling Drumrae,

from the blackbird high in the ash.


Put on your boots; leave the ’phone.

Let’s go for a walk.

We’ll smell the honey scent of bluebells,

the may and gorse in the hedge.

Even taste the sorrel’s sharp leaves.


Put on your boots; leave the post.

Let’s go for a walk.

We’ll walk the lanes while they’re quiet,

count new calves in Callum’s field,

watch parent rooks mobbing buzzards.


Put on your boots; leave your books.

Let’s go for a walk.

We’ll name many flowers on the banks

stitchwort, sweet cicely, red campion,

while wind paints fields like Van Gogh.


Put on your boots.

Cultivating Friendships

Sometimes, walking round the garden and looking at different plants, I remember friends from the past. Many plants are associated with old friends. The plants themselves become old friends and they remind us of the people who gave them to us, or who carefully divided  large clumps of  favourites to share with others.

                      Remembering Olga

 In your seventies, you ‘lived adventurously’.

Friends suspected madness, but were wrong.

After years of caring you were free

to create a garden of rooms

with hedges to shelter kniphofia,

crocosmia, rambling roses.

Birds flocked there, your pond was

lit by damselflies, flashes of iridescent blue.

The garden was your love;

friends found a peace there,

absorbed your love of life,

a life where worry wasn’t welcome.

You and your elderly dog, two old ladies together,

‘walking cheerfully over the world’,

an inspiration to any young

who dreaded being old.

On your birthday, aged  ninety three,

you wheeled a barrow load of weeds towards me,

brushed errant strands of hair with garden hands,

smiled and offered tea.

You came to rest there, lying in the garden,

Secateurs by your side, not to be used again.

A slender vase of your crocosmia sits on my table

cheerful, colourful, defying sadness.