Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Oh what a grey day!

I do love colour and that does include grey!  It varies hugely.  There are blue greys, yellow greys and so on.  Today has been a totally grey day, starting with the collared dove which featured in an earlier post.

This morning we visited The Walled Garden at Archerfield, just outside Gullane.  It's a new venture with a restaurant, bar, shop etc and everyone is talking about it in these parts, so we thought we would go and sound it out.  Archerfield is a huge private estate with a grand house sitting in the middle of it.  There is a golf course, spa and a hugely expensive housing estate which is called 'The Village'.  We drove round it and frankly the planners should be ashamed of themselves, allowing such a development.  It is totally devoid of any architectural merit at all and Mr Gaucho ex-RIBA thought I was inflicting some sort of punishment on him by driving that way!  When architects are crying out for work and would particularly welcome the opportunity to design a private home, it is heartbreaking to see so many missed opportunities. 

Anyway, moving on and not wanting to upset anyone further, we visited the walled garden which must have been magnificent in its heyday.  It's huge and completely bare at the moment, but work has begun.
It has beautiful, predominantly grey, walls.  I think I will leave it a good while before going back and hopefully by then the whole project within the walled garden will be rather more clothed and softened with planting.  It's all very new at the moment, just a few weeks old. and feels a bit bare and raw. 
By lunchtime it had stopped raining so I took the dogs to the beach.  It was all very grey there too. The sky had some interesting clouds, looking very much like the ripples of sand on the beach.
It is not clear to see but the faint little blob in the distance of the photograph below is the Bass Rock.  If you were watching Springwatch on BBC1 last night you will have seen it at close hand, along with the wonderful gannets which live on the rock and dive into the sea in such spectacular fashion to catch their fish.  It would be worth watching the episode on iPlayer if you missed the programme.
Belhaven Beach, near Dunbar, has a surf school and today there was a party of hardy schoolchildren having a surfing lesson.  The grey sea didn't look the least bit inviting to me but I suppose if you are young and the only other option is sitting behind a desk, the choice is easy to make!
They seemed to be enjoying catching the running waves!
This is my favourite grey of the day, and I love its relationship with the grey green grasses at the edge of the dunes.
Here endeth my third post of the day.  Now I must go and do something useful about the house!

One for the birds

It's a cold grey morning, a bit of light rain and generally rather disappointing for almost the last day in May.  Roll on flaming June.

There's a pair of greater spotted woodpeckers who are taking it in turns to snack on one of the peanut feeders.  They must be looking after their young in a nest on the far side of the garden.  As soon as Mrs Woody takes off, Mr W zooms in.  They clearly have very organised parenting skills!  
There has also been a lot of activity in the bird bath.  Yesterday Mr Gaucho saw a song thrush having a bath with a great tit!  Today a blackbird has been ruffling his feathers in the water and then a collared dove dropped by for a drink.  Their plummage is the softest grey and reminds me of my mother's very elegant wedding dress, worn back in September 1949!

A real garden nursery

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit Binny Plants (  It is a garden nursery in Ecclesmachan in West Lothian.  Forget the words 'garden centre'.  This place is a blessed relief from the Dobbies of this world, with its morass of stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with gardening and the wafting smell of school dinners coming from the cafe in the corner. Binny Plants is a proper nursery with potting up in progress, the unmistakable combined smell of compost and plants in the polytunnels and greenhouses, a profusion of plants everywhere you turn, and a sense of real gardening coming out of every nook and cranny of the walled garden the nursery is clustered around.  I haven't been there for a long time and things have certainly developed since the days of Billy Carruthers who started Binny many years ago.  He was a real character!
The walled garden is a sea of peonies.  Dozens of different varieties and dotted around there are buckets of the lovely blooms, just there for the smelling!  I bought a single white peony to remind me of the one we had in our garden when I was a child in Hampshire.  I always loved it and hopefully this plant will flourish as well in my Scottish garden.
It is the Gardening Scotland show this weekend.  It's held at the Ingliston showground just outside Edinburgh.  I haven't made any plans to go and actually having been to Binny's I don't think I need to worry too much!  Binny will be exhibiting and they always put on a magnificent display.  I could see all the lovely plants set aside for their stand and they were looking good.  I didn't take any photographs in case they thought I was a spy!

Binny Plants also specialise in grasses.  We have a disastrous area of garden needing serious attention here and it's the Piet Oudolf look I would like to achieve.   If you haven't come across the Dutch landscape designer you are in for a treat  Heaven on earth is the best way to describe many of the gardens, especially the private gardens, but have a look at Pensthorpe too. Unfortunately I have no idea where to start but hopefully Binny Plants are going to be able to help me with that!  

Monday, 27 May 2013

Corrugated countryside

As I passed by yesterday I noticed how quickly the potatoes are growing in the field and took a quick pic to keep followers of Spud Watch up to date.
East Lothian grows a lot of vegetables of all types.  This year there seems to be an enormous number of potato fields.  They are immaculately prepared and from a distance look like sheets of corrugated cardboard!
In the photograph below you can just about make out a railway track.  It's the main line from Edinburgh to London.
Yesterday, Sunday, Tilly and I had a lovely early morning walk in the sunshine.  We saw a few hares, a couple of them sitting down low in their forms with their leverets.  We also passed this lovely crab apple tree.  It's blossom laden branches hang over a little stream which runs alongside the edge of the field.  In the autumn the little round ochre coloured apples will be carpeting the ground and also falling into the water, where they will bob along down the stream in a lovely yellow-green procession.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Out and about

Lots of lovely sunshine today but there is still no May blossom.  It's nearly June and the hawthorn hedges stubbornly refuse to offer up their frothy almond smelling flowers.  I visited the Alnwick Garden down in Northumberland two or three weekends ago and one of the gardeners told me that growth in the gardens was about five weeks behind.  I suppose the upside is we still have blossom to look forward to, although the cherry trees are now just green with the flowers overtaken by growing leaves.

Here are a few photos I have taken this week, out and about in East Lothian.  The first is Traprain Law, because I love it!
We have lived in East Lothian for three years now, and visited it for many more, but this is the first year I have really noticed how red the soil is.  It really is very beautiful.
If you or smaller members of your family are acquainted with the children's television programme, Balamory, you might be interested to know that the rather indistinct tower in this photo is Archie's Castle.  It dressed up in bright pink to put in occasional appearances in the programme, which is set in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, but in fact this building is West Fenton Tower and it is firmly planted in the East Lothian countryside.
North Berwick Law and a derelict folly or tower which remains in the middle of a field about a mile from the Law.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Green shoots

No, the heading of this post is nothing to do with economic recovery or any of that endless blah. It refers to the wonderful new life which has been breathed into the potatoes in the field at the end of the drive!  It has taken them about three weeks, give or take a day or three, to push through their first rosettes of green.  Spud Watch is in progress.
We have had some very heavy rain over the last two or three days.  As I write it is raining cats and dogs and earlier, when I was in the garden planting a new white Gaura plant (gorgeous floaty thing) there was a crackle high above me and then a rumble of thunder.  The Shipping Forecast heard in the early hours of this morning said there would be thunder storms in the Firth of Forth later today and they were not wrong.  

The rain has hit the lovely cherry blossom petals.  They are fluttering down like snowflakes.  
The grass looks very pretty but I would rather the petals stayed on the tree a bit longer.  The blossom's presence is all too fleeting after such a long winter wait!

Sunday, 19 May 2013


There has been no sunshine today, which has been disappointing as it would have been lovely if it had shone on my daughter's birthday.  Nevertheless we have had a good lunchtime celebration and now everyone is sitting in a heap!

I was having a little wander in the garden after lunch and thought that last night's rain had left a rather wonderful legacy on the leaves of the alchemilla mollis!  The water gathers on and in the centre of the the pleated leaves and sits like cabochon jewels.  
The rain collected at the base of this leaf, yet to unfurl, is like a drop of mercury.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Note to self ...

... go out and buy some waterproof trousers!

I spent an extremely wet and windy morning on North Berwick Law today.  I am part of a volunteer survey team receiving training from the local authority biodiversity and countryside officers into the identification of wild plants and grasses in four locations in East Lothian.  The survey, over time, will show the effect of grazing ponies, cows or sheep on neglected areas of grasslands on the four specific sites.  I am part of the team studying five 1 metre square sites on Traprain Law. There are already Exmoor ponies on the Law, munching their way through the grasses which have taken over at the expense of smaller wild flowers and grasses.  These plants need to be encouraged to colonise the grasslands again.  These in turn will be fed upon by bumblebees which are, of course, integral to the general health and wellbeing of our environment.  There is a second survey team studying bumblebees!  

All day today the weather has been, quite simply, appalling.  Yesterday was heavenly, today was not.  We met in the car park by the Law and then set off to throw a quadrant or two on the hillside. There are moments when one wonders if one's sanity is still in there, but even when the weather is revolting, as it always seems to be during these sessions, it is great to be out in the fresh air, learning something new and, most especially, it is good to be doing something positive for the environment.

So here are one or two images of my morning.  I have to say that these photos make it look almost bright, and you don't get a sense of the weather, but I can assure you it was blowing a gale and the rain was heavy and horizontal, hence the need for waterproof trousers.  This is a thought that came to me as I felt the cold rain running down my leg inside my trousers, which are obviously only showerproof! 
Just after the photo below was taken we all nearly got blown over by a huge gust of wind!  It's a good thing we weren't standing on a mountain side, it could have been dodgy!
So this is what we do!  Throw a quadrant one metre square and then inspect what lies within. It can take a good twenty minutes for the group to discuss what looks like, on the face of it, a square patch of long grass.  But the devil is in the detail and having analysed it for a while we are then in a position to fill in the survey sheet which requests a variety of information.  By the end of the next session in a few weeks time we should be ready to be let loose on our designated areas!
Gorse always seems to be in bloom but at its best in May.  Today it shone like the sun, even through the gloom, and its warm, spicy coconut perfume was delicious and very welcome.
And here's the reward for turning out in such disgusting weather today - a lovely plant of kingcups. They have only just come out but the few glorious flowers which braved the miserable day were the highlight of my morning!
Amazingly I still remember a poem about kingcups which I learnt when I was young.  My junior school was very keen on poetry speaking.  We were entered for Poetry Society examinations and I have a few aged certificates somewhere.  This poem was not one that I had to learn but I heard it recited so many times and loved it so much that I must have just absorbed it and over fifty years later, can still remember it, just.  My apologies for any bits I have misquoted but bearing in mind I can't remember what happened last week, this is nothing short of a miracle.

'Kingcups in Town' by Eleanor Farjeon

Down the street the old man came and on his head he bore a flame.
I stopped to gaze, so he stopped too 
"Want some?" he said
"Indeed I do.  Where did you get them?
"Uxbridge way, all the lot fresh picked today.
Off of the island there" he said, shifting the basket from his head.
"You get them when the water's out
O'course you have to wait about all night for 'em,
But the bud'll bloom lovely when they're in your room".
So I took the bunch from him, still wet
And then the kingcup gatherer set the brimming basket on his old grey head
And walked off beneath the gold.
Yes, walked off in his hobnail boots and the shabbiest of suits 
Crowned in the Maytime of the Spring
More gloriously than a king!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Morning glory

The dawn chorus at the moment is so loud it could blow the duvet off the bed!  It is quite wonderful.  I am feeling very fortunate today because thanks to Tweet of the Day yesterday ( this morning I was able to pick out the blackcap, singing its little head off.  I had never seen a blackcap before until a few weeks ago when this very beautiful little bird joined the throng of siskins, gold finches, chaffinches and various kinds of tits, on the bird feeders.  It has a glorious grey plumage and its identity is a giveaway because on top of its head is a lozenge of black feathers.  Mrs Blackcap has a soft rust coloured topnot, i t'svery subtle.  We now have three male blackcaps and so far I have only seen one, maybe two, ladies.  Apparently we have global warming to thank for their presence in our garden.  If you listen to Tweet of the Day from the link above, David Attenborough will explain, and you can hear the glorious song too, second only to the nightingale apparently.
I found this half of a blackbird's egg on the track this morning.  Blackbirds are my favourite bird. There was a male bird sitting high up in the white cherry tree singing its heart out in the late evening sunshine on Tuesday.  I rushed off to take get my camera because the image was so breathtaking, even without sound, but by the time I got back he had flown away.  Hopefully the little fledgling who left this egg behind will be joining the throng of the dawn chorus before long.  It must be one of the most uplifting ways to start the day, albeit around 4 o'clock in the morning!  

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Tweet of the day

I don't tweet or twitter and probably never will.  I am resisting the obsessive iPhone culture like mad and I am perfectly happy with my pay-as-you-go mobile phone arrangement, but I digress, re tweeting and twittering I am content to leave this to the birds.  I just stood and listened to an ascending lark this morning.  It was bliss.  A simply summery sound, despite the extremely cold wind whipping across the fields on my early morning walk round the block.   I didn't take a photograph worth showing here but, just for the purpose of decoration, here is the same view from last week, on a much greyer day.
Watching that sky lark as it climbed higher and higher up into the blue above, and listening to it's glorious song, I remembered, with wonderful anticipation, that the BBC are starting a new, year-long, series on Radio 4 next Monday morning.  David Attenborough will be the first presenter to spend two minutes a day introducing us to the enormous range of British bird song and their calls. What an inspirational idea!  I was trying to decide, if it was me, which bird I would choose to start the series.  My guess is they may go with a nightingale, or maybe the cuckoo.  My choice would probably be my favourite bird which is the blackbird but we don't have long to wait to find out!

I have set my alarm already for 05.56 which gives me two minutes to mentally surface before the Tweet of the Day starts at 05.58 on Bank Holiday Monday morning.  I can't think of a better way to start the day! 

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Ominous omen?

You can see North Berwick Law from all over East Lothian.  I think you can even see it from the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, but if not it is definitely visible from Arthur's Seat.  Inevitably it will pop up from time to time in my photographs taken locally.  

To the east side of the Law there is a dwindling stand of beech trees.  These are the Act of Union Beech Trees, planted by Sir Hew Dalrymple, Lord North Berwick (1652–1737) to commemorate the Act of Union between the Scots and English Parliaments in 1707.  
I can't find any record of how many trees were planted originally but now only five remain.  The sixth came down in a recent gale.
It's sad to see a wonderful tree which will have witnessed so much over so many years, lying smashed on the ground.  

The trees are planted on the east side of the Law, looking out to sea and where they are exposed to some ferocious weather.  They have a prime view of the Bass Rock, which is another iconic feature in the East Lothian landscape.
There is a legend that if anyone fells the trees the union between Scotland and England will be broken.  With only five trees left, one does wonder - a bit.

Life cycle of a spud

I am rather fond of photographing the field at the end of the drive.  Three years ago it grew pumpkins and although I have photos of the golden globes they are marooned on my old computer and I have to work out a way of getting them transferred onto my MacBook.  It can't be difficult but it's a task for another time.  I have photographed the field over the period of a year before and today I decided that it might be quite fun to do it again and chart it's journey here.
At the moment there are seed potatoes cosily tucked up in these tidy rows, just quietly doing their thing until such time as the first green shoots appear to interrupt the immaculate stripes! 

We will return in due course.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Forget me not

It's the first of May today.  My sister's birthday.  She would have been 57 today had she not lost her larger-than-life self in a car accident back in 1988.  

Before it clouded over I was out walking this morning, enjoying the blue sky and sunshine and I came across a lovely forget-me-not plant.  Here is a stem, sitting in a pretty little pot which belonged to my sister, and today the two together seem very appropriate.  
Lucy was a shining girl and the planet is poorer without her here, doing silly things to make us all laugh.