May 2017 – Two gardens to tend.

If there were nothing else to do this would be fun. As it is, gardening is being fitted in between journeys from one house to the other, decorating both, picking and processing plants for The Botanist, packing on Islay, unpacking in Shropshire, making arrangements for selling our Islay home and organising repairs and renovations for our Shropshire house. For the second time the car was filled to the roof and we reckon that books alone will need another three journeys.

There was little time for writing but my Letter from Islay can be found at and an old poem had a new airing on


His world is literal.

Metaphors a mystery

he cannot comprehend.

Facts flood

from his wrongly wired brain.

Ten thousand books,

each read in an hour,

imprinted on his memory

are placed upside down to show

he has no further need of them.

Zip codes, dates and places

fill his head.

He can tell you the route

to almost anywhere

but cannot go alone

to the end of the street.

He recalls every tune

he ever heard, can pick them out

on the piano with fingers limited

in their flexibility.

Simple tasks elue him.

His father cleans his teeth

buttons his shirt

links his arm as they walk,



He does not kno

that the fact he states


is pure poetry.

‘We share the same shadow.’

Before we headed south I spent two days in cutting paths through the areas of wild flowers although I knew that another cut would be needed as soon as we returned.

The two gardens are very different. Our Islay garden, a semi-wild stretch of 1.2 acres, encompasses cliffs and an expanse of shore that is subject to wind and salt spray.The view is extensive, taking in Northern Ireland in the south-west and Kintyre in the south-east. At night, four lighthouses warn of danger – Rathlin East and Rathlin West off Antrim’s northern coast, Mull of Kintyre and, close to home, Carraig Fhada across the bay from our house. A few trees survive, notably Aspen which we introduced 25 years ago, but self-seeded Rowans and Willows frequently suffer from wind-damaged branches.

Our wealth of wildflowers, introduced via seed collected locally, has increased from an expanse of bracken and bramble to include 212 different species. Some have taken years to establish to the point of setting their own seeds. Ironically, it is just as we are about to leave, that some of my favourites have really taken hold. Among others, Bush Vetch, Meadow Vetchling, Great Hairy Willow herb, Red Campion, Bloody Cranesbill and Wild Carrot appear in unexpected places – and the twin leaves of Common Twayblade, which has steadily advanced across the front lawn, are almost too numerous to count. A ten year old Guelder Rose is flowering for the first time and the Clematis montana has finally formed a complete barrier between our house and the one next door.

Our Shropshire garden, small in comparison, is a greenery of trees. Long established Ash, Hawthorn, Field Maple and Cherry border the lower lawn where there are younger specimens of Rowan, Apple, Liquidamber, Whitebeam, Japanese Maple, Silver Birch and others yet to be identified. Between the trees are glimpses of the Reabrook with a hillside beyond where huge, mature Oaks punctuate hedges of Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Holly and Yew.

Higher up the garden are hedges which include Forsythia, Weigela and Cherry Laurel and there are borders between paths which run up and down and from side to side. A variety of small shrubs chosen for their foliage rather than flowers dominate the borders but many need pruning and several need removing altogether. Perennials grow between the shrubs and I spent many hours on my knees removing a ground cover of weeds and a profusion of Lesser Celandine and Ivy-leaved Speedwell.

A trip to Shrewsburys Recycling Centre (a revelation after our tiny tip on Islay) enabled us to get rid of all the debris which the previous owners had left behind. Instead of clean boxes of books the car was loaded with dirty items such as rotting wood, dead shrubs, broken plant pots and lumps of concrete.

The highlight of our trip was going to our daughter’s for a day and hearing our grandson Josef playing his French Horn in The Birmingham Symphony Hall. The Birmingham City Choir joined the Birmingham Schools Orchestra for an excellent performance of Belshazzar’s Feast by William Walton. It was wonderful to experience such talent and to feel proud of Joe who will start his studies at the Birmingham Conservatoire in September.

We had a brief treat on the way home, spending a night at The Inveraray Hotel and exploring the area around Poltalloch House, a wonderfully overgrown ruin with an approach that reminded me of Manderley. During our visit, a raven, on the topmost tip of a tree, complained bitterly at our presence. We soon discovered the reason when we caught sight of three youngsters in a nest on one of the house windowsills.

When we returned to Islay the bluebells in the garden were reaching the end of their flowering but everything else had flourished and the neatly cut paths were white with daisies. I was reluctant to mow them as they looked beautiful, but another trip is pending and if I had left them the grass would be knee high when we return. We have a busy time ahead but I know that we are incredibly lucky to have two houses at present. It doesn’t seem right when so many people are homeless but it is enabling us to continue work on Islay while preparing our Shropshire house for the final move. Indeed, so much work is needed there, and so much has to be packed and transported that it would have been impossible to move in one single trip.