Posted by: christinelaennec | March 11, 2015

Someone watching over me

Things have been challenging lately.  Since the Dafter fell ill three and a half years ago I have become pretty used to being philosophical, looking at the bigger picture, looking for the good.  But recently I have just felt so worn out!  In October, I was so exhausted that we had planned for me to take a short break the first week of November.  We all know that my own well-being is critical to our family’s functioning, and the Dafter’s recovery.  But a few days before I was due to take my autumn holiday, I received the news that my Dad had died, and I was headed in the other direction.

I returned the night before Michael went on the first of a series of work trips; then he fell very ill and I had two people to look after, though the Dafter was doing pretty well in the weeks before Christmas.  The holidays were busier than usual because for the first time in years she was able to get out and about.  And then her relapse came, and since the beginning of January my life has been almost completely tied to her needs.   I have also, since November, been working very hard to deal with my father’s estate, and it is still far from resolved.  And Michael has continued to travel every few weeks for work.

And yet, although I have lost some sleep worrying about how things will work out, I have also had the distinct feeling that I am being looked after.  Do you see the angels perched up on the building, looking down at us?

Cherubs looking down, Glasgow city centre, February 2015.

Cherubs looking down, Glasgow city centre, February 2015.

The Dafter has been pretty unwell, again.  But not so unwell as a year ago.  On bad days, she can be crying with pain, but that doesn’t happen every day.  On bad days, she can still move about the house.  About half the time she manages a bit of school, so for every day I have a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C, depending on how things go.  And I know the most important thing is that I actually be FINE with whatever happens, for her sake.  Because she is doing all she can.  On the days she’s able to go to school for a few hours, she is still feeling dizzy, exhausted, foggy, unwell.

The Dafter, unwell but trying to be happy.  March 2015.

The Dafter, unwell but being as happy as she can be. March 2015.

At the end of January I had to have some medical tests at the hospital.  It wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had, but I discovered another Glaswegian Victorian park, and it was beautiful in the snow:

Springburn Park, Glasgow.  January 2015.

Springburn Park, Glasgow. January 2015.

I’ve since learned that all is well, and no more Procedures are needed.  Phew!!!

We all have moments when we feel we can’t take any more, and when we feel alone and perhaps even abandoned by God (if we believe in God).  This stained-glass window depicts Jesus in the garden of Gesthemane, his disciples asleep while he faces what he knows lies ahead.

Stained-glass window in St. Margarets Episcopal Church, Newlands, Glasgow.

“The Garden” by John Clark, 2002.  Stained-glass window in St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, Newlands, Glasgow.

These moments of feeling forsaken are part of human life, moments which we all wish we could escape.  But, assuming we don’t crumble (it is a possibility), these times are what make us value the good in life.

For quite some time I have been praying for a worrying situation where I felt a friend was in danger.  The situation has now been resolved, to my great relief.  My friend said to me, “Someone was watching over me.”  “Someone was,” I replied.  It’s not that I necessarily believe that my prayers did the trick.  That would be presumptuous and anyway my own understanding is pathetically small compared to the workings of the universe.  But it was a great comfort to me that things turned out well, in more ways than one.

Crocus tomassinianus in the lawn, March 2015.

Crocus tomassinianus in the lawn, March 2015.

The hardest thing, for me, is to trust — really trust — all will work out well, and along with that, to be grateful for all that has healed and been good, and is good.  I know I’m not alone in this weakness; I’m human, after all.  I would quite like rock-solid assurances that the Dafter will completely recover, that she will manage not to melt down with stress about her schoolwork, that my Dad’s estate will be resolved without ongoing problems or another trip across, etc. etc.  I would quite like it if God would provide me a clear plan of the weeks and months ahead, if possible with ideas for meals as well, so I know where I stand.

But that’s not how life works, nor would I really, in my heart, want it to be.  How boring life would be if I really did know what lay ahead, and there was no sense of discovery or possibility.  Hope can only exist in a world of uncertainty.

Tilly came to us nine years ago.  She had been a stray and was skinny and very untrusting.  She didn’t purr for the first year and a half of being with us, though eventually with my encouragement she learned how.  She didn’t come on a lap for at least the first year — too frightened to trust.  But look at her now!

Tilly sleeping on my legs while I knit.  March 2015.

Tilly sleeping on my legs while I knit. March 2015.

Because I am still badly in need of rest, we’ve arranged that I’m going to go to the Isle of Harris for a four-night getaway next month, as I did last year.  I’m so grateful to my family for considering my needs.  I know there are many carers out there whose worries and responsibilities make my own life look like a vacation in the Bahamas.

So I am very grateful to feel that God is at work in our lives, and that we are all being cared for.  I am trying to learn from Tilly, and just trust and be grateful.

Posted by: christinelaennec | March 7, 2015


The year that Katharine Stewart was writing the essays in A Garden in the Hills, March 7th was “a day of calm, when to get up and go straight outside is sheer indulgence”.  She made a bonfire and began clearing her borders, in the company of the blackbird that lived in her cypress tree. (p. 53)  It hasn’t been a day for gardening here today, but we have had company and have kept busy out and about in other ways.

She goes on to write, “It’s good to be able to share… plants with people starting gardens from scratch.  Scratch it really is, up here.  The first year must be spent digging up heather, rushes, all the moorland scrub, before applying a good dose of lime.” Lime is used to counteract the acidity of the peaty Highland soil.  “Black plastic is spread and at last some sort of tilth emerges.  But all that work goes for nothing if the garden ground is not protected from the invasion of rabbits, hares, roe deer, sheep.  John Reid said in the seventeenth century ‘As there is no country can have more need of planting than this, so none more needful of Inclosing, for we well know how vain it is to plant unless we Inclose’.” (p. 53)

She then goes on to discuss various plants used for hedging:  briar rose, broom, and gorse, called “whin”.  Here is a photo of a whin hedge in Donegal, Ireland, where Michael’s family comes from:

A whin hedge in Donegal, Easter 2006.  With an 8-year-old Dafter and me.

A whin hedge in Donegal, Easter 2006. With an 8-year-old Dafter and me.

Curiously, Katharine Stewart writes as if she has only heard of whin made into hedges, not actually seen such a thing:  “A New Zealander tells me that they make hedges of whin (gorse).  That should keep everything out!  There is certainly plenty of whin here.  In early summer it brightens the whole landscape.  At one time growth was encouraged, as whin was used as fodder for the horses when winter supplies were finished.  Every place had a ‘knocking stone,’ a hollowed-out stone in which the plants were pounded into a mealy substance.  … Broom too, makes great splashes of yellow, of a much warmer shade than that of the oilseed rape favoured by the low ground folk.  Ach buidhe, the yellow field, is a common place-name in the heights.” (p. 54)

It’s true that the yellow of both whin and broom are wonderful to see in the spring countryside.  What she doesn’t mention is that whin smells like coconut – really divine!

The fact that these two plants were of great importance in former times is reflected by street names.  In Aberdeen, for example, Broomhill Road and Whinhill Road are close to one another (linked by Fonthill Road, which goes past the church).  In Glasgow, Broomhill is the name of a neighbourhood, and there are many place names beginning with Whin-.  (My favourite is Whinny Burn.)

I hope you are all enjoying the weekend, and indeed the month of March!

Posted by: christinelaennec | March 4, 2015

The And-so-to-bed jacket

It’s been over two years since I left my job to look after the Dafter full-time.  My workmates gave me a marvellous farewell gift, a voucher to Loop in London.  With it I bought a few things for immediate consumption, and also the wool to make a bed jacket.

This pattern was one that I’d wanted to make for quite a while.  But I didn’t start on it right away. I was fully occupied with looking after the very ill Dafter and with selling our flat while Michael was working in Glasgow, and I didn’t have the concentration to begin a project that was so different from things I had knit previously.  The wool (Berroco Ultra Alpaca) came along with me to Glasgow and spent a year in my craft cupboard here, and I began the bed jacket last September.

I took my time knitting it, as I was making other things and also had my unexpected trip to Portland.  I finished it in February, and it has been a great thing to have:

Jennie Atkinson, Bed Jacket, from Buttons, Beads and Lace.

Jennie Atkinson, Bed Jacket, from Buttons, Beads and Lace.

The alpaca wool is so soft and warm!  With the big collar, it’s very cosy to wear while reading in bed at the end of a long day.  (Link to Ravelry notes is here.)

As usual my family witnessed the ongoing project – in this case, my bafflement at attaching the collar (got it right the third time), and the knitting of nearly three meters of lace edging.  And then when it was done, I had a hilarious conversation with Michael.

Michael:  What are you going to wear that with?

me:  My pajamas.

Michael:  ???

me:  It’s a bed jacket.  For keeping you warm when you’re sitting up in bed.  Haven’t you heard me referring to it as my BED jacket over the past four months?

Michael:  Yes, but I thought that was just a metaphorical expression.

These are not my pajamas...

These are not my pajamas…

I was tempted to say, “No, it’s LIT’rally a bed jacket!”  I thought I would model it for you, but not in my pjs.  It was fun to make, and a lovely reminder of almost nine happy years in my last job.

I hope your week is going well!

Posted by: christinelaennec | March 2, 2015

In like a lion

The night of February 28th to March 1st was very stormy indeed.  I found it hard to sleep for the noise of the slates rattling and the house being buffeted by the wind.  In Aberdeen I was very used to sleeping through just this kind of racket, but it’s not such a common occurrence where we live in Glasgow.  Yesterday in church, there were such heavy showers that the noise on the roof nearly drowned out the sermon!  And, as is the way in spring, there were also sunny intervals:

A (non-native) primrose and some tête-à-tête narcissi.

A (non-native) primrose and some tête-à-tête narcissi. 1st of March, 2015, Glasgow.

Do you see the plant behind the primrose that looks like clumps of grass?  I’m not quite sure what it will be.  A neighbour gave it to me, saying that the lady who owned our house for 61 years before we did, had it in her/our garden, and had given her a cutting years ago.  So it has come back, and I hope it will be happy.

Are we in spring, or winter still?  The spring equinox isn’t for three weeks yet, but the meteorological year counts spring as beginning March 1st.  It’s an in-between time, that’s for certain.  In her March 2nd essay, Katharine Smith wrote:  “Waking to what looks, from the window, like a reasonable day, reminding myself that this really is March and we should be heading for spring, I hurry through a watered-down version of essential indoor jobs and make for the garden…  Scanning it today I smile ruefully as I look in vain for a rewarding sign of anything green. … This is the time when, every year, I wonder if I’ll ever get things to grow again in any sort of order, yet, somehow it is achieved.” (p. 51)

Here in the lowlands of Glasgow, we do have green in the garden, and even little primroses and narcissi, as you can see.  There are also lots of dead leaves piled in various corners.

She goes on to write, “I very much hope, too, that some of the young people who live here now may get the gardening fever.  It has to be a fever, I think, and an incurable one at that…”  I agree that it’s important to give children a taste of gardening.  But I will say that my own early experiences with gardening were extremely off-putting.  I spent many hours working in the garden as a child, but my father was a hard task-master and his love of tomato plants left me cold.  I did enjoy gardening with my Granny, however.  I could see that it was a joy for her.  It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I planted my own garden, with the things that I longed to grow, and it was then that I began to discover the thrill of gardening.  And for me, happily, it has been a fever that hasn’t lifted.

Katharine Stewart’s foray into her garden on March 2nd was short-lived.  She stretched some black plastic bin liners over a stretch of earth, weighing them down with stones, in order to begin to warm the ground for spring planting.  “The rain really has an edge to it now, coming almost horizontally, in wind-chilled bursts.  My morning thoughts and hopes of spring are dashed.  Of course, our seasons don’t go by the calendar, but by whatever is brewing up in Siberia.  I have to acknowledge this was a false start.  There will be more to come.”  (p. 52)

False starts:  the encapsulation of spring, it seems to me.  We are so impatient for warmth, growth, and new life.  We are given glimpses that are both hugely satisfying and tantalising, so that we are left wanting more.  And that is the nature of spring!  It’s a test of patience and faith.  Is it any wonder the early Christian church fixed the season of Lent and Easter in the springtime?  Yesterday Tilly and I went out into the back garden, me to collect leaves from the lawn and Tilly to chew on grass.  The sky blackened and there was a sudden, thunderous downpouring of hailstones.  Tilly dashed inside ahead of me, and stood in the porch looking out, aghast.  Like Katharine Stewart, Tilly and I retreated into the kitchen.  Tilly didn’t join me in having a cup of tea, but I certainly enjoyed mine!

Posted by: christinelaennec | February 27, 2015


It’s three weeks now since our weekend in Aberdeen.  Let me show you a few more photos of the end of our stay, and our trip “home again, home again, jiggety-jog”.

On the Sunday morning, which was a beautiful crisp winter’s morning, I walked to church.  People complain about the grey granite in Aberdeen, but (as I’ve written here and here) I find Aberdeen’s granite beautiful, and by no means always grey.  These houses are a lovely example of the decorative use of pink granite:

A granite house with lots of pink granite.  Aberdeen.

A granite house with lots of pink granite. Aberdeen.

Can you see the seagull on top of the bell tower at South Holburn Parish Church?

South Holburn Parish Church, with a seagull on top of the bell (tower?).  Aberdeen.

South Holburn Parish Church, with a seagull on top of the bell tower. Aberdeen.

I was happy to see Ally’s donated snowdrops still coming up under the memorial, next to the Bonica roses.  As you may know, I used to be the church gardener, and working there was a great joy to me.  Since we moved to Glasgow, the people looking after the garden are older folks who aren’t so able, and thus much of the former garden has been gravelled over.  However, that’s reality, and the garden is still pretty, if less lush.

The church garden in February 2015.

The church garden in February 2015.

Michael and the Dafter packed up the car while I was in church, and then they came along to coffee hour, which was a wonderful occasion for me.  They hadn’t been to South Holburn in a few years, and it was so nice for the Dafter to see for herself how many people have been praying for her and asking after her – they were just tickled pink to see her on her feet and having turned into a very bonnie young woman.

We left after a quick picnic lunch, and it was so gorgeous that instead of staying on the A90, which veers inland after Stonehaven, we took the coast road south.  Such beauty!  My photos, taken through the car window, aren’t fantastic, but I hope you can get an idea of the beautiful scenery we were travelling through:

Driving south from Aberdeen: fields and the North Sea.  February 2015.

Driving south from Aberdeen: fields and the North Sea. February 2015.

Coming into Inverbervie:  sun on the North Sea.  February 2015.

Coming into Inverbervie: sun on the North Sea. February 2015.

Plowed fields, trees, and the North Sea.  On the Coast Road south of Inverbervie.  February 2015.

Plowed fields, trees, and the North Sea. On the Coast Road south of Inverbervie. February 2015.

We stopped above the fishing village of Johnshaven:

Just south of Johnshaven, on the North Sea.  February 2015.

Just south of Johnshaven, on the North Sea. February 2015.

The wind was cold but the views were stunning:

Looking south towards St. Cyrus, February 2015.

Looking south towards St. Cyrus, February 2015.

We stopped for coffee near Perth, and waited til after 4:00 when the sun had set, so that we wouldn’t be driving against the dazzling, low winter sun.  By tea-time we were back in Glasgow, happy to see Tilly (who wasn’t fond of the new catsitter, for some reason!), and happy to have had a weekend seeing old friends and Aberdeen herself.

Posted by: christinelaennec | February 24, 2015

Dreaming of summer

Katharine Stewart begins her February 24th essay thus:  “Persistent cold winds, driving flurries of snow, mean that outside work is held up, though the lengthening days tempt everyone to get on with it.”  Certainly here in Glasgow it has not been weather for gardening:


Hailstones at my window. Glasgow, 24 February 2015.

Even Tilly has been reluctant to be outdoors – this photo from last month shows how on edge she often is.  She was hearing a cat in the garden next door:


Tilly on alert

The weather has been stormy and very changeable.  Last Friday I had the afternoon off, and had the chance to walk across Glasgow Green. I really enjoyed the wide open space, and the view of the coming showers:

Storm clouds coming in from the West.  Glasgow, 20 February 2015.

Storm clouds coming in from the West. Glasgow, 20 February 2015.

As I type this, a dark cloud has come over the house, and now the hail is falling thick and fast outside.   It’s the wintertime!  Katharine Stewart thinks of balmier days, and writes:  “It’s good to have the mind stocked with memories like these, as good as having a library, shelves well filled with books and documents which can be consulted at will, when you’re coping with the present or planning for the future.” (49-50)

And that is very true!  One of the delights of gardening is that now is the time to make plans, order seed, clean tools – because in fact, before we know it, it will be time to plant the sweet peas and clear the flower beds for poppies.  And while we are planning, we can take some time to inhabit happy memories of summer:

View from the summerhouse last summer.

View from the summerhouse last summer.

In five months’ time, I will once again (God willing!) be enjoying a wee retreat in the summerhouse, or maybe sitting with a friend at the table.  And I will definitely enjoy my morning jumps once the trampoline is back up!

I hope your week is going well!

Posted by: christinelaennec | February 20, 2015

Surreptitious sewing

Last month the Dafter turned 17.  Golly!  And I was very pleased to have a little surprise tucked up my sleeve to give her:  a patchwork camera strap cover.  This was an idea I’d had for nearly two years, but because she was so ill and we were together all the time, I never had a chance to do any secret sewing.  However, over the Christmas holiday she was away seeing friends overnight, and I swung into action.  I took a few photos to show those who might be interested in how I did it (see below).

She was extremely pleased.  She uses her camera a lot, and I chose meaningful scraps.  She recognised pieces left over from her coat-of-many-colours, her nappy bag, her thinking cap, my apron, a curtain that hung over a cupboard in our kitchen in Aberdeen, her star dress (when she was 1 1/2), the skirt I finished by hand on holiday in Paris, and other confections over the years.

A birthday surprise for the Dafter:  a patchwork cover for her camera strap.

A birthday surprise for the Dafter: a patchwork cover for her camera strap.

The hardest thing was measuring the camera strap without being found out.  Another day I rooted around in my cupboard for scraps to use.  Then when I had a chance to sew, I made up a simple pattern extending about 2 cm each side, plus seam allowance.  I decided on slanting pieces, as so:

Drafting a pattern.

Drafting a pattern.

The final pattern.

The final pattern.

I pieced the slanting strips, and then sewed them to a single long piece for backing.  I then tested the entire thing by cutting a piece of cardboard the same dimensions as the camera strap, turning the cover right-side-out, and seeing if the cardboard fit easily, which it did.  Then I turned it wrong-side-out again, and trimmed the seam to about 1/4″.

Sewing the pieces for the patchwork side.

Sewing the pieces for the patchwork side to the piece for the underside.

I turned it right-side-out again, and handstitched a hem for each opening.

Right side out, hemmed and pressed.

Right side out, hemmed and pressed.

I see I included a piece of the living room curtains as well!  (A leftover scrap, not an actual piece of the curtains.)  As you can see from the top photo, it tends to ride up a little bit, even though it fits perfectly when lying flat.  If I were to make another one, I might add an extra half inch to each end.  But it’s fine.

It was good fun, took just a few hours, and the best thing was her surprise, as she realised I had been pretty sneaky!

I wish you all a great weekend.

Posted by: christinelaennec | February 18, 2015

Snowdrops at Gargunnock House, Stirlingshire

I thought I would combine Katherine Stewart’s essay for February 18th with showing you our recent visit to Gargunnock House, a few miles west of Stirling.

The year that Stewart was writing, the weather on February 18th was “Showers of sleet … and a wind rising to gale force 8 or 9″.  She goes on:  “As the sleet begins to whirl in horizontal pattenrs and the wind howls among the slates, I tire of watching the tree’s precarious bending, turn from the window and pick up a gardening magazine sent by a friend.  It makes fascinating reading, but its world seems totally unreal.  Asparagus beds, pagodas, outdoor peppers and tomatoes… would any of these survive in a hill-top garden, in a climate full of wild uncertainty?  I suppose some of them would, with adequate shelter and sources of labour.  Certainly there have been gardens in Scotland, and in the higher reaches of the country, for many hundreds of years.  I think of the Queen Mother’s garden at the Castle of Mey in Caithness.  You can’t get a place more exposed than that.  Mary, our Queen, [Mary Queen of Scots] had a tiny garden made for her on the island in the Lake of Menteith, where she played as a child for a short while, before being sent to France in 1548.” (p. 48-49)

Last weekend, Michael and I had the chance to go for a country drive and visit a garden that is not so very far, as the crow flies, from the Lake of Menteith.  (The Lake of Menteith is the only lake in Scotland that isn’t a loch – but I don’t know why!)  Gargunnock House was originally a tower house built in the 16th century.  It has a walled garden (which we didn’t visit), which may well date back as far as the house.  Perhaps, a few miles away, young Mary Queen of Scots was having her own garden made at the same time.

The house was bought in 1835 by Charles Stirling.  Much of the planting of the garden must date from the 19th-century, such as the redwood trees lining the main drive:

Walking up the drive from the car park near the entrance.  Gargunnock House, February 2015.

Walking up the drive from the car park near the entrance. Gargunnock House, February 2015.  You can see why Gargunnock House garden takes part in the Snowdrop Festival.

To go back to its earlier history, according to a man who stopped to talk to us in the midst of restocking the plant stall, Gargunnock House belonged to a family who were supporters of the Stewarts – the side that lost the battle of Culloden.  I presume they were a Catholic family.  I asked what happened after the 1745 uprising, and he said he thought the house was taken from them and given to the Campbells, who were loyal to the King. He told us that to the south of Gargunnock, is “the marsh”.  The aristocracy hunted in all the hills surrounding the lower lands.  Gargunnock House, at the foot of the Gargunnock hills, would have been a prime base for hunting.  He told us that from the upper stories of the house you could see Stirling Castle to the south.

In the 18th century, the house was remodelled and given a Georgian front and terrace.  As the Landmark Trust (who now own the property) say, “[Eighteenth-century] visitors glimpsing it across the park from the south would be lulled into thinking it an apparently modern house.  Only when they came closer did tell-tale turrets and crow-stepped gables give the game away.”

Gargunnock House, visible in the distance from the drive.  More snowdrops!

Gargunnock House, visible in the distance from the drive. More snowdrops!

Nowadays, the house is a holiday house – sleeping 16, if you’re planning a weekend away with a large group – and the gardens are open to the public at certain times.  You park near the gate and put £3 in the honesty box, and take a laminated map to guide you around the gardens, keeping away from the front of the house, so the paying visitors aren’t disturbed.  I found out about it through the Open Gardens scheme, as Gargunnock House takes part in the Snowdrop Festival.  And rightly so, as you can see!

Continuing up the drive, Gargunnock House, February 2015.

Continuing up the drive, Gargunnock House, February 2015.

On your way up the drive, you notice two commemorative stones on the left.  The first is to mark the planting of a tree by the Princess Royal in September 1952.  I presume this was a young Princess Anne, as Elizabeth had become queen earlier that year. [Edited:  apparently this was Princess Mary, Countess of Harewood, Princess Anne’s great-aunt.]  Just beyond it you see another stone…

Tree planted by the Princess Royal.  Behind it to the right, another important commemorative monument.

Tree planted by the Princess Royal. Behind it to the right, another important commemorative monument.

…which is mossy and intriguing.  It’s one of the stones marking the graves of beloved animals connected to Gargunnock House.  This stone goes from Anna in 1958, through to Penny in 1986:

Memorial stone in the pet cemetery, Gargunnock House.  February 2015.

Memorial stone in the pet cemetery, Gargunnock House. February 2015.

I found the cedar trees quite amazing, in their snowdrop carpet.  I don’t know what kind of cedar tree this is, or why their trunks have this form.  Perhaps it’s one of the botanical wonders that Charles Stirling acquired to impress his visitors.  I was impressed!

Are these cedar trees?

Unusual cedar trees.

As you follow the drive up to the house, you glimpse a structure in the field beyond, and the map tells you it is the “doocot,” Scottish for dovecote.  Close up, it’s quite a structure!  The original residents of Gargunnock House must have enjoyed their pigeons:

The doocot, Gargunnock House.  February 2015.

The doocot, Gargunnock House. February 2015.

Visitors can go around the back of the house, where there is a plant stall:

Plant stall at the back of Gargunnock House.  February 2015.

Plant stall at the back of Gargunnock House. February 2015.

And guess what I found!  Winter aconites – something I saw in Aberdeen recently.

Winter aconites!

Winter aconites!

Our garden in Glasgow will now have its own winter aconites.  I hope they are happy here.

I asked the man who stopped to speak to us about the harling on the house, as I knew that Craigievar Castle in Aberdeenshire was re-harled at great cost.  He said that it was far too expensive to reharl the house itself, though the modern cement harling didn’t seem to be harming it.  But he told us that the stable block had been redone with lime harling  by the same restorers who reharled parts of Stirling Castle a few years ago:

Stable blocks, Gargunnock House.  February 2015.

Stable blocks, Gargunnock House. February 2015.

Visitors are allowed into the house garden, which is to the side of the house.  It’s a lovely, slightly wild garden.  When we were there, several groups of children were running around it and playing hide-and-seek, having a great time.  I think they might have been staying with their parents at the house for the weekend.

The side of Gargunnock House, seen from the house garden.  February 2015.

The side of Gargunnock House, seen from the house garden. February 2015.

I spotted these beautiful hellebores mixed in with the snowdrops:

Hellebores and snowdrops in the house garden.  February 2015.

Hellebores and snowdrops in the house garden. February 2015.

We didn’t go to the walled garden, as I could hardly feel my fingers by the time we had gone through the house garden.

Last view of the house from the house garden.  February 2015.

Last view of Gargunnock House from the house garden. February 2015.

I would very much like to return here in the springtime, when the azaleas and rhododendrons are in bloom.  And I will definitely want to see what they have been growing in the walled garden.

To return to Katharine Stewart’s essay, she writes that “Scots gardeners are, of course, renowned practically the world over. Even to children they are famous, since the appearance in Beatrix Potter’s tale of Mr. McGregor.” (p. 49)  I hadn’t realised until visiting the Beatrix Potter Centre in Dunkeld some time ago that Scottish gardeners had this reputation.  Apparently if in the 19th century you were in a position to hire a gardener, particularly a head gardener, the top of the line employee would have been a gardener from Scotland.  So the first readers of Beatrix Potter would have recognised that Mr. MacGregor was a Scottish gardener, fiercely devoted to his patch and therefore an arch-enemy of the rabbits.

Posted by: christinelaennec | February 16, 2015

Byways and back streets of Aberdeen

Michael and I went on a little walk when we were in Aberdeen, through many of the lesser-known streets in the city centre.  Some of this route used to be my walk to work when we lived there, and I have to say it was so nice to go back again.

To begin with, I always found this house name amusing:  “Vulcanvale”.  Is/was the person who named the house a Star Trek fan?  The other thing that I like is the juxtaposition of the name with the sign, with its curly metalwork and Scottish thistle.  I presume that the sign was handmade some years ago:

A house called "Vulcanvale".  Aberdeen.

A house called “Vulcanvale”. Aberdeen.

The photo below shows how the city centre was once a semi-rural area.  You can see a former barn or byre, with its green doors.  I don’t think this building was quite as grand as to be a carriage house.  It has lost the bar extending out from the flat roof of the top door, which you sometimes see on such buildings in Aberdeen.  The bar held a pulley, to hoist up hay or other goods.  You can just see, above the black sliding door, a former brick arch.  I expect that this large door was arched to accommodate a horse and wagon.  Next to the byre is an old cottage, whose top floor was extended in about the 1970s.  There are narrow lanes running up through these buildings.

A former barn or byre, Springbank Terrace, Aberdeen.

A former barn or byre, Springbank Street, Aberdeen.

This one, Springbank Place, has gates to houses on the left, and on the right, what I assume was once an shrine built into a wall:

Springbank Place, Aberdeen.

Springbank Place, Aberdeen.

A shrine in the old wall?  Springbank Place, Aberdeen.

A shrine in the old wall? Springbank Place, Aberdeen.

At the top of Springbank Place is a fine house:

A rather grand house at the end of Springbank Terrace, Aberdeen.

House at the end of Springbank Terrace, Aberdeen.

I imagine it would have been the residence of a wealthy merchant at one time.  And no doubt it is now the residence of quite a wealthy person, as detached houses with gardens in the centre of town don’t come cheap!

Turning up into Dee Street, I’ve always enjoyed this grand portico on what seems otherwise to be a rather ordinary building.  Notice the house set back behind a long front garden next door:

A grand porch on Dee Street, Aberdeen.

A grand porch on Dee Street, Aberdeen.

I’ve always wondered about the history of this large building, Seabank House on Dee Street.  I like the cast iron decoration on the roof, and the balustrades:

Seabank?? House?  Dee Street, Aberdeen.

Seabank House, Dee Street, Aberdeen.

I think Seabank House is now a care home.

Here is another house that was no doubt grand when it was first built:

A once-grand house, perhaps belonging to a merchant, whose garden is now a car park.  Dee Street, Aberdeen.

A once-grand house, perhaps belonging to a merchant, whose garden is now a car park. Dee Street, Aberdeen.

I believe this house is now an office building.  It’s not too hard to imagine a beautiful front garden where the car park is now.  Do you see how tall the chimneys are?  This was to keep the smoke as far up above street level as possible.  In the days of coal fires and “pea-souper” fogs, that would have been an important consideration.

Continuing up Dee Street, we pass the back of the Crown Street Post Office:

The back of the Crown Street Post Office, built in 1904?.  Scottish baronial style?  Dee Street, Aberdeen.

The back of the Crown Street Post Office, built in 1907, Dee Street, Aberdeen.

The Crown Street Post Office is a very large building (with its front door on Crown Street, the next street over).  The style of architecture is Scottish baronial.  When we first moved to Aberdeen, it was still a post office, and I always enjoyed going there to mail a parcel.  The Royal Mail moved to more modern facilities some time ago, and the building was made into flats.  You can read more about it in this post by Doric Columns.

We have nearly reached Union Street.  First we cross a narrow street called Langstane Place (pronounced “Langston”).

Coming to the top of Dee Street, at Langstane Place.  The Music Hall on Union Street is half-visible.

Coming to the top of Dee Street, at Langstane Place. The Music Hall on Union Street is half-visible.

Langstane Place takes its name from the Lang Stane (the long stone):

The Lang Stane, on Langstane Place, Aberdeen.

The Lang Stane, on Langstane Place, Aberdeen.

There seems to be some mystery surrounding the Lang Stane.  According to Wikipedia, it may originally have been part of a stone circle, and later used as a boundary marker.  It does certainly look like the stones one sees in the many standing stone circles in the North-East of Scotland.

A few steps beyond the Lang Stane and we have arrived at Aberdeen’s main thoroughfare, Union Street.  And what greets us, where Dee Street joins Union Street, is the beautiful granite Music Hall:

Turning onto Union Street from Dee Street:  the Music Hall.

Turning onto Union Street from Dee Street: the Music Hall.  The Town House further down is having some work done on its tower.

Designed by Archibald Simpson, it was built in 1859 and is still a Music Hall (in the sense of being a concert venue, not as in vaudeville).  One of the things I like about the Music Hall is that the columned porch, with steps leading down, extends out over most of the pavement / sidewalk.  When walking past the Music Hall, I like to go up the stairs and through the porch rather than along the steps or in the small space besides the steps.  It’s just a quirky thing, and maybe the porch is a nuisance to some people, but to my childlike mind, it’s a chance for a little bit of fun.

My Old Farmer’s Almanac tells me that today “Winter’s Back Breaks”.  And indeed this morning in Glasgow it is sunny and mild, almost springlike.  Happy start of the week to you!

Posted by: christinelaennec | February 14, 2015

Valentine’s Day: blackbirds, and the magical properties of trees

In her February 14th essay in A Garden in the Hills, Katharine Stewart describes the joy of listening to the blackbird’s song:  “My valentine arrives in the form of a burst of song from the top of the tallest cyprus opposite the window….  It’s now the full-throated song. … It’s a moment of magic.”  (p. 44)  As her earlier essays talk about her life with her husband and children on the croft, I presume that by the early 90s, Stewart was widowed.  I’m glad that there was a blackbird to give her a Valentine.

I have continued, after more than 22 years, to celebrate Valentine’s Day the American way.  I make handmade Valentines for family and a few Scottish friends who are used to my startling ideas.  In Britain, Valentine’s Day is only for lovers.  I’ve always thought that was quite ridiculous and hurtful (sorry, lovers!).  The Dafter is now of an age where she too thinks the amount of heartbreak generated by Valentine’s Day – oh I’m all alone, I don’t have anyone to give me a Valentine – is ridiculous.  Apparently there are more relationship breakups in the days leading up to February 14th than at any other time of year.  Who needs the pressure?!  So I’m glad I’ve maintained the understanding that Valentines are an expression of affection for anyone that you love.   Here’s what my Valentines look like this year:

This year's Valentine.

This year’s Valentine.

Some chocolate will also be involved.  And do we have blackbirds singing a Valentine’s greeting here in Glasgow?  I haven’t heard any, but I will continue to listen out.  I did, however, see crocuses!

Crocuses!  Up, but not open as there was no sun.  11 February 2015, Glasgow.

Crocuses! Up, but not open, as there was no sun. 11 February 2015, Glasgow.  As I took the photo, a man came out of a nearby house and joked “That’ll cost you a fiver!”

Katharine Stewart goes on to write about trees, their healing powers and significance.  “It has taken us a long time to accept what our forebears knew generations ago – that native plants, including trees, may provide cures for even the worst of human afflictions.  The bark of the willow, long known to contain healing powers, is now being studied as a possible cure for cancer.” (p. 45)  Is this the drug combretastatin?  Perhaps there are others derived from willow as well.  She mentions the name “salley” for willow, as in Yeats’ poem “Down by the salley garden” (which I had only known as the traditional song).  I believe that a variation of “salley” – “sauchie” – gave Sauchiehall Street its name.  The Willow Tea Rooms was named accordingly.

She writes also about the rowan tree (mountain ash):  “It’s a tree with magical properties.  I had a neighbour not long since, who would never burn wood from a fallen rowan on her fire, though she would use it outside to heat food for her hens.  Every house had a rowan by the door and a small branch would be fixed over the lintel of the byre and the stable to ensure protection for the beasts against evil.  … [Rowan berries] certainly make a wonderful wine, with a touch of magic in it, and a good red jelly.” (p. 45)

It’s not just in the countryside that the rowan was considered to be a protective tree.  I was told by a neighbour that when our houses were built, a rowan was planted in each front garden.  You can still see some of these old rowans about the neighbourhood.  We ourselves have planted a rowan in our back garden.  Our reasons for doing so were that it’s a native species, has good fall colour, berries for the birds, and won’t grow to be too huge.  But it’s good to know that it’s magic as well.

Amongst other trees, Stewart writes about the hazel:  “In Celtic legend the nuts of the hazel tree contained all knowledge.  It was said that the salmon in the pool ate the nuts that fell from the hazel and so became the ‘salmon of wisdom,’ having eaten the ‘hazel nuts of knowledge’.  To divine water the hazel-twig was always considered the most appropriate.” (p. 46)  Have you ever tried dowsing for water?  I bought some metal dowsing rods on my mother’s last visit to Scotland, and we tried them out.  Her father, my Grampa, had often dowsed for water to find where to dig a well.  We balanced them gently on our palms and walked about our back garden.  It was quite amazing how they slowly crossed when near a source of water!  She was so entranced with them that she took them back to Portland with her.

I will finish with a photo of some lovely anemones and daffodils:

Beautiful anemones.

Beautiful anemones.

It’s been a pretty good week.  As expected the Dafter felt horrendous and was in great pain on Monday, but has been a little bit better each day since.  Yesterday she was able to go into school for two hours, which is very good!  I have been enjoying choir very much.  We’ve been singing South African songs, which I really like.  Here is a link to an old video of Bright Blue singing “Weeping”.  It was written in 1987 as a protest against the apartheid regime, and incorporates the Zulu anthem “God Bless Africa,” which at the time was banned.  Have a listen, it’s nice (I think).

I wish you all a Happy Valentine’s Day, and a good weekend!

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