Of garden visits and vests

Very little water in the Culag River...Well, we have had a couple of drops of rain at last – not enough but better than nothing! I have been twitching about wild-fire, especially as here we are surrounded by highly inflammable whin (or gorse) bushes and the feeling is that it would take but one carelessly flung cigarette butt to set the whole place alight, and I have to remind myself that our great team of volunteer fire-fighters have never lost a house yet – but I have literally been having nightmares about fire…

I have been reliably informed that before last Sunday when we had 3 mm of precipitation, there had been no measurable rain for over a month – 14th May was the last record to be exact. Of course, due to the fact that the population is not so great here, we are unlikely to drink a loch dry and there is little chance of things like hose-pipe bans in this part of the world – although things are getting difficult for anyone on a private water supply like my friend Angus John, who tells me that he will soon be out of water for his house. The main trouble is for the wildlife – some of the lochs are down by six feet or more, and the rivers are too low for the salmon to get up them to breed – which is bad news for both the salmon and the industry which relies on their regular appearance. The worst part of this is that the “catch and release” policies on many of the most popular rivers – along with the banning of drift netting in their mouths – had been making a real difference to salmon numbers, which in some rivers had gone up dramatically. At the same time, I don’t begrudge that fact that England has had our rain – their need was probably considerably greater than ours!

Personally, I would like to see a spell of warmer, wetter weather and maybe that is on its way at last. I am quite fed up with feeling chilly and for the first time ever, I am wearing a summer vest! I am reminded of an episode of Agatha Christie’s “Miss Marple” when Joan Hickson as Miss Marple went into a shop on the pretext of buying summer vests when in fact of course, she was doing her bit of sleuthing. Vests are very much “out of fashion” – no-one is prepared to admit to the wearing of one – but it is amazing the number of clothing catalogues and lingerie departments which carry them and there is an amazing variety of styles and weights – some very traditional and practical and some just so pretty and feminine. So some-one must be wearing them!

The other day I had occasion to write the Gaelic word for “vest” and had to look up the spelling as I had no idea how the word, which I have known for years, is actually spelt in Gaelic. It is “soimead” – pronounced in a similar fashion to the Scot’s word “semmit” from which it is derived, and which is a word that crosses the border into northern England right down as far as the Midlands – or so I have been told, as a friend of mine from Northampton always used the word semmit for the under garment in question. In one dictionary though, it gave the word “peitean” which in my Gaelic means “jumper” – or “sweater” if you prefer. On the Isle of Lewis especially people use the word “gansaidh” instead, of “peitean”, which is the same word as “gansy” in English and was almost certainly the original word for a knitted outer garment – the fishing gansy being the earliest form of jumper. Gaelic speakers who use the word “gansaidh” for a jumper are more likely to use the word “peitean” to mean a “waistcoat” rather than a “vest” – but when you think that back in the late 17th and 18th centuries, the word for what we nowadays call a “waistcoat” was indeed “vest” – as it still is across The Pond – this all starts to make sense – both in Gaelic and in English! Whichever word we choose to use though, I have been very grateful for that extra layer these last few weeks, and although I have got fed up with feeling cold, I am also grateful that the weather hasn’t been hot as then the combination of lack of water and heat would have turned this area into a desert in no time – whereas everything is still quite green and fresh looking even though the vegetables are rather taking their time to grow!

However, there have been spells of warmer and really pleasant weather. Luckily, one such day was last Wednesday when the Drumbeg Gardening Club (mentioned briefly in an earlier blog) came to visit my garden. The day had started rather cool and overcast, but the weather forecast was for an improving picture, and I had faith that it would prove so. The days beforehand were occupied with getting the garden into as best condition as I possibly could – helped not a little by the visit from my sister as she had brought some plants with her as well as good advice as to the best way of going about opening a garden – a new experience for me.

About 2 o’clock, folk started to turn up. We are all very into car-sharing around here as much as is possible, and 13 people turned up in three cars, which was perfect. We started with a bit of an informal “guided tour” around the various nooks and corners we have in the garden. We are very lucky here in that the natural fall of the ground allows for “secret” pockets hidden from the eye until you get there. The hurricane of 2004 had brought down a number of trees in the garden, and this has allowed us to build ponds where once stood conifers and to develop other areas which were otherwise totally over-shadowed by the trees. Our gardening friend, Howard, had done all the construction work for us as I think I have mentioned in a previous post, and I gave him full credit – but I also told the visitors that the original owners, our neighbours Pearl and Kenny-John MacLeod, had created the basic structure of the garden and built the huge dry-stone walls which are such a feature. Pearl and Kenny-John built this house in the 1970s and lived here until they sold it at the beginning of the 90s to people who were not gardeners, and so things had been rather neglected – they just kept the place looking reasonably tidy for their B&B guests.

So then we came along! But I really can’t claim all that much credit for how the garden looks – I rather feel that nature has done the lion’s share of the work! I have planted it with roses – which I love – and various bits and pieces. I also made the dye garden – which Howard always refers to as “the weed patch”! – which was the first part of the garden to receive my attention. I built that from scratch by terracing a bank with a low dry-stone wall and planting it up – all my own work 🙂 During the Visit, one person, Sharon, remarked on the way the garden sort of flows, which is something I hadn’t thought of before, but I think is true. It sometimes takes another person’s set of eyes…

Anyway, we had a fish feeding ceremony – there are goldfish, rud and sticklebacks in the pond, although one rarely sees the last. Most people seemed to feel that the pond area was the best part of the garden – and I’m sure that the fact that the sun had come out thus keeping the midgies at bay enhanced people’s enjoyment of that area. After that came tea, cakes and my dairy-free pancakes with jam in our “inside-out room” which I think were very much enjoyed by all. I hope we can do it again sometime – at a slightly different time of year perhaps…

My sister’s partner, Andrew, made the excellent suggestion that I have a “four seasons” section on this blog-site, and I am thinking what better place to photograph at different times of year than the garden! It may not be very grand and the planting is very simple – but I love it…

[Photos by Clarinda]

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