30 days wild 2019: day 16

yellow and pink and green

This corner of the garden has produced its own Chelsea Garden design: a bank of buttercups and Herb Robert. Lets see what the judges say…

The pink and yellow colour scheme of these small yet eye-catching flowers interspersed with restrained subtlety above a fragmented green background of intricate foliage results in pleasant contemporary planting that would suit any low-maintenance garden.

The smell of Stinky Bob is supposed to deter deer and rabbits, and rubbing the leaves on your skin has been noted to ward off mosquitos. I can confirm that we have no deer or rabbits in this garden, sadly not remotely related to the presence of all this Stinky Bob, and I’m unsure if there are mosquitos. It’s also a commonly chewed leaf for alleviating sore throats, but I’ve never tried that myself. The plant was named after a French monk famous for his healing skills. In more recent but still pre-NHS days it was a popular countryside medicine for toothache, nosebleeds and skin ailments among many other things, so its healing properties are of interest to scientists. Perhaps we’ll find measurable antibiotic or antiviral uses for in the future too.

Until then, its a pretty little pink geranium that clashes nicely with the buttercups.









30 days wild 2019: day 15

blue alkanet.JPG

(As far as I know) this is a Green Alkanet Pentaglottis sempervirens 

It is related to the ever-useful borage and comfrey plants, all part of the forget-me-not family of Boraginacae, along with several other Alkanets including one that makes a very good dye (not this one though).

Despite a recent history of gardeners treating its appearance as a weed to be eliminated, its worth valuing if and when it does appear in the wilder parts of the garden. Ours has appeared, along with a good crop of nettles, in the wild edges of the old fruit and veg garden under shady tree canopies, which is ideal as it is so popular with pollinators, which the nearby strawberries and blackberries – out in full sun – are going to need in abundance.

The ability of this plant to set seed and spread is not to be underestimated, so if you do need to keep it under control, carefully dig up some plants (including the roots) and make the Alkanet version of Comfrey tea: let it decompose in a covered container of water for 2 – 3 months. The very stinky result will make a good liquid fertiliser, and if subsequently composting any solid remnants, this approach will render any seeds inactive. Don’t underestimate how stinky it can be, so make sure the cover fits well.

The blue flowers are edible, though of no particular flavour, unlike the crisp cucumber-like taste of cousin borage’s flowers which makes those perfect for a glass of gin and tonic, so the alkanet’s blue flowers are more useful for decorating summer wedding cakes and adding a colour of bowls of salad. I don’t know how strongly they will stain fabric if violently hammered onto it (a very popular art class challenge with kids) so I will go find a child and give her a hammer and some paper to test it. That’ll count as a suitable challenge for the Big Wild Weekend.





30 days wild 2019: day 14

A narrow verge has been mown along the edges of all wild lawns and meadows here, perhaps to indicate their designation as intentional rather than neglected. The blackbirds and starlings particularly appreciate this opportunity to hunt for worms unhindered by undergrowth.

marchmont starling bum.JPG

marchmont starling.JPG

The other members of their feathered flock are in the branches above. They chatter, wolf whistle and sizzle as this one feeds on the ground undeterred by the proximity of humans (or cameras).





30 days wild 2019: day 13

Today is UFO day. There are many mysteries in this old garden, not least its horticultural history, but today is for finally labelling these bonus feral plants:

  1. This one forms part of the low archway into the secret garden



2) in the shaded woodland undergrowth of the sycamore tree.



3) Woodland pink waning now.



4) I love these little bursts of spiky white in the shade.



5) Another flower over for this year but good seed pods forming. I should know this one.



6) Yellow blossom shrub waning.



7) Purple thing. This looks very familiar; I know I know it.



8) The garden’s most popular bee flower second only to the cotoneaster and bramble blooms.



9) Growing in and out of one of the abandoned strawberry beds. The older leaves are a shiny copper colour.


30 days wild 2019: day 12

I haven’t yet identified this flowering plant, but its a popular one.

Spending time with one single plant is mesmerising; watching the visitors and the green micro dramas playing out on every prickly level, listening to the buzz and hum as it draws you in to its small botanical world.

pinks beepink beeladybirdbee pinkpink flowersinsect

30 days wild 2019: day 10

Today is dedicated to freerange wild pudding.

Brambles ahoy. They’re climbing all over this old wall, so will provide a good-sized feast in the autumn – unless the squirrels and birds beat me to the fruit.


The gooseberries should be ripe later this month. They were originally planted as part of an innovative gooseberry and honeysuckle hedge, which has to be one of the best hedges I’ve ever smelled. I don’t know who was responsible but they were a horticultural genius.

blog redcurrant

The strawberries, planted by a former neighbour, haven’t been tended for a couple of years now so they’re growing through their mesh. Too late to remove it now. Their rampaging runners mean there will be plenty of feral strawberries around too.

blog plumbs

This much more recently planted fruit tree – I think its a plum – will be a much easier harvest, both in effort and in scale.

Whereas I guestimate the old cherry trees to be around thirty years old. Their growth has not been curtailed in any way so someone is going to have to climb up them all to reach the rest of the crop when ripe later in the summer. I nominate the children.


30 days wild 2019: day 9

More edibles! This garden could stave off starvation, even without any deliberate or additional food planting.


Nettles are another free ingredient for soup, curry, stews and even a cup of tea. Currently forming flowers that will attract pollinators.


Ground elder, seen here alongside buttercups and cleavers, is an enthusiastically-growing olden day vegetable. Think of it as an alternative to spinach. The best way to control it or prevent it from rampaging across the garden is to eat it regularly. That method will also result in sweet new shoots and leaves.

After forming its flower umbrellas, as seen above, the leaves become a little more of a medicine than a meal.

And of course, yesterday’s mushrooms which will taste best with lots of wild garlic, which is another free ingredient lurking in the woods at the bottom of the garden. With freshly grown mustard from the windowsill, and soy sauce, which is in the cupboard.

fungi trunks.JPG

I only forage if I know the area well, in this case the big old gardens around me. There are still gardeners around who spray their plants with poisons, but a pristine monoculture lawn is often a warning on that front. However, even in nicely organic areas like this its best to wash things thoroughly, just in case. That is unless you really like the taste of cat and fox pee.

world oceans day

Here’s to #worldoceansday

To teaching children how to value, legislate and protect what previous generations plundered and polluted, to end the excuses, to end overfishing, whale-hunting, shark fin souping, sea kelp deforestation, scallop-dredging and seal clubbing, to end fishing farms spewing antibiotics and pipes spewing toxins, to placing sea-life rights before drilling rights, to treating the oceans as things to value not ways to make money, to upgraded sewage treatment plants in every coastal city, to the rebirth of old lidos, the celebration of sea pools and to new coastal paths, to small-scale line fishing and seasonal fishmongers, to all the people who don’t treat the oceans as a sewer, nuclear waste dump, open-cast mine and garbage dump, to now only allowing cruise ships that filter, process, treat and store – and park far offshore, to the coastguards, lifeguards, cliff-top suicide-prevention teams, police boats and rescue divers and a rise in their funding, to the live-aboards, restored harbours and cheap mooring, to polar caps remaining frozen, to seabird sanctuaries and sea mammal blue belts, to protected coral reefs, to a future of swimming, diving and surfing in clean water, to sailing, rowing, restoring, watching, listening, learning, studying, protecting, to not building on flood plains, to marine biology, underwater archaeology and deep water exploration, to stepping up and lending a hand, a voice, a vote, to research, to wind farms, hydro energy and wave power, to innovative ideas and wise solutions, to better legislations and their ferociously strict enforcement.

Here’s to the oceans.

30 days wild 2019: day 8

Found growing on the gnarled twisted trunks of this aged Darwin’s barberry:

fungi close up.JPG

fungi branch.JPG

These are Auricularia auricula-judae, with many colloquial names but we call them jelly ears. More commonly found on elder trees, but common enough on barberries like this one. The fungus is edible and available for year-round foraging.

Berberis darwinii was discovered in Chile by Darwin during an HMS Beagle exploration in 1835.  It seems to be thriving here in Edinburgh. Last month’s glorious deep tangerine blossoms have given way to green berries which will ripen to black over the summer. The birds will feast on this and on the berries of the adjacent and equally gnarly old fuchsia, and I’ll be able to watch them from my bed.