On hearing the first gowk*

Loch Aineort, South Uist

Loch Aineort, South Uist

Year of Natural Scotland

Capricious – whimsical – wayward – fickle – freakish – crotchety, northern springs will either delight or drive you to despair. The last week of May and only now are we seeing the tender pale green leaves of the birch, willow and rowan. In the cool air the buzz of the bees and hoverflies is muted and the flight of the green-veined white butterflies is languid.
Whatever the spring weather I know that summer is not far away when I hear the first cuckoo. According to the old rhyme in England they arrive in April and sing in May, but here I have yet to hear even a single cuck-oo, never mind an abandonment of cuckoos, before mid-May. To search for my summer harbinger I have to abandon my usual haunts and go to the east coast of the island where the evocative call echoes around the rugged hills and shores of the sea lochs.

O Cuckoo! shall I call thee Bird,
Or but a wandering Voice?

William Wordsworth captures the wandering echo call of the male cuckoo perfectly, but somehow the music of Delius will always come to mind when I hear the first gowk even though this rugged landscape is a hardly reminiscent of the soft green of the English or French countryside.

*Gowk is the Scots word for cuckoo; also a simpleton or fool. A gowk storm is one that is over quickly and usually refers to a is an untimely fall of snow in early Spring hence “the advent of the cuckoo calls forth the old season’s spite, and in consequence is a gowk storm”.


Waving not drowning

The Hebridean Gardener’s Lament “its cold, wet and windy” or in my case the grumpy gardener blues is yet to be replaced by the sunny morning tuneless whistle as I pull on my red woolly hat and wellies and march off to the garden.
In the “edgy islands” spring does not officially start until May when the machair turns white with daisies and then golden with buttercups. So its now 21st May and the only daisies are the alien invaders in my herb garden and the gold is produced by a profusion of dandelions in the scrubby piece of grass which even flattery would not deceive to call a lawn. The herbaceous borders are verdant with chickweed and nettles and even the comfrey has a bad case of wind burn.
Apart from the rhubarb and three rows of very sulky garlic the vegetable beds are either empty or draped with enviromesh sheltering some rather straggly brassicas. As for the broad beans, they seem to have retreated back into their cardboard nursery tubes.

Thrift  Armeria maritima

Pink Parade

In other words a typical Hebridean spring, if rather colder than usual. Calm sunny days appear at random like a dose of prozac to relieve the dark skies of the serial Atlantic depressions. So there are spells of manic activity in the garden followed by manic activity elsewhere – just the normal outbreak of spring fever before the onset of the white nights.
This year I resolved that I would not be gloomy about the state of my garden. I’m just a bit grumpy because it looks decidedly ragged and unkempt and if only we could have 3 or 4 calm days ………There goes the lament again! However, there a little corners which have hidden gems to remind me why I garden against the odds.
Plus the corncrakes are back, there are whimbrel (look like elegant small curlew) outside my kitchen window and on sunny days the bumbles and hoverflies appear to pollinate the blackcurrants to the sound of ascending larks! Best of all there’s a rhubarb crumble in the oven a little treat for eating spinach with everything!

Tulipa urumensis

Tulipa urumiensis

Hebrides Islands on the Edge

Hebrides Islands on the EdgeThis is wildlife photography at its very best. Nigel Pope and his team have done a great job and they were one of the best film crews we’ve welcomed to the islands.
I prattled incessantly about the stunning Hebridean landscapes and our world class wildlife so now you can see for yourselves. My words and photographs have only given you a tiny glimpse, this series is about as good as it gets.

If you are unable to watch, there are clips on the BBC website and YouTube.

Save our Seeds

Threat to Heritage Seeds, Seed Exchange and Biodiversity

On Monday 6 May, the European Commission will vote on a proposed reform of the regulation on seeds which threatens the rights of gardeners and farmers to freely exchange seeds. The proposed changes work in favour of the seed companies whilst they should be working to establish the rights of people to buy or exchange organic, local or traditional seeds and protect these seeds against patents. This legislation seriously threatens heritage and local seed varieties and if these are lost and not made available to gardeners and small farmers our biodiversity is threatened.
I do not get on my soap box very often, but I am incensed by these proposed changes. So if you care please sign the petition and make your voice heard.

Save our Seeds Petition