Amy McDonald

Feb 082014

On 28 November 2013, the RBGE hosted a public closing event for the Walking With Poets project – a special collaboration with the Scottish Poetry Library. The project, funded by Creative Scotland, involved four poets spending a month in residence at one of the RBGE’s four Gardens. Their events programmes and thoughts can be found at

You can hear the four poets (Mandy Haggith, Gerry Loose, Jean Atkin and Sue Butler) in conversation with the Scottish Poetry Library’s Jennifer Williams by clicking on

We were delighted to host such a fantastic project and hope to work with the Scottish Poetry Library again soon to help lend more voices to nature and our Gardens.

Walk with poet Jean Atkin at Logan

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Aug 052013

Jean Atkin has now taken up residence at Logan Botanic Garden! Check out to see her blogs and photos.Jean Atkin

She’s also got a wonderful range of events planned- all free with Garden Admission.

An award-winning poet and children’s writer, Jean lived in Dumfries & Galloway for 12 years and is very much looking forward to returning for her residency: “I expect it will be hugely rewarding working with words in the setting of Logan, which I have always loved visiting. I hope that my series of playful events will help people of all ages to be creative, and re-discover the Garden through poetry.”  Jean’s collection, Not Lost Since Last Time, was published by Overstep Books in February this year.

Everyday activies:  Garden Dada Poetry around the Garden  |  the Poet Tree | Logan Garden Poetry Postcards |  Seed Tray Poems in the Poetry Yurt

Weekly events:

Writing in the Garden workshops

Walk with a Poet:  Grow a Poem events

Potted Poems drop-in sessions

Poetry Treasure Hunts

See for full details!

Goodbye Edinburgh, and thank you!

 Walking With Poets  Comments Off on Goodbye Edinburgh, and thank you!
Jul 312013

By gardenpoets


A final morning stroll in the garden, before the crowds arrive for the day. My time as resident poet in Edinburgh is over. It has been wonderful in so many ways. The staff of the garden are delightful and I have felt so welcomed during my month here. Thank you to everyone who helped, chatted, pointed out plants, everything. I return home to the wild wood with a notebook stuffed full of jottings and scribblings, seeds of poems that I will germinate and tend in the weeks to come, and hopefully plant out here before the project is over.

Thank you Edinburgh. Moran taing.

Source: Walking With Poets

Yew, the last tree

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Jul 282013

By gardenpoets

Today we reached the end of the alphabet, with a poetry reading in the Queen Mother’s memorial pavilion (see here). It is a surreal little building, lined with shells and cones, and I had not had a chance to use it until today.

The rain provided the perfect excuse to shelter in it, though by the time we had finished reading, we had brought the sun out. Perfect for a walk, in alphabetical order, through the trees. There were a couple of cheats to save having to cross the entire gardens and back to see one plant. I’ll be asking the tree curator if there’s any chance of them putting some gorse, heather and blackthorn near the fairy wood. Or maybe I should just ask the fairies?

I read all my tree poems, which you can read from the Gaelic Tree Alphabet pull- down menu – and please feel free to add your own. There are also a bunch of titbits of folklore, ecological and practical factoids about each tree species there.

We then read favourite poems by other poets, working our way once more through the alphabet, before going to visit the trees themselves.

My choice of tree poems is as follows:

Birch: A’ Chraobh Beithe by Maoilios Cambeul
Rowan: Rowan Berry by Norman MacCaig
Alder: Alder by Kathleen Jamie
Willow: autumn evening by Julie Johnstone
Ash: Trees and Stars by William Heinesen
Hawthorn: During Dinner by Robin Robertson
Oak: I pause beneath the old oak one rainy day by Olav H Hauge
Holly: Holly by A R Ammons
Hazel: The Hazel Trees by Hadewijch of Antwerp
Bramble: Shrubbery by Jo Shapcott
Ivy: Gort by Aonghas Macneacail
Blackthorn: Sloe Gin by Seamus Heaney
Elder: Sambucus Nigra by Colin Will
Pine: After Basho by Alan Spence
Gorse: Whins by George Gunn
Heather: Scotland Small? Hugh MacDiarmid
Aspen: Binsey Poplars by Gerald Manley Hopkins
Yew: Churchyard Song by Liz Lochhead

All these (plus a couple of hundred more) will be in the anthology, Into the Forest, which will be published later this year, by Saraband.

Other favourite tree poems anyone?

Source: Walking With Poets

Everything new – the aspen renga

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Jul 272013

By gardenpoets

Here is the renga we wrote at the Botanics. Thanks to Colin Will for being the master, and to all the poeticipants!

Everything new

A 20-verse (nijuin) renga held at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 27th July, 2013

sun going in

sun coming out

poplars clapping

tall lads

from Lombardy

until the new moon

only bumble bees

and butterflies

wasps turn an old fence

into a new nest

white space arrives

between times

thorough and lost

a long tea break

throwing snowballs

quick water settles

and branches out

little wet presents

your laughter

splashes my heart

kids grow up

so fast these days

she’s taller than I am

without moving their feet

lilies dance

little boy comes in

wants to see

to the other side

hearing the geese

high above me

a pewter bothy



scuffing leaves

until you laugh again

a salmon fights

for home, back

but not back again

four girls

in search of a tan

pop the cork

slainte mhath

and how are you

who folded the petals away

so carefully

pale clouds

of spring

clothe the branches

everything new

under the sun.

Renga hosted by Mandy Haggith, led and with a schema by Colin Will. Poets in the circle: Eva, Mary, Barbara, Roger, Mandy, Mitch, Colin, Des, Anita

Source: Walking With Poets

An aspen renga

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Jul 272013

By gardenpoets

Renga is an ancient Japanese way of writing poetry together. Like many of the trees I have been studying in the past few weeks, it is an ancestor, and its descendants include haiku and tanka, familiar to most poets. It consists of up to 20 verses, alternating two and three lines long.

The poem is written verse by verse. In each round of writing, everyone taking part writes a verse, and the renga master chooses, with a bit of debate among those gathered, which one fits the poem best. We try to flow on from the previous stanza, but also follow a schema, created by the Renga master, which indicates what each verse will be about ( summer, the beginning of love, a tree etc.) By the end, everyone has contributed something to the poem.


Colin Will was our renga master today. Colin used to work at the Botanics, before retiring to life as a poet, so it was lovely to have him lead our afternoon, celebrating the aspen tree. Aspen is a poplar, and appropriately enough the Chinese Pavilion where we spent the afternoon is overlooked by poplars. They applauded our best verses and found their way into the poem.

Thanks to everyone who came and took part – the process was delightful and the result is a mosaic of funny, thoughtful and observant poetry. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

It will be posted here as soon as I have been able to confer with the renga master about the exact text.

Meanwhile here’s the tulip tree flower, a kind of Magnolia. Its ancestors predate the extinction of the dinosaurs. It is a huge tree, with limbs like a beech, decked with these extraordinary and beautiful flowers.


Source: Walking With Poets

Flow and flower

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Jul 262013

By gardenpoets

Today’s ‘tree’ is heather. We drank heather ale last night, and read the legend of the little people of Scotland who kept it secret for so long (where did the Fraoch brewers get the recipe from?). This afternoon, I am trying to convince people that, if you’re the size of a bee, heather can be really quite a big tree!

This morning, I achieved what poets always hope for.




Since I took up residence, I’ve been perplexed, then fascinated, by how the water works in the garden, and finally I got permission to press the buttons.


After a tantalising pause, a stretch of un-time of no water falling, other than in my mind, waiting, watching the flowers growing, the pond stagnating, eventually faint gurgles in the plumbing, then a cough, a splutter, and finally, with the smell of a tropical toilet flush from an algae-rich cistern, a gush of water. So there it is, white water frothing under the cascade. (The video is on the walking with poets Facebook page.)

Some little people seem to get the heather honey thing…


Source: Walking With Poets

Three steps to joy

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Jul 252013

By gardenpoets

My day had three parts. The first was in the Scottish poetry library, the great treasure trove.

I returned with a bag of goodies – five books of delicious poetry to feast on, and three bottles of wine. A good ratio!

The wine was for this evening’s event to celebrate gorse, which is sacred to
Lugh, the Celtic sun god, and a symbol of joy. We were unable to get gorse wine, but instead we sampled bramble, elderberry and oak leaf wine, as well as pine ale, heather ale and sloe gin, washed down with lashings of poetry.

In between the library and the reading, I floated in here for an hour…


… In order to find out what it feels like to be these…


Source: Walking With Poets

Pines and happiness

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Jul 242013

By gardenpoets

‘The best part of happiness is the pines.’ So said Terri Guillemets. The best part of today were the pines too, and their relatives.

We walked around the garden, from Spain, to Chile, to Australia and Norfolk Island in the Pacific, then a short stroll up into the Himalayas, a stride across to California and then back across the Pacific to Japan, across Siberia, and home, via Norway, to Scotland. There were pines, and poems about them, all the way. All of the trees bear the name ‘pine’, although some of them are very distant relatives of our native Scots Pine, but as a poet, I am allowed to take ecological liberties.

Huge thanks to Martin Gardner, head of the Botanics’ Conifer Conservation programme, who introduced us to the various species with fascinating insights and stories. We learned that the Chile pine, more commonly known as the monkey puzzle tree, is threatened in its home territory, particularly by fire. We also learned about the Wallemi pine, known from 200 million year old fossils, but assumed extinct until a backpacker called John Noble found it while absailing into a remote Australian canyon in the 1990s. Keep your eyes peeled, there could still be trees unknown to science out there!



That 200 million year thing again… it really is the theme that won’t go away. The conifers are an incredibly ancient kind of tree. Being needly clearly works.

The Scots pine is our only native cone-bearing conifer, but we have two relatives : yew (the last tree in the Gaelic alphabet, which I will be celebrating on Sunday), and juniper, neither of which have cones as such. I spent the morning with one of the most graceful and characterful trees in the garden, a juniper from the Far East of Asia. If J ever makes it into the Gaelic alphabet, juniper will be its associated tree.




But undoubtably the highlight of the day was watching Will and his team take down a cedar tree that had died, possibly due to water logging during the summer last year. I’ve seen many trees felled in forests, by mechanical harvesters and men with chainsaws, but I’d never seen anything like this – the tree taken apart limb by limb, with great care and huge skill, ensuring the trees beside it and the turf below experienced nothing more than the odd thud and rustle. It was completely enthralling to watch, almost ceremonial. I shall toast to the cedar tonight. It had a gentle passing. And now something else will grow in its place.





Source: Walking With Poets

Elder, and older

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Jul 232013

By gardenpoets

Today I met with Alex Davey, a very helpful guide into the deep time of trees. As well as a reading list, she has pointed me to several of the weirdest and most wonderful plants in the garden, of which this is one.


Welwitschia mirabilis is found only in a narrow strip of Namibian desert, where it gains its sustenance from little more than fog. I went there once. I wish I had known to look for this strange plant. It’s a relic of ancient times, a species unlike anything else on earth, and it has probably changed little for 200 million years or more. It is basically just two leaves, which grow on and on. In the wild they become shredded by the desert winds. Cosseted in a glasshouse, they curl and brown, like the fingernails of Oriental aristocrats who wanted to show they need do nothing for themselves.


Male and female plants are separate. This one is thinking about flowering. Someone described them as trees driven underground by the desert climate.


Welwitschia is one of a weird group of living fossils, plants that evolved in ancient, ancient times, called gnetales. Here’s another, an Ephedra, from Chile. I was shown another from California, so these are not quite so obscure, but still weird and ancient.


Their nearest relatives among our Scottish native trees are the conifers, pine and yew, so it feels appropriate that pine is tomorrow’s tree.

Today’s tree is elder, and we celebrated with a lovely workshop, growing poems from cuttings: single words (we made acrostic poems with Elder) and lines and phrases clipped from poems about a range of trees. By the end of the session, several were taking root, some coming into full leaf, some even blossoming!

Here are some of the clippings we thought lacked promise, but together, well, what do you think?

No nursery man would sell you an elder
These flowers without leaves
Of course, berries
Make a fine wine
Crimson red to russet yellow
How I laughed
Just a touch of air in the birch trees

And here’s Jamie Sutherland’s acrostic.

The Perfectionist’s Elder Poem

Reckon you can do better? Feel free to post a comment!

Source: Walking With Poets