On the first Friday of each month the Botanic Cottage hosts a drop-in session for those living with dementia and their family members, always with an RBGE inspired theme. Due to Covid-19 restrictions we are not meeting as a group yet, but instead our Garden Social tutor Jaimie is producing a written blog. Over to Jaimie…

Nature Reasons to be cheerful – gratitude to nature

These last few months have been hard for so many of us and sometimes I know it’s been tricky to find a way to lift our spirits in the face of so many changes and challenges.

It got me thinking about what has got me through the tough times recently, and the majority of those things were all related to nature and the privilege I’ve had to spend so much time outdoors.

When I’m not at the Botanics with you all, I work at Leith Community Croft, on Leith Links. This is where I have been lucky enough to spend the majority of my time during lockdown. So, with that in mind I wanted to share with you my own recent nature experiences and invite you to think about what gifts from nature have made you feel glad, grateful and cheerful recently. Laura and Charlotte from the community team at the Botanic Cottage will also contribute some of their nature experiences from lockdown at the Botanic Garden.

Hopefully in the not too distant future we’ll be able to talk to each other about these nature wonders, but in the meantime, here are a few of my reasons to be cheerful and grateful to nature.

Grateful for the sunshine days

The summer months are the perfect time of year for butterfly spotting, especially on a day where the sun is shining. In the Demonstration Garden at the Botanics and on the Croft in Leith there have been plenty of painted ladies flitting about, as well as various White butterflies coming in to land among the brassicas.

All a flutter with the National Butterfly Count

The Big Butterfly Count is a fantastic citizen science initiative which happens every year in July and the beginning of August. The information gathered feeds in to a national database of butterfly knowledge, helping us to track the spread and numbers of different butterfly species in the UK.

I love using this resource! Those of you that were with us for our Summer picnic may remember that we did some butterfly spotting in the garden. I was particularly excited about my first ever spotting of a Comma Butterfly with is unusual undulating edged wings, absolutely beautiful!

A photograph of a pattered orange and brown comma butterfly resting on a plant
A Comma Butterfly

If you are keen to add what you find to the national database then please use this link: https://bigbutterflycount.butterfly-conservation.org/ to download the chart for your part of the UK.

If you simply want to take part without adding to the database and you’re in Scotland I’ve included a chart for you. Simply print it out and start identifying the butterflies in your garden or when you’re next on a nature walk. Click here to see the chart.

Craft activity

When we’re in the Botanic Cottage together we often like to do a craft activity. I’ve created a little gratitude and butterfly related craft activity for you to do at home either by yourself or it’s lovely to share with your loved ones too and a way of reflecting on things and moments that help you count your blessings together.

A finished example of the butterfly garland from the craft activity
My finished butterfly garland

And for the rainy days

Now although we’ve had a lovely warm and sunny spring, summer is more of a mixed bag. I don’t know about you but since I’ve become a gardener I no longer lament the rain, instead I long for it when it’s been away too long, and celebrate it when it returns (well as long as there’s not too much of it of course!)

Our plants, whether ornamental or edible, revel in the downpours and respond with such lush gifts, springing up before our eyes and giving us the opportunity us to engage our senses and sit in awe.

Awe for Sunflowers

We have planted so many of these beauties on the Croft this year, many cheerful faces so close to being ready to burst into bright bloom. The anticipation is huge! Happily, the first one unfurled its petals the other day…Isn’t it gorgeous!?

William Blake thought so too in his poem:

Ah! Sun-flower

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,

Who countest the steps of the Sun:

Seeking after that sweet golden clime

Where the travellers journey is done. 

Where the Youth pined away with desire,

And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow: 

Arise from their graves and aspire, 

Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

Gratitude for an abundance of local food

Quality fresh local food, grown in healthy soil is vital for our health and wellbeing, boosting our nutrition levels, immune systems and mood. Many people are not lucky enough to have a garden to grow plants, but most of us have a windowsill and mini but powerful opportunity to grow our own food, even if it’s just a wee pot of herbs. Having said that I’ve witnessed so many people during lockdown eager to get outdoors, making use of little outdoor spaces on their doorsteps, planting a few flowers in pots or going further and growing food.

In the Demonstration Garden at the Botanics we have a polytunnel full of lettuces and chard and herbs such as parsely and coriander. The beds around the Demonstration Garden have courgettes, leeks, peas, broad beans, sweet peas and the fruit garden is full of strawberries, apples, pears and plums. Courgettes, broad beans, potatoes, peas, salad, spinach, chard, carrots and radishes are all growing happily on the Croft in Leith.

At the Botanics, all of the produce grown during lockdown has been donated to local food banks and projects who are giving food to the vulnerable.

At ‘The Croft’ we sell our vegetables, but we currently have even more than we can sell! Anyone who grows their own food will know the joy/pain experience when you have a glut of something!

Courgettes are notorious for this! If you find yourself with a glut of courgette and are struggling for ideas here are a couple of recipes for you to try from the BBC good food website here.

Excitement for Life Long Learning and growth

This year I have leapt in to learning the art of growing.

I’ve signed up to do the online Royal Horticultural Society Level 2 Principles of Horticulture course with the Botanics. Since COVID has prevented in-person learning at the gardens I’m doing my practical learning in my job, mainly growing vegetable plants, on the Leith Community Croft Market Garden.

If you garden you’ll know it can be a tricky balance, keeping everything watered, weeded and fed to give the best chance of a bumper harvest or a colourful show, not to mention finding the least harmful ways to minimise pests and diseases! I see you Pigeons!!!

However, I know it’s a lifelong learning, and honestly it’s really exciting to learn something enlightening every day. I guess this is why so many gardeners I’ve met are humble, they know that things can and will change, and that by observing the changes in nature they can learn about the subtleties of our environment and our growing things.

If you’d like to find out more about the training courses available from the Botanics visit our website here.

And finally, a moment of gratitude from the Botanics…

Since I didn’t want this reflection to just be about me I’ve also invited Charlotte and Laura from the Botanic Cottage to contribute their reflections on how returning to the gardens after so long has made them feel.

Charlotte reflects:

‘Working at the Botanics fills me with much gratitude. During the recent lockdown I spent 83 days away from the garden, and I’ll never forget how walking back in after such a long absence made me feel.

The garden looked incredible; lush and vibrant, it felt as though it was the first time I had ever seen the colour green. With the public away the garden was incredibly quiet and an opportunity to really listen to the breeze, the birds, the bees. Even being out in the rain felt like a new sensation. That first day back was such a happy day and I have vowed to never take access to incredible spaces like these for granted again; I’m so grateful to work in such an amazing place.’

Laura reflects:

Whilst a common sight around many gardens the reliable show of early colour from this edible plant in our herbal beds never fails to cheer me as I can see this from the office window and the abundant insect visitor activity around them always clearly marks the return to life from what ever kind of Winter we may have just had.

A photograph of a bumblebee feeding on a purple chive flower
A bee visiting a flowering chive plant

I hope many of you had had the opportunity to return to the Gardens since it has reopended, to experience the gifts that it gives and let it heal your heart. If you would like to visit the garden at the moment you need to book a time slot, which can be done here.

And if you’re ever over in Leith you’re always very welcome to come and wander through the Croft and see what we’re up to there. I hope it won’t be too long until we can gather again in the gardens at the Botanics. Sending warmth and moments of wonder to you all. Take good care of each other,


For those who would like to receive a printed copy of this blog please get in touch with Laura Gallagher, Botanic Cottage Operations Co-ordinator on community@rbge.org.uk