Last Saturday I joined a group of enthusiasts for a Scottish Poetry Library event – a sort of leisurely ramble on the lower slopes of Arthur’s Seat, led by Gerry Loose and Takaya Fujii. It formed part of the celebrations of the exhibition now in the SPL, From Kyoto to Carbeth, poems and plants from the hills.
Gerry is, as many will know, a fine poet and a gardener; Takaya is an ikebana artist and artistic powerhouse.
It was a lovely relaxing walk. We stopped at interesting plants (but which plant isn’t interesting?) and spoke about their names, their properties and their uses. Our hour was all too soon over, but when we returned to the library for green tea, Takaya produced an arrangement of seven coltsfoot leaves, each in an individual glass of water. It was simple, but beautiful, especially for the way the water droplets on the leaves reflected the light.
At one point during the walk Gerry mentioned Geoffrey Grigson’s The Englishman’s Flora. The book is unfortunately out of print, but when I got home I retrieved my copy from the loft, and I’ve started to re-read it.
Quite simply, it’s a wonderful compendium by a plantsman-poet of great knowledge and wisdom, and written in a fresh and original style. If you find a copy in a bookshop, grab it – it will be a source of pleasure for many years. He read his herbals – Dodoens, Lyte, Gerard, and the great William Turner, and quotes from them, but selectively, and with critical comments. He also, and this is where the poetry link comes in, lists common names for each plant. The names are (mostly) from English counties, but there are also some Scottish names, including some in Gaelic.
Here are some for the Rowan: Care, Chit-Chat, Quickbeam, Wicken, Twickband, Whitty, Wickey, Wiggen, Withen, Rodden, Sip-Sap, Whistle-wood, Witchbeam.
Which poem would not be enlivened by the inclusion of one of these old names?
Gerry and I have also been involved, with Alec Finlay, Linda France and others, in inventing names for imaginary plants. Here are a few of mine:
Bummerty, Lady’s Fankle, Purple Anstruther, Quintleweed, Elf’s Bindle, Lesser Musket, Catwort, Herb Snoddy, Antberry, Snufflery, Sunbristle, Bitter Bluebell