I worked at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh from early 1988 to late 2002, when I ‘retired’ (whatever that means). But my interest in plants, gardens and gardening started way before then. I suppose from childhood scrambles past RLS’s place at Swanston and up into the Pentlands I’ve had an interest in the outdoors, the wildlife and the plants. My parents always had gardens, and so have I, apart from student days in Glasgow and our first year of married life in a flat in Bathgate. Physiological, ecological and biochemical studies of plants formed part of my Open University studies, and although I ‘majored’ in earth sciences, biology was a large part of my degree. When working as librarian at the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh, I regularly visited gardens, finding an absorbing interest in the plants. I grew and studied cacti and other desert plants, but my interests were quite wide. I knew the library at the RBGE, and I always said it would be the one library I’d leave BGS for. And then I was fortunate to get the job there, until the end of my professional career.
RBGE isn’t a single garden; it contains the gardens at Dawyck, Logan and Benmore, as well as Edinburgh, so it was lovely to explore these other specialist gardens whenever I had the opportunity. I well remember staying overnight at Benmore, and after the last visitor left, it was as if the whole garden was ours. A magical experience, and of course a poem came out of it (The hide). In the course of time I had the chance to do poetry readings in Edinburgh, and Gerry Loose and I did a series of garden poetry readings in a number of Galloway gardens. Later I did lectures and workshops on plants and poetry in a variety of botanical locations. Wherever I go, in Scotland and abroad, I visit gardens, and often I’ve written poems about them – I can’t help it. Now I have an allotment in Dunbar, and I’ve written about that too.
So, in thinking about a new book next year, I’ve decided it will have a thread of plants and gardens running through it. Not exclusively, because I write on many other subjects, but I’ll explore one of my life-long interests in as many facets as I can. The temple gardens of Japan and the Imperial gardens of China will feature, but so too will gardens in France, the desert vegetation of SW USA, food and agriculture, the forests, trees and gardens of Scotland.