I just have to see those rigs,
those bed-spread patches,
to see my mother sewing
fragments of grown-out-of clothes,
to make a summer skirt.
She laid the colours like plants,
like rows of summer blossom,
the cup of tulips, the tuck of roses,
the corduroy of new turned rigs,
I wore a garden in the sun.
While outside, my father
lined up wigwams for beans,
telling us wide-eyed children
they were magic, would grow
to the sky, where giants
might sing to a magic harp.
One by one, we lost belief
until there was only
the little red flowers,
the curling tendrils, the
fattening pods. Breathe in
and hide in the leafy tent,
runs a thumb down the seam,
pop the pods, catch the beans,
now that was magic.
They’re brave, these native builders,
to throw up gorse yellow houses
straight off the pattern pages,
four pillars or six, all the same,
in sight of the old place
with its creeping damp,
its rotten tooth boundaries,
iron roof still corrugated,
perforated with rust aertex,
stones now green from grey.
But for all the stripe of the lawns,
the curve of Spanish arches,
a water feature trickling over
copper bowls, solar lights
that curve towards the house,
there is gorse scratching
at the stucco garden wall
to get in amongst the flowers,
thorns beneath a coconut cloud,
flowers not for picking.
On the hillside beyond,
gorse shows its tenacity,
a horseshoe of flame
scours to the root,
and it’s dead
for a while.
‘Gardeners’ Question Time’ at Polmaddy *
‘Maisie Barbour farmhand and herbalist’
‘So, what can you recommend for a raw Galloway hillside
upon which an abandoned settlement sinks in its own echoes?
A whaleback horizon, black at dusk, guiding soft constant rainfall
onto earth pocked with rocks and fibrous grasses tough enough
to capture soil in plaited roots, our own shit for manure.
We plant in rigs, sharing the sweet west lie, only the toughest
crops will throw themselves skywards, defying the slashing wind,
onions, small as marbles, cooked whole, make pungent soup.
I gather the healing plants, for bitter gruels and poultices,
called to wounds and vomitings, my wealth in my apron folds,
I keep them from the earth with the fruit of the earth.
The children dig granite stones, stacked in cairns with which
we build an inn, we stop the pilgrims in their path to Whithorn,
faith makes them thirsty, we are rich, we have many buildings.
No more, one summer they brought the sheep and we, like sheep,
were herded away to the barren towns.
Will you make a garden here where once the stripe of the rigs told
where the fruitful earth lay ?’
* Polmaddy is the site of an 18th century ‘ferme-toun’ almost lost among the tough
grasses of the Galloway countryside. ‘Gardeners’ Question Time’ is a very long-lived
BBC Radio 4 programme