Ewen's garden

A collection of columns, paintings and photographs about gardening on an offshore island in New Zealand.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Letter from Scotland

It seems a very long time since I last wrote, so many things to see and think about. On leaving Denmark and the cold northwest winds we spent one night in London and headed for the West Highlands in Scotland. This is nearly all my ancestors come from after the highland clearances made way for sheep (a little ironic, as in New Zealand my forebears made their living running sheep!) The West Highlands and in particular Morvern, was where we headed. It is a hard but beautiful land of steep mountains and deep lochs. Looking at the landscape today it seems improbable so many people could have survived here, but survive they did and happily so. Saying this though, there was naturally a lessened life expectancy then. The hills have suffered over the years through over grazing and lack of good land husbandry, in consequence much of the land is no longer productive good only for heather and forestry.
We stayed in a small village called Lochaline, on the edge of the Sound of Mull. There is a ferry from here to the Island of Mull, taking both foot passengers and cars. Everywhere here in the last remnants of forest were swathes of blue bells and wild garlic (with white flowers). One afternoon we took one of the narrow roads, not wide enough for two cars, on the infrequent times a car approaches from the opposite direction it is necessary to duck into one of the passing bays, a hair-raising experience at times! We were heading down one such road for Rahoy, passed a couple of lochs. The only thing of interest was a stroll up into the hills to visit a deserted settlement of Inniemore, the inhabitants evicted at only a moments notice one morning, to make way for the sheep. This place has laid forgotten, the Forestry commission planting a forest here in the 1930s. All that remains now are a few walls and the outlines of the dwellings of a township that housed some fifteen families of Camerons. A brutal end to an existence carried on for generations without any trouble.
To bring my story back to a more horticultural line of thought, along the path to this village were small clumps of violets and yellow primulas flowering, amongst the blue bells. Along the edge of this stony path were silver birches, beech and oaks, all flush with their first new spring leaves. Many of trees, rocks and ground were smothered in a verdant cloak of moss, creating an almost mystical effect, what nature does with ease we can only attempt a poor imitation.
Of the forestry trees they largely consisted of imported varieties such as Norwegian spruce and douglas fir. The forests planted in the thirties only just now being harvested. It seems strange to think this wee settlement was only just rediscovered after the felling of the forest, how quick we forget!
There is not much to say of the gardens of the everyday people here, except their small patches were sprinkled with a few tulips, ericas, conifers and the like. I did not travel north to Inverewe in Western Ross, where the Gulf Stream sweeps in providing a micro-climate where many New Zealand natives flourish. Another time eh?
Back down in London, the roses are all bursting into flower, and shortly, in fact, by the time you read this I will be back on Waiheke Island, another adventure at an end.
I wonder how big my weeds will be? Perish the thought!

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