Mid-August, late Sunday afternoon, steady rain, but not heavy; the first time I’ve been to the garden in such weather. The remnants of Hurricane Bertha, someone says, but the wind only gets up after dark.
I’m here with Christine Marendon and her partner Simon, from Hamburg. They are at the end of a two-week Scottish holiday and, having arrived in Edinburgh, have returned via Kilmartin, Lossiemouth, St Andrews, a route improvised as they travelled, and taking in other gardens on the way, including Crarae and Arduaine. Despite the laughter of the lady at the Oban Visitor Centre when they asked about accommodation (“it’s all been booked up for months!”), they found good places to stay, and (somehow!) avoided midges. (I’ve just spent two days away near Fort William, and return with bite-constellations.)
I’ve translated Christine’s poems over the years. Our previous meeting, just three weeks ago, was in sweltering central London, where we were reading together on the South Bank, so in every way this is a contrast.
My camera is broken; Christine has hers, and offers it to me to use, but I think, for this visit at least I won’t look for photos, but instead let her eye, fresh to the scene, choose what to frame. (All the photos here are hers, except the ‘AUGUST / tears’ poem-label, which I took.)
The garden is simply itself, settled, and I suppose what I mean by that is there are no stand-out seasonal features – nothing in an urgent state of becoming. The trees’ canopies are full, long past blossom and (other than the odd leaf) yet to start turning; grown for blossom, they yield no fruit. The eveness of the light means nothing is picked out by the angle and height of the sun, nothing cast into shadow. The three islands feel unusually prominent, as the silver rain-haze fades out their Fife background.
Rain falls on the pond, forming ripples which immediately run into other ripples and break up. I’m reminded of the cup-and-ring marked rocks we came across on The Road North; surely this is their inspiration. And of Alan Spence’s haiku:
the sound of the rain / the sound of the rain / the sound of the rain
We’re not the only people here. Two teenage boys are huddled over their phones in the side-shelter; a couple, arm-in-arm, enter by the lower gate and exit by the side gate, not lingering; and as we’re passing the castle a cheerful family arrive, seemingly untroubled by the weather.
We make a self-portrait at the top shelter – Christine hasn’t used the self-timer before, so doing so is a little moment of discovery – and return, past the mermaid, and Diana, and the sphinx, to the car. If anything the rain is falling more heavily. I take Christine and Simon back to their B&B – again, turning up in festival city with nothing pre-booked, and finding somewhere fine on Leith Links – and say Auf Wiedersehen, and Gute Reise.