castle garden of water to beyond

Twelve months in a Japanese garden in Edinburgh

August – Christine’s photos

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August – Ken’s post

Lauriston Garden August CM wall & island

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.)

Lauriston Garden August CM Simon Christine Ken

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.

Lauriston Garden August CM KC labelRain 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.

Lauriston Garden August CM mermaid




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July – Ken’s post

Looking down from the bridge I see two kids, a brother and sister, crouched on the rocks either side of the stream, each with a jotter and crayons, drawing the pond. It’s a day to go barefoot, to walk on the grass not the stone path. Clouds pass, and we enjoy the heat of the sun, until the cherry-shade comes as a relief. Elsewhere games of hide-and-seek are being played, races run, balls kicked and chased.

Every few minutes another plane passes over the firth flying right to left, east to west, heading for the airport. A green helicopter spins down and lands on the grass beside many others, turning brown as they dry.

Walking the path that runs round outside the Japanese garden, I find raspberry bushes with ripe red fruits; notice a circular well for the first time, not far from the entrance, dried up and full of sticks and rubbish; see the  croquet hoops are in place on the lawn below the house and two games are going on.

Back in the car the golf coverage is interrupted by new of a Malaysian Airlines plane that’s come down over Eastern Ukraine.

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June – Ken’s post

Post-solstice, it may be summer proper now, but there is an absence of sun. Another solo visit. It’s the last day of the school term, and there are gatherings of mothers and children in various parts of the grounds. By the pond I sit down on a wooden bench, warm to the touch, despite it being overcast. “Jasmine, do you want to bring stones?” In the Japanese gardens three small girls, aged 7 or 8, repeatedly disappear and return with handfuls of pebbles which they throw into the pool. One has taken off her cardigan to use as a carrier. Splash splash splash, and not a frog in sight. “Where are you getting all the stones from? You’d better not take them all.” “There’s plenty,” they reply insouciantly, and the splashes continue until something else attracts their attention.

I retreat to the shelter at the top and drink tea from a thermos, glad of the warmth. The cherry trees up there, which had blossom back in January, have the thinnest of canopies now it’s high summer. I walk the path outside the garden, formed by mown grasses, past flowering brambles and thick foliage. Everything is foreground, in close-up; the long views of the winter have been closed off. A breeze blows through anywhere that is open, catching the labels as I try to photograph them.

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May – Ken’s post

A glorious afternoon. Pink cherry blossom still bunched on branches, but with a deep scatter of petals on grass, paths and the surface of the pond. Shadows are fuller, darker.

Deerhound Ness is back, mooching for sandwiches.

My sunhat gets its first outing of the year.

Most of us here today knew Neil Christie, whose birthday it would have been today. Neil died, aged 52, last Christmas Eve, and this was in part a memorial gathering. He lived just west of here at Cramond, in a cottage overlooking the river, where he cultivated friendship.

Transformation, gradual in recent months, is suddenly accomplished.

Here is a recently attempted translation of a fragment from about 1960 by the German poet Günter Eich.

May doesn’t stay for long,
seven eight nine minutes,
an immaterial blink of the eye
with light rain and a southerly breeze,

one might ask it nicely to come again,
as if it mattered,
one might ask it nicely to stay,
as if it mattered.


Thanks to Tim Fitzpatrick for the cherry blossom photos.

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April – Ken’s post

It’s the 19th, Easter Saturday. Today I’ll meet two poets at the garden, Gerry Loose and Andrew Schelling. They’re walking the John Muir Way from Dunbar to Helensburgh, and this is Day 3; they’ll overnight in nearby Cramond. The walk has been organised by Alec Finlay, who explains its rationale in a post on his blog; it’s part of the larger John Muir Festival.

When I arrive I meet Luke Allan, Alec’s administrator, then Alec arrives; a while later the walkers arrive: Gerry and Andrew, together with Andrew’s partner Rebecca and the two Hanna(h)s, Hanna Tuulikki and Hannah Devereux, singer and photographer respectively. The walkers take off their boots and eat, after an urban stretch of the journey. Gerry shows me the route ahead, running along the south coast of the Firth of Forth to Bo’ness, then cutting inland and catching the Antonine Wall and the Forth & Clyde Canal.

Andrew and Rebecca live in Boulder, Colorado, and it’s their first trip to Scotland. What a way to discover a place, I think, on foot, going coast-to-coast, and in fine weather too.

Thanks to the sunshine the garden is busy. A large group gathers round the central column – maybe ‘friends’ of the garden – and families come and go. There are more tadpoles to be caught this month, and minnows; a girl catches them in a plastic tub, then sorts them by species, absorbed in her task for a good while.

We sit in a circle to share poems and a song. I read ‘Forth’, written a couple of years ago when I was in Dunbar for the Northlight festival, which takes as its cue a line from John Muir’s ‘A Boyhood in Scotland’: “we loved to watch the passing ships and make guesses as to the ports they had come from”. A reference to the ballad ‘Sir Patrick Spens‘ reminds Andrew that today is the anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride.


“we loved to watch the passing ships and make guesses as to the ports they had come from”
John Muir, ‘A Boyhood in Scotland’

a coracle of willow and skins beneath a changeable sky
a Roman flotilla edging north to Ultima Thule
a Viking longship breaking open the honied south
a Genoese galley blockading the castle
the Great Michael floating the woods of Fife
Sir Patrick Spens sailing the king’s guid schip
the widowed queen’s fleet arriving in thick mist
the brig Covenant of Dysart bound for the Carolinas
the clipper Isabella bringing tea into Leith
a herring-laden zulu tacking for Fisherrow
a U-boat periscope scanning the waves
the crude oil tanker Seadancer flying a flag of convenience

Ken Cockburn
August 2012