Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, Scotland

It was back in August the 14th that we visited the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh and it was a searingly hot day, well to me anyway but maybe not to others. It felt strange to be out and about as due to Covid-19 we hadn’t travelled so far from home since February, we had to book a time of arrival so that lots of people didn’t arrive at the gates at the same time, but it still seemed quite busy to me.

Edinburgh Botanic Gardens

There’s a grove of Monkey Puzzle trees (Aurucaria) they seem to be love or hate trees but I recall one from a park in my early childhood and I’ve always admired their strangeness.

Edinburgh Botanic Gardens

There were still quite a lot of things in flower despite August often being regarded as being quite a sparse time for gardens in Scotland with many flowers having performed already. The agapanthus flowers were still going strong, I love that shade of blue.

Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, Scotland

Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, Scotland

Edinburgh Botanic Gardens

The early dahlias have a background of statuesque bamboos, those are not something that you want to let loose in your own garden as if you aren’t careful they’ll take over.

Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, dahlias

A water feature runs through the rockery section, looking very natural.

Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, Scotland

Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, Scotland

I think the common name for the grasses below is Angels’ fishing rod, it’s very elegant whatever it is.

Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, Scotland

Of course Acers/Japanese Maples are always a favourite with me.

Edinburgh Botanics Gardens, Acer

Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, Scotland

It was quite exhausting walking around so we didn’t stay too long, it was too hot and bright for us. We did manage to have a rest on a bench for a while which was good, some places have taped off all the benches or removed them so that people can’t have a sit down on them and potentially contaminate them with Covid-19. A black cat came and hid from the sun under the bench we were sitting on. I’m not sure if that was meant to be good or bad luck as it didn’t cross our path. Anyway, here we are back at Covid restrictions again after a brief respite, and from Friday we aren’t allowed to have anyone in our houses again, it’ll be worse this time around as it’s now too cold to have friends or family visiting and just chatting in the garden, but at least we can still travel around, for the moment anyway.

Edinburgh Botanic Gardens

Edinburgh book purchases

We were in Edinburgh earlier in the week, avoiding Princes Street we made straight for Stockbridge, my favourite haunt for second-hand bookshops, but strangely I wasn’t that lucky there. I bought a small copy of

1. The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr. For some reason this one eluded me through my childhood and that of my own boys. Mind you as it was first published in 1968 I would have been deemed to be too old for it back then. It’s a charming story though and I love the illustrations. After reading Judith Kerr’s wartime reminiscences in Bombs Fell on Aunt Dainty and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, I had to get this one.

2. Tortoise by Candlelight by Nina Bawden is a Virago but was first published in 1963. According to The Observer it’s – ‘An exceptional picture of disorganised family life … imaginative, tender, with a welcome undercurrent of toughness’.

Books Again

Driving across the city to Morninsgide I was amazed to see four Persephone books in the Oxfam bookshop, they almost never appear second-hand. Unfortunately I already had two of them, but I quickly snapped up-

3. Greenery Street by Denis Mackail. I’ve been meaning to read this one for years so it’ll probably jump quite high up the TBR queue.

4. The Runaway by Elizabeth Anna Hart -which I must admit I’ve never even heard of.

I also bought a copy of Shirley Jackson’s We have Always Lived in the Castle, thinking that I had never read this one, but it turned out I had. Oh well, last time I borrowed it from the library so it’s nice to have my own copy. Jack might want to read it at some point in the future.

Have you read any of these ones?

This is Edinburgh by Miroslav Sasek

This is Edinburgh cover

This is Edinburgh by Miroslav Sasek was first published in 1961 but my copy is a 2006 reprint. I swithered about buying this one, I already have so many books for children but the illustrations are so charming and as I flicked through it I saw the iconic Jenner’s department store building – that swayed me to definitely buy it. I’ve been told that Jenner’s is going to be shut as a store and converted into posh apartments, so it’ll be nice to have it still as it was within the covers of this book.

This is a lovely volume which features many of the places that tourists want to see when they visit the city – Edinburgh Castle, St Giles’ Cathedral, Greyfriars Bobby and Holyrood Palace, but also the more out of the way places such as Dean Village, which I love. The famous penguin parade at the zoo is depicted, although since the pandas took up residence the penguins haven’t been the main attraction that they once were, much to their chagrin, but they started getting their own back by aiming their poo at the waiting visitors!

From The Times, 2011: Penguin poo hits the fans in panda queue


They arrived at their new home in a police cavalcade, having touched down in a private jet, so it was perhaps inevitable that the UK’s only pair of giant panda would ruffle the feathers of their neighbours at Edinburgh Zoo.

According to keepers, the penguins who live upstairs may be suffering from “monochrome jealousy” of Tian Tian and Yang Guang. Eschewing traditional housewarming gifts, the rockhopper penguins are targeting the visitors queueing up to see the pair with droppings.

There is a news video from 2011 about the jealous penguins here.

Of course the pandas don’t feature in this book as it dates back to 1961 with just a few wee updates at the back of the book.

You can see a lot of the illustrations in this book here.

The author first wrote This is New York and This is London before turning to Edinburgh. It’s a children’s book to be enjoyed by all ages.

The Secret Herb Garden, near Edinburgh

Looking at these photos – and particularly when you are actually at The Secret Herb Garden, it’s quite difficult to believe that you are just a hop and a skip from the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh.

Secret Herb Garden

It’s mainly herbs that are for sale as well as some vintage things such as old gardening tools and some furniture.
The Secret Herb Garden

But The Secret Herb Garden is mainly a lovely place to get away from the city and have a nice snack at the cafe.

Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh

We had plenty of choices for where to sit, but as we visited on a very hot day we decided not to sit at a table in one of the greenhouses as it was just too hot and bright.
Secret Herb Garden

Secret Herb Garden

Vintage cars are used as decoration in parts and the old VW Beetle has been pressed into use as a log store.
Secret Herb Garden

We went all around the various garden areas first though and it feels just like being in the garden of a National Trust property, or something similar.

The Secret Herb Garden

The Secret Herb Garden
We had coffee and cake but I didn’t buy any plants as – I already had them all. I suppose that proves that I’m definitely a plantaholic!
The Secret Herb Garden

This is one of those places that we’ve been meaning to visit for ages. If you’re inclined towards distillery visiting you can do that too as there’s one just beyond the gardens which seems to make whisky and gin – as they just about all seem to nowadays. I don’t care how fashionable gin is, or whisky for that matter – I can’t stomach the stuff.

The Secret Herb Garden

May Belfort by Henri de Toulouse Lautrec

This afternoon we drove to Edinburgh thinking that it wouldn’t be too busy as it’s a Sunday and we might find it easier to get parked. Insert a hollow laugh here as we couldn’t have been more wrong, it was MOBBED. It turned out that the Christmas Fair in Princes Street gardens (just below the castle) had just opened yesterday and some other streets were closed to traffic. I even saw an actual ballerina dancing on a stage in the distance – to The Sugar Plum Fairy of course.

I of course forgot my camera, but you can see images of the Christmas Market here.

May Belfort; Henri de Toulouse Lautrec

Anyway, the main reason we decided to go to Edinburgh wasn’t for shopping – it was to visit the Toulouse Lautrec poster exhibition which is on in The National Galleries. It’s called Pin-Ups and the Art of Celebrity. Sadly it’s one that you have to pay to see, the galleries and museums in Scotland are free to the public but they usually have some special exhibitions on that you have to pay for if you want to see them. Luckily we get free entry as we’re Friends of the Galleries. We enjoyed the exhibition but don’t really think it was worth the £11.50 they were charging to see it.

Are you old enough to remember the 1970s when Toulouse Lautrec posters and merchandise seemed to be everywhere? as well as Mucha posters of course. Well we still have some of the merchandise from those days but the two Lautrec prints we have in our bedroom are of Jane Avril and May Belfort and they originally belonged to Jack’s grandparents, probably dating from the 1920s.

As it happens, elsewhere in this blog I mentioned that we stood at a shoe shop window in Bruges – singing How Much is That Doggie on the Window? Well there was a dog sitting amongst the shoe displays! You know what it’s like – being on holiday somehow encourages a bit of daftness.

So where is all this meandering leading to I hear you ask? Well – today I discovered that May Belfort was the original singer of Daddy wouldn’t buy me a bow-wow – which is a variation on the theme, and sure enough she did go on stage holding a little cat, which according to the song she was very fond of. I doubt if it was a real cat though as they’re not well known for behaving themselves and staying where they should. Now every time I look at that print I’ll hear her singing.

On the way out of the National Gallery we had to make our way up the steps at the Christmas Market to get on to Princes Street – nightmare!

Victoria Crowe – Beyond Likeness – Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

Another art exhibition that we visited recently was at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh’s Queen Street. I must admit that I hadn’t heard of Victoria Crowe before, portraiture isn’t my favourite sort of art but her Beyond Likeness exhibition is impressive, and it’s free to view. It’s on until November 18th, so I might even go back for a second look.

Most of the subjects are successful in their own field, but I hadn’t heard of many of them – which says more about me than anything else! Lots of her paintings are the sort that you could look at for ages and still see something new in them the next time.
You can see more images of Victoria Crowe’s work here.

Edinburgh by Robert Louis Stevenson

Edinburgh cover

Edinburgh by Robert Louis Stevenson was first published in 1878 but my copy is a lovely edition published by Seeley and Co in 1905. It’s leather bound, gold edged with thick cream pages. Obviously this one comes under his travel writing, not that he had to do much travelling to write about his home town of Edinburgh.

In Chapter 1 Stevenson describes the beauty of Edinburgh and there’s no doubt it is beautiful, as well as being unique, in fact I’ve witnessed tourists’ jaws actually dropping when they see the castle rock from Princes Street.

The ancient and famous metropolis of the North sits overlooking a windy estuary from the slope and summit of three hills. No position could be more commanding for the head city of a kingdom; nor better chosen for noble prospects. From her tall precipice and terraced gardens she looks far and wide on the sea and broad champaigns. To the east you may catch at sunset the spark of the May lighthouse where the Firth expands into the German Ocean; and away to the west, over all the carse of Stirling, you can see the first snows on Ben Ledi.

But it’s not long before R.L.S. goes on to describe the downside of living in Edinburgh – and it’s hilarious.

But Edinburgh pays cruelly for her high seat in one of the vilest climates under heaven. She is liable to beaten upon by all the winds that blow, to be drencched with rain, to be buried in cold sea fogs out of the east, and powdered with the snow as it comes flying southward from the Highland hills. The weather is raw and boisterous in winter, shifty and ungenial in summer, and a downright meteorological purgatory in the spring. The delicate die early, and I, as a survivor, among bleak winds and plumping rain, have been sometimes tempted to envy them their fate.

So there you have it, R.L.S. obviously had a love/hate relationship with his place of birth, and no doubt Edinburgh’s atmospheres of genteel civility on one hand – and dark and menacing on the other played a huge part in his writing, particularly of Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde.

The contents of this book include chapters on:

Old Town – The Lands
The Parliament Close
Legends
Greyfriars
The New Town – Town and Country
The Villa Quarters
The Calton Hill
Winter and New Year
To the Pentland Hills

Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine

 Madame Doubtfire  cover

Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine was first published in 1987 and I can’t remember where I got our copy from (I think it was Jack who bought it) but it’s signed by the author. This is of course the book which inspired the film Mrs Doubtfire which starred the talented and much missed Robin Williams.

It’s a long time since I watched the film but I think the book is a bit more serious than the film was, but no doubt a comedy was better for the box office.

Daniel is a father of three children and he and his wife are recently divorced, but that hasn’t stopped the animosity, in fact things are getting worse between him and his ex-wife. He’s an out of work actor, living in a town which only has one theatre, so he has very little opportunity to find stage work. His ex-wife Miranda has a very well paid job and it’s because of her work that they’re living in the small town instead of London where Daniel would have a better chance of finding work.

Miranda is determined to keep Daniel away from the children as much as possible, and constantly flouts the judicial access agreement despite the fact that she really needs help with the children. When Miranda decides that she’s going to get a nanny/housekeeper Daniel decides to use his acting skills to pose as an elderly lady and applies for the job. Madame Doubtfire is definitely a one off, but the children very quickly realise who she is but they miss their father so are happy to play along with the situation. So begins a sort of double life for them all, duping Miranda who it seems is having to work such long hours and is always dashing off, she never really pays much attention to anyone.

This was a good read, the first that I’ve read by Anne Fine. It’s probably aimed at children of about 12 but is entertaining for any age. In the film Mrs Doubtfire is Scottish which I think worked really well but Anne Fine didn’t write her as a Scot, it was probably Robin Williams’s idea to do that. However Fine did live in Scotland for a while and I recalled that she got the name of Doubtfire when she spotted it painted above a shop in Edinburgh. You can read about it here.

Sadly this was before my Stockbridge visiting days as I would have loved to have a rake around that shop, if I could have withstood the cat pee smell!

A New Era – Modern Art Two – Edinburgh

We’ve been to the New Era exhibition at the Modern 2 Gallery in Edinburgh and I’ve blogged about our first visit here. This time I’m showing one of the sculptures. Below is a model of a brass head by J.D. Fergusson who is better known for his paintings. It’s called Eastre (Hymn to the Sun) and was created in 1924. It’s very much of its time I think, it looks very futuristic and reminds me of Princess Leia. You can read more about it here.

brass head

Below is The Hunt by Robert Burns, created around 1926. When I first saw this one I really didn’t like it, it seemed too gaudy, the gold paint really stands out, you can read about it here. This one originally decorated a wall in an Edinburgh tearoom in Princes Street. The artist was commissioned to design everything in the tearoom, including the cake stands.
the hunt This one really grew on me and the amount of detail in the painting is wonderful. Very un-Edinburgh especially for the 1920s, evidently it was a far more exciting place than I had imagined.

Finally, The Sensation of Crossing the Street by Stanley Cursiter.

the sensation of crossing the street

Book sculptures in Edinburgh

When we visited the Muriel Spark exhibition at the National Library of Scotland last month I was disappointed that they weren’t allowing people to take photos of the exhibits, but I was allowed to photograph the book sculptures that are on display in the foyer. An anonymous female sculptor made these lovely things and left them at important cultural locations.

Artist work  book sculpture

book sculpture

The first sculpture was found in 2011 and nine others appeared at various locations in Edinburgh. In 2015 the artist decided that her project was coming to an end and she announced she wanted the public to help her with the last one – The Butterfly Tree and Lost Child. People sent in butterflies to be included in the design. The artist has remained anonymous. You can see some images here. It’s obviously much bigger than the others.