The forgiveness of a garden


I have been revising solidly for weeks. The weather has been most kind: too rainy to go for walks, too frozen to plant my new Sorbus cashmiriana, which has been waiting patiently in its pot, propped back against the wall with a sack of potting compost (or ‘growing media’, if the RHS insists.) Thanks to the weather, there has been almost no temptation to leave my desk for the entirety of January. I have been surrounded by piles of notes and endless labelled diagrams of plant cells and transverse sections of root, stem and dicotyledonous flowers for months, with the rain and snow lashing down and the garden ignored below a blanket of mud and leaves.

I am studying for the RHS Level 2 exams, and the first four exams are today. This semester’s topics have been Botany, Soil, Pests and Diseases, and Propagation, and I have wholeheartedly enjoyed each one, spellbound by the enthusiasm of our tutors, the arresting facts, and the ‘Oh, that’s why…’ revelations.

Yesterday I finally reached that blissful stage of revision I like to call the ‘Whatever will be will be’ stage, where you are reluctantly hopeful you can pass and you are ready to stop revising and just get it over. I looked up from the past-paper I had just completed, and saw through the window a fat ray of sunlight hitting our front garden, beckoning me to come and inspect the emerging shoots and buds of early spring. Having vowed to revise all day, guiltily I put down my pen, donned a coat and bobble hat, and wandered outside.


The front garden was, at first glance, sparse of life. This was unsurprising, since during the autumn every single plant from the front garden was dug up, heeled in and replanted for the Great Maze Reshuffle (I promise to update you on the maze in due course). Similarly in the back garden, most of the refugees that no longer had a home in the front garden are still finding their (frozen) feet. It’s been a cold winter, colder than any I’ve yet experienced here in Edinburgh. Nonetheless, on closer inspection there were signs of spring everywhere. Green tips abounded: the beginnings of tulips, snowdrops, muscari, iris, alliums, crocosmia (rather too many of those) and some brave gladioli. Primroses and snowdrops were out in the window boxes, and tiny new shoots were appearing on the roses. In the front garden maze, my Iris ‘George’, which I divided and replanted beneath the cherry tree (also replanted) were up and almost out. In fact, two blooms had already made their showy attempts, only to be knocked down by rain, cat or other tragedy. I fetched scissors and rescued them, along with a snowdrop, a fading Helleborus niger flower, some variegated ivy and a sprig of wonderful smelling Sarcococca confusa that is flowering beautifully despite being heeled up in a temporary sack of earth.


I was humbled by the forgiveness of a garden that, though bare earth six weeks ago, already offering up flowers for the house. Everywhere were signs of neglect, but I knew that the garden would keep on keeping on until I had time to pay it the attention it needed. A potted Skimmia japonica with raging chlorosis blooms relentlessly away in a corner. Seeds are as yet unplanted but they’ll catch up. That Sorbus will be just fine in its pot for one more week. And with any luck the weather will continue its kindness until next weekend so that I can enjoy my first gardening session of 2018 in fat rays of sunshine rather than snow and rain.


In a vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, and if you follow this link you can visit her page to see what this weekly challenge is all about, as well as find links to vases of flowers and foliage grown in the gardens of many other garden bloggers across the world.

Many of the photos on this blog post also appear on my Instagram page, where you will find a great deal more of my garden photography and regular tiny snippets of gardening life.


25 thoughts on “The forgiveness of a garden”

  1. You’re right – plants are incredibly forgiving, which is just as well for busy gardeners. I put more effort into revising for my Level 2s than I did for any other exams I’ve ever sat in my life because it was the most fascinating subject I’ve ever delved in to. I loved studying horticulture. It sounds as though you do, too, and I am sure that your hard work will pay off. Good luck.

      1. I took a certificate in garden design and got half way through a diploma course, then had my third child (the others were 2 and 4) and just could’t cope, so I stopped. I loved every minute of it all though.

  2. Good luck with the exams. If I had my time again I would definitely have gone down the horticulture route. A fascinating subject. And how marvellous to find so much life in your garden, every year I am so excited to see what plants emerge first.

  3. Good luck with the exams!
    I did toy with the idea of embarking on the RHS2 after finishing my two year garden design course, but in the end didn’t take the plunge. So would you definitely recommend? Perhaps next September….

    1. Definitely, definitely. I love this course. Go for it! Where did you study garden design, if you don’t mind my asking? That is what I’d like to do next. Did you do it just for the pleasure, or did you go on to design gardens for others?

  4. 4 exams in a day – that’s tough going! Hope they all went well, and how timely was that fat ray of sunshine that encouraged you to venture outside and realise that the garden was tending itself while you were buried in your revision. These discoveries are especially wonderful at this time of year, and as the days lengthen we will see more of them. I am pleased that you were motivated to pop some of the blooms into your little ink pots and share them with us on IAVOM – thanks for that!

    1. Thanks Cathy – I just had to rescue those flopped irises, and then noticed how many other things were flowering too. A surprising number. The exams went fine, thanks. Results out in April and hopefully I won’t have any resits to do!

  5. Gardening in Edinburgh must be a challenge and I am impressed that the plants are so forgiving. The snowdrops photograph is beautiful, I have a real soft spot for snowdrops. Good luck in the exams, I would love to learn more about botany in a channeled fashion, I salute your enterprise in tackling the RHS courses. Amelia

    1. Gardening in Edinburgh was a challenge at first, when I tried to grow some of the plants I saw my blogging friends growing. Once I realised that I’d save myself a lot of bother by growing plants that were suited to our damp, shady conditions, it became much easier. Snowdrops do very well here! I do recommend the RHS course. It has definitely helped me feel more knowledgable and confident. It’s a lot of work, but worth it.

  6. Four exams? I only had to do two! Let’s hope the ray of sunshine is a good omen! Walking round your garden is always a boost! As Cathy says, it was reassurance that Mother Nature was looking after it for you! 🙂

  7. Oh I do hope that the exams went well Joanna. I’m sure that your little break in the garden and away from your studies was just what you needed and every bit as beneficial as studying all day long. Enjoy that first gardening session of the year 🙂

  8. So pretty. I loved your little ink pots so much when I saw them on earlier post that I bought myself one on Ebay. Good luck with the exams, sitting studying is the nicest thing to do when the weather is so awful it doesn’t tempt you outside.

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