Sunday, 31 August 2008

Sunday report - Edinburgh Botanic Gardens

Despite a cold that seems only to be getting worse, I dragged myself out today for a walk to the Botanic Gardens.

The garden has been in its current location since 1820, but was first founded as a physic garden in 1670 near the Palace of Holyrood. Over the years it has gradually expanded and now covers 72 acres.
How entirely marvellous it was. The larger grounds are free, but I splashed out on the entrance fee to the Glass House. For just £3.50 I had hours of awe inside a series of ten indoor “zones” that showcase plants and trees from all over the world. Open one door and you are surrounded by tropical palms, housed in a pre-Victorian building dating from 1834. Next door the temperate palm house is a vast space, with a roof reaching 23 metres. Keep going and soon you will open the door to the sweet scent of orchids. There are ferns and fossils, leading to a temperate walkway that is like a scene plucked from B.C.’s interior. Amazonian rain forest precedes an arid desert and in the wet tropics the air is sticky with moisture. Fat warm droplets fall from the highest branches onto the plants below.
I thought of my mother during most of my visit. She is the plant queen after all and I know she would have swooned over the sheer selection (more than 2,400 species!). While I was not born with such a green thumb, I delighted in my own way in the names of things. Sabal Bermudana of the West Indies. Rhapis Humilis of Japan. Hello from South America - Carludovica! Say an amorous greeting to the Aglaonema Commutatum from the Philippines. Rangoon Creeper. Napoleon’s Nuts. Betel Juice. The Screwpine. Cycas Rhumpii. Bathing in the water lily pond, the mysterious Nymphaea Pamela. And of course the unforgettable Dicksonia Antarctica. Brilliant.
I sat for awhile in the desert area and listened to the rain falling on the roof high above. It sounded just like rain against the camper roof during childhood camping trips. Except in this case, hydraulics would open or close the upper windows every few minutes, to maintain the correct level of moisture.

I think I loved the big water lilies best because they looked like they were made for fairies. A huge invitation for the tiny and agile to rest, lounge, float for awhile and forget the world. I also adored the “wet tropics,” where I stared longingly at tiny Venus flytraps, trying to will the tiny fly that was buzzing around to be somehow drawn in. I wanted to see the sticky palms clutch together in front of me.
I did not wander much in the gardens after that. It was still raining and my umbrella had died a terrible, pathetic, sagging death. I managed a visit to Inverleith House, where a new art exhibition had me shaking my head. I found the other modern exhibit near the Glasshouse more entertaining, as it included a giant neon sign, frozen canoeists and a series of single beds with porcelain headrests that were supposed to refer to those used for dissection in medieval times. I was asked not to touch the canoeist mannequins but told that, if I wished, I could lie on the beds. However there was no one else there and I felt too embarrassed to lie on the bed with the two information ladies staring at me. I wish now I had. Each bed signifies a different plant from a list made by a long-ago botanist. None of it made much sense to me, but I enjoyed it for the sense of the ridiculous that it gave me.
On the way out I marched down a Chinese mountainside and met an old lady who was dressed in such a gorgeous configuration of pastels that I thought she might have been sucked from a Monet and dropped here, forced to make her way on earth. She had white hair that was pulled back into a bun, but I could still imagine it down, willowy soft and slowly thinning. I complimented her on her umbrella, which was pale blue and featured a blur of pink flowers.
I began trudging my way back into town, but not seeing any landmarks that I recognized, I suddenly felt lost. Ahead of me was a man in a truly fantastic hat. It was green and worn and made me think of Havana in the 1920s, all smoke and jazz. As I passed him I asked if I was going in the right way to Prince’s Street. Yes, he informed me as we rounded the corner and immediately I saw the familiar, partial skyline of George Street.
“You are not a Scottish lady!” he said, his accent warm like slow-melting sugar.

“No, I’m a Canadian lady,” I say. “And you are not a Scottish man!”

I have officially met my first retired Nigerian cocoa farmer. He still owns his farm back in Nigeria, but since he recently retired he decided to live some time in Britain “and experience something different.”
It has been less than a year but already he is homesick. However, perhaps strangely, it is not his family that he is missing the most. Of all the people to start a conversation with after a trip to the Botanic Gardens, I meet a man who, more than anything in the world, is homesick for his plants.

“I love plants - they are so important to me. They give me something, you know. And I miss them. I think on them all the time. I am worrying that they are not doing so well.”

We parted at a street corner and I looked back several times to watch him walking in the rain. A man who, when I first met him, looked too young to be retired, but who now seemed much older indeed, lost under the weight of longing for something he loves. I have no doubt he will go back soon.
What a lovely day, full of sensual delights and charming characters. I think all Sundays should be just like that.

1 comment:

C.S. Perry said...

"All Smoke and Jazz." I love that. Not to mention the bit about his being "Lost under the weight of longing for something he loves."
Exacting words that bring the scene to vivid life.

Also, thanks for stopping by "Rooked."
I feel sure that I'll be adding you to my link list.
Right On.