Colin Will – Six garden incidentals

These notes were found in the desk of our former garden writer Colin Will some time after he stepped down as our regular columnist here at The Trendy Garden. Unfortunately the flowers he describes do not bear any scientific names which would help to identify them more precisely. Dr Will has not responded to our enquiries on the subject, but we thought you, our loyal readers, might like to see if any of them are growing in your gardens at home.
Thomas Culpepper, Editor, The Trendy Garden


Bummerty’s one of those flowers
that always brings out a smile.
Their wee blue and yellow petals
are like faces, with black eyes
and a jammy mouth.
You have to hunker down
really close to see them.
Most of the time you come across
a Swedish carpet of them
in a woodland clearing.
See – you’re smiling. Knew you would.

Purple Anstruther

Purple Anstruther, as the name suggests,
is a seashore weed, thriving beside
those tidal streams that run both ways,
pumping smelly water up and down
from farmland to saltmarsh,
in and out to sea. It’s tall,
as it has to be, for when Moon,
Sun and Earth are in alignment
their stems are submerged. Some years
storm surges wash them all away.
Pity. They’re bonny things.

Lesser Musket

Often confused with Common Musket,
this hedgerow plant likes full sun
and a well-drained soil.
A metre tall in favourable spots,
the flowers are mauve, not the deep purple
of the Common kind. Ripe seed-pods
burst open with a sound like gunshots.
Not Kalashnikov or automatic pistol,
maybe a small-bore Mauser, more a crack
than a bang. But loud enough
to startle blackbirds, frighten wrens.

Lady’s Fankle

Rambling, spreading, giving good
ground cover, this can be thuggish
in the suburban garden.
The stems are wiry, tough
and knotted. As the name suggests
it can catch the careless foot
on a summer walk, but this releases
such a sweet scent it’s almost worth it.
Pink flowers in delicate panicles
rise above the clumps, soft candles
on a green birthday cake.


A plant of sunlit uplands, mountain moorland,
the sunbristle nestles in the lea
of tough tussock grass. It’s carnivorous,
specifically arachnivorous, preferring spiders
to any other food source.
Ground-hunting spiders, seeking height
from which to launch an ambush,
climb its long red bristle where,
at the tip, a sticky droplet,
more tenacious than superglue,
leads to remorseless digestion.

Herb Snoddy

Opinions are divided on the plant’s benefits.
The old herbals pronounce only
that it wards off serpents
and may cure whimsy, but
no medical effects have been proved.
Dr Snoddy, in his apothecary shops,
sold a tincture, an alcohol extract,
for treatment of the scruples.
Crushed stems release the smell
of vigorous sex – one trusts
between consenting adults.

Colin is a poet, short story writer and saxophonist from Dunbar in East Lothian. His new book of poems, The Night I Danced With Maya, will be published by Red Squirrel Press on 22nd July, his 75th birthday.


Colin Will – three poems

Annual report

Another year spins round
and who knows what the next will bring?

And which of us have grieved
and which wept tears of joy?
Too many of one, and not enough
of the other, as in most years.

But this year had a whiff
of something new in it,
a shared struggle.
Some skateboarded through,
hurtled with kickflips and ollies.
Others took more gnarly routes,
finding Beckett’s cruel dictum,
‘Fail again, fail better,’ didn’t
cover the half of it – it was hard.

At times we look for finality,
like the closing of a book,
but it’s hard to accept that,
mostly, life just continues.

There’s a kind of jumpy balance
maintained in moving forward,
but it’s not neat; no, it’s never neat.


They say we move eight times
in our lives, but which of these
are homes, and which just postcodes?
I still visit my birth city, but it’s not comfy –
no city is – and I’m no longer connected
to the places where we lived
in our middling years, bringing up
the kids. The past
is a locked front door.

Some windy nights the waves roar,
and there’s the prickle of salt spray
in the noisy air; that still excites.
The sights and smells are different
every day, distinctive, sea-seasoned,
as the people are, and I know so many.
Here I’m acknowledged or ignored,
a hermit crab in a busy rockpool,
settled in a Goldilocks seashell.


We stood on the pink edge
of a footbridge, by the side
of a fast ford, under the trees
which overhung the variable river.

It was summer – remember that –
and the rain fell steadily
from a sky stubbornly grey,
and the spent flower parts

of the rowans dusted down,
wetted, and whirled away,
or swept into cream streaks
in the eddies at the sides.

Not, you said, the best place
and time to say goodbye,
but it had to be said,
just as we’d agreed.

Some other day, I wanted to say,
but your eyes were hidden,
downcast. So it was time,
and this autumn, far from here,

I won’t see birds in the trees.
What else will be missed?
You, a definite, no question;
me? I’m not so sure.

Colin Will is an Edinburgh-born poet with a background in botany and geology. His eighth book, The Book of Ways, a collection of poems in the Japanese haibun form, was published by Red Squirrel Press in 2014. He chairs the Board of StAnza, Scotland’s international poetry festival. Colin’s website is at

Colin Will – three poems


Summer childhoods in the woods
I’d watch dor beetles flying –
black, buzzy bullets –
wavering slowly, erratically,
between the trunks.

Sometimes inert ones
on the ground
would be turned over
to reveal clusters of mites
in the chinks of chitin armour,
sucking the hydraulic fluid
until there wasn’t enough left
to power the wings.

Big, gentle, lumbering, shiny as jet
and lustrous as a crow’s wing,
with bristly legs and hooked feet;
into their inscrutable faces I projected
a kind of heroic stoicism.


Crab sandwiches.
Free crab sandwiches,
the man said.
So we went along.
Free Mark Hix crab sandwiches,
brown or white bread,
brown and white meat.
Saw the chef.
Speeches about the first
Lyme Regis Crab Week.
A crooner who was,
we thought,
pretty good.
And crab sandwiches.
Second and third helpings,
and then
we stopped counting.

The service

We’re sitting together
to receive words
from the other side.
It’s not comfortable –
the eager rows
are just too close.

Hymns are announced
and immediately sung
unaccompanied. I don’t know them,
so I stay silent, even for

“Oh Death, where is thy sting?”
to the melody of
“I want to teach the world to sing.”

There’s a prayer;
something about
life not ever ending,
and I want to shout a denial
but politeness wins.

Now we’re into messages.
Names are thrown in the air.
One is picked up, repeated.
It’s a three-way chat
with one silent partner.
The relay sounds
like some flawed switchboard,
a muffled megaphone.

Some words find targets –
by chance or skill
I couldn’t say. Others seem
at tangents to real lives,
but hope is twisted to fit
and they’re accepted.

I can’t believe
what I’m hearing. It seems
forms finer than shadows
walk beside us,
whisper unheard nothings
over our shoulders.

My friend says not to worry,
newcomers almost never
make contact the first time.

She must sense, surely,
I’ll never come back,
but I’ll remember
the cold, open beach,
her hair blowing in the wind,
the things she does
to camouflage her scars.

Colin Will lives in Dunbar. He has had eight poetry collections published, the latest being The Book of Ways (Red Squirrel Press, 2014). He does readings, runs workshops, and chairs the Board of the StAnza Poetry Festival. He runs the pamphlet publisher Calder Wood Press, and the poetry zine The Open Mouse. Website: