Yirdit – Gardening in Scotland – enjoy the challenges

Here are my musings, tips and advice from some decades of reluctant gardening in Scotland. Much of it done quite far north – around 56°N in fact. I discuss what works and what doesn’t; what to buy, what to avoid and how to deal with exposure. (Wear a woolly hat.)

Try to be green in the garden

By the way, what you won’t find on this site are any endorsements for weedkillers or gardening chemicals (though you will find affiliate links that bring in a tiny bit of commission).

Anyway, If you’re the kind who gets excited at the prospect of destroying wasp nests, then you’ll find nothing of interest here.

(Wasps are really beneficial in the garden, preying on grubs, aphids and caterpillars. But I think you knew that.)

Yes, we’re all going to you-know-where on a handcart, but gardeners can do their bit to slow the destruction of our planet by planning their plots (or plotting their plans) with wildlife and the environment in mind.

Evening light on a flowering Giant lily – cardocrinum giganteum - gardening in Scotland can certainly include this beauty
Evening light on a flowering Giant lily – cardocrinum giganteum
Flowering all summer – shrub rose (probably Pat Austin – but no label – grrrr!) still going strong on the last day of September. Two metres tall!
Flowering all summer – shrub rose (probably Pat Austin – but no label – grrrr!) still going strong on the last day of September. Two metres tall!
Clematis alpina in bloom 19th April 2020. Been in the ground since, oh, 2017. Three months later it was dead! Alpina, eh? Bit of a softii if you ask me
Clematis alpina in bloom 19th April 2020. Been in the ground since, oh, 2017. Three months later it was dead! Alpina, eh? Bit of a softii if you ask me. Meanwhile Clematis montana soldiers on. (More resistant to salt winds, perhaps?) All part of the fun of gardening in Scotland.

My cabbages once blew away…

To put it more graphically, once, in a westerly gale, I saw my well-hearted cabbages whip backwards and forwards. Then some were lifted bodily out of the earth (or yird) like birds taking off. Gardening in Scotland, eh?

But there are rewards too – long daylight hours in summer; a climate without extremes (usually!) if you live near the sea, as we do. Plus a variety of techniques to create shelter.

So gardening in Scotland isn’t all horticultural masochism. For a start, Scotland has a great gardening tradition, and plenty of fine gardens are open to the public. And some of the great names in plant collection came from Scotland.

You could start by asking why we garden in the first place. Oh and you might need further explanation of a few Scottish words that will creep in here and there (like next-door’s couch-grass)

Scottish words in the garden

Why yirdit, you could ask? Well, in my childhood home I often heard this Scottish word in the garden used to mean covered with earth or just mucky – more or less how you might find yourself after a heavy session in the garden.

Then there was the second meaning of ‘bogged down’, usually literally. It might describe a farm cart that had stuck up to the axles in mud. It was ‘yirdit’. Yes, I get bogged down in my garden sometimes.

In more poetic uses, according to my Scots Dictionary, yird can mean the ground, or the grave or the earth itself, as in Planet Earth. Our poet Robert Burns used it more than once:

‘When lyart leaves bestrew the yird.’The Jolly Beggars

(Lyart here is streaked or multi-coloured and another etymological by-way.)

And of course yird is also cognate with yard, as in back-yard – so here we are back at earth and garden again.

And our Scandinavian friends, Danish and Norwegian, have their own word ‘jord’, meaning earth. So, in short – that’s why yirdit.

So, I hope you enjoy getting yirdit, both out of doors and right here while you find out about gardening in Scotland.

Glossary of Scottish words sometimes found while gardening in Scotland

  • as Yirdit isn’t the only word you might find.

Bield: shelter. (Fleece might do if you weighed it down.)

Coorse: how we say ‘coarse’ in the sense of harsh or wicked.

Doo, (often) cushie doo: pigeon, cf ‘dove’ (often) cushat dove. Wait, has anyone ever said ‘cushat dove’ since PG Wodehouse?

Fashed: upset. As in ‘Dinna fash yersel’ – don’t get worked up (that the speugs – see below – have been at the kail, perhaps).

Fusionless: (pronounced ‘foo-zhin-liss’) lethargic, limited in power. Like a petrol mower when it needs servicing.

Gallus: daring, cheeky; like garden pigeons or horsetail roots.

Gloaming: half-light or twilight. Hopeless time for gardening.

Graip: digging fork. Multi-pronged. Neptune possibly had one, though not for gardening.

Horny gollach: forkie-tail. No? Clip-shears. No again? OK, it’s an earwig.

Howk: to dig or pull up. Tattie-howkers were the squad potato farmers hired at harvesting time.

keek: to look or squint at. Perhaps over the wall to see that the new owners of your house have wrecked your garden. It happens.

Loon: boy. The orra loon was the spare hand on the farm, often the youngest. Orra? Oh, that means spare or sometimes just plain uncouth.

Midden: (originally) a kind of agricultural rubbish dump. Can also describe a teenager’s bedroom. Or our garden shed.

Muckle: large. Och, I’m sure you knew this.

Oxter: armpit. Redwings (a kind of upmarket thrush) have red oxters.

Penn (pend): originally an archway. We used it to mean the outside covered passageway linking the back and front of the house.

Rax: (v) to strain; to stretch out or reach.

Scunner: ‘fed-up-ness’. As verb, to be put off or sickened of something. ‘I’m scunnered trying to grow winter lettuce.’

Scutter: a finicky job, a faff. (As verb) to mess about without achieving a lot. Like trying to get poinsettia bracts to colour up in their second year.

Sharn: cow-dung. Sharny-dubs: cow-dung and mud. Nice.

Sheuch (in): to cover with soil temporarily or hastily.

Slaister: a mess. What happens when working with wet cement or mud perhaps. Or when you try to make hypertufa.

Slater: a wood-louse.

Slaither: to coat excessively.

Speug: the common house sparrow, Passer domesticus, aka, ‘the wee so-and-sos that eat the kail through the netting’.

Stravaig: to wander about. Pronounced ‘stra-vaig’, with emphasis on second syllable.

Swikkin: cheating. Also verb ‘to swick’ (somebody). Using plastic grass is definitely swikkin. (And the height of vulgarity.)

Thrawn: stubborn, like dandelion roots, or Border terriers.

Weel happit: Properly dressed or well protected for the conditions. The blue plumbago with fleece round it might be weel happit for the winter. On the other hand, possibly not.

Yokit: Set up for work or in harness (cf ‘yoked’). Yokin time – start of day – is the opposite of lousin time (cf ‘loosening’) – end of day – on the farm ie when the horses were yoked up or unyoked.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published.