A veneer of soil, not more than inch or so, conceals a builder's yard of broken stone, slate and earthenware. Short of catacombs or the mosaics of a roman villa there isn't much I haven't found with minimal digging. The tenements provide a regular supply of discarded artefacts too. It seems that quaint old Edinburgh traditions survive, except these days beer cans and pizza boxes have replaced pails of natural fertiliser. I have no wish to be at war with my neighbours, whoever they may be, so I stoically bag up their offerings shaking a silent fist at high windows.
Finding things to grow in this sizeable space has involved some triumph and much despair. Most flowering plants simply don't, or if they do they grow leggy with disappointing blooms. Some of them try hard but each year they dwindle until a last straw cold snap sees them off once and for all. Green things do best; ferns and mosses, hostas and creeping shrubs; and the cool colours that look best in the evenings, whites and ivories especially. Friends have been generous with old house bricks for structure, and with cuttings of things that thrive in the permanent penumbra. Slowly, slowly it is taking shape.
Without doubt my garden is at its best from April to June when the new growth accelerates and the force that Dylan Thomas called 'the green fuse' is uncoiling fronds of ferns, rupturing bulbs and buds, sending up emerald spears. Only a few weeks ago the cold was biting hard enough to crack concrete and the crisp leaf litter was dressed in frost. Now as I sit on the doorstep at dusk, soothed by the evening inventions of a thrush, I am in the arc of a green rainbow. There are more shades of green than I could begin to name, greens blending to greys and blues as the daylight fails. Anything other than green in its myriad hues would be out of place. In the middle of a city it is an utterly peaceful place to be and, with all its shortcomings, a reminder to me to find contentment in what I have.
Recently there has been much talk in the media of happiness. The Government, we are told, is to commission research into what makes us happy. In order, my first three reactions to this news were: This needs to be researched? What on earth will the Government do with the findings? And thirdly... Oh please don’t let the Government anywhere near my happiness! But just now I was thinking. If the happiness researchers alight at my door with their clipboards and multiple choice questionnaires I will invite them to come sit with me awhile, under the canopy of my green rainbow.