The Garden

The Living Field Garden was created in 2004 from a corner of a muddy field at the James Hutton Institute, near Dundee, a mile north of the Tay estuary. It is a place to display and study the crops, wild plants and habitats of  lowland Scotland.  It is a community garden maintained by staff at the Institute and is open at all times to visitors.

This web site began in 2014 to celebrate the first 10 years of the Living Field garden. Here we will show the habitats created in the Garden and the crops and wild plants grown in this region – cereals,  legumes, medicinals, oils, dyes, vegetables and fibres.


Now in the garden

A mix of weather so far this year but the trees and hedge shrubs are well into leafing and some into flowering. The photos below, taken 11 April 2019, show gorse or whin in full flower (dye and once pulped for stockfeed), willow in flower and leafing (the origin of aspirin precursors), flower buds of gean or wild cherry (bitter fruit loved by birds, quality wood) and flowering blackthorn (sloe berries used as flavouring, wood for implements).

Habitats and main plant groups

The web pages on the garden are arranged according to habitats, living exhibits and projects. Each will have a page that you can get to from the right hand menu or the links below. The small posters at the top left of pages were prepared for the 2012 Open Day.

Habitats include:

The living exhibits are

And some species or groups of special significance are described at Plants.

After some very frosty days, the warm February of 2019 caused some early activity. The insects searched for limited food – some found it on the hazel catkins.

From 2018

Late September and the hot summer leaves most of the garden bare of flowering plants, the meadow cut but the hedges plentiful in fruits.

Every year, bindweed Convolvulus arvensis curls up the 8-foot tall lovage stems and here it is again. You have to appreciate its tenacity. The wild roses are very full in hips this year and many plants are showing the mixed green and red of autumn leaf.

July – and all the plants are well ahead of the year due to the hot weather. Above the optimum temperature and development is shortened, the phases compressed, so that by late July the meadow was almost over, the scabious flowered and not much left but lady’s bedstraw. Still, the plants in their various  micro-habitats showed their usual diversity of form.

Here are the flowering head of melancholy thistle, floral branches of meadowsweet, blue sowthistle and bladder campion, very pale in the shade of willow.

And earlier in 2018

Early June – lack of rain is making life hard for the crops and other annual plants but the the hedges of native species are flourishing,  bursting with insect and bird life, particularly the wild roses.

Mid-May – the angelica is looking massive and about to flower, huge hollow stalks rising above the foliage. The blue sowthistle, transferred here a couple of years ago, has expanded into a large patch and needs to be reduced. Its new leaves show a fine structural tracery, lit in the slating sun. The economical partition of leaf-space by the ‘veins’  is clear, even with a hand-held macro lens.

Early May – the perennial plants are recovering well from the long, cold winter. We put some primrose and cowslip under the trees a few years ago and they have returned to flower each year in small patches. Here is the primrose at the early May cross-quarter day, Beltane.

Coltsfoot, a medicinal but troublesome weed in open ground, is pushing through a leafy canopy of blue sowthistle, its composite flowers held above a mealy stem, visited by bees in mid-April.

End of year – 2017

The crisp cold of early December faded and the weather returned to wet, but by the winter solstice, 21 December, it was clear enough to watch the late sunrise hit Dave Roberts’ dragonfly carving.

The seeded heads of hogweed (below) and hemp agrimony remain, early winter food for seed eaters. The uncut hedges were alive with birds, mainly finches, flocking and chattering among the tall arching stems of the wild roses.

Of the vegetables, Kale was still looking healthy and unaffected by the bitter chills of recent weeks. Kale in various forms has, with turnips and swedes, sustained families over the winter for centuries here. It’s of the cabbage family, Brassica oleracea.

 Earlier in 2017

Autumn and the equinox came with many plants still in flower and some of the longer lasting vegetables still productive. Red rose hips  in the hedges and red stems of the agrimony in the medicinals bed.

Agrimony, rose hips and cotton thistle branch (Living Field)

The cotton thistle had grown to about 8 feet in height and was maturing its seed heads, but the structure remained hard and the spines like needles.

Brussels sprouts, dark mullein still in flower, alder catkins and cones and dyer’s greenweed (Living Field)

Of the vegetables grown this year, the kale and brussels sprouts were still in good condition, the sprouts just ready for picking. Dyer’s greenweed Genista tinctoria was flowering profusely – it seems to have little in the way of annual rhythm here.

High summer 2017

The vegetables, meadow, cereals and medicinals were splendid in June and July. Some photographs from early June can be seen at The Garden at Open Farm Sunday 2017.

Earlier, the dry spring ended with a deluge of rain, followed by sun and warmth in late May. The meadow has started to flower and some of the planted cereals, particularly the bere barley and rye, are well ‘in ear’.

Flowering viper’s bugloss, the first or second flowers on each floral branch now open and attractive to bees: open flowers blue, still in bud dark pink.

Comfrey and viper’s bugloss (images above) are offering attractions to the many bumble bees visiting the garden.  About 20 bees were seen feeding on just two or three large plants in the late afternoon.

Some plants from the medicinals, dyes and herbs beds: the angelica head is the size of a small football, the plant over six feet in height.

Perennial medicinals and herbs are mostly well advanced, some of the habitually early ones like angelica are well into seeding (images above).

Several seedbank annuals have emerged between the established perennials – large-flowered hemp-nettle, opium poppy and corncockle – but they will need some care to prevent them being out-competed.

We are pleased to have a large, healthy cotton thistle again, one of the descendants of an original that arrived in 2004. This one emerged by itself last year, survived the winter and is now about to put out its first flowering head through a ring of spiny protective leaves (image above).

A new development for 2017 is a display in the west garden (through the gate) of vegetables and herbs to demonstrate the ability of plants to accumulate mineral elements and make vitamins and other compounds that are good for human health.  A new web page will open on this site describing the plants and their properties (images below).

The dry spring of 2017

A very dry spring so far, and some cool periods. The meadow plants are slow to extend, except for some flowering heads of timothy grass  (top left),  packed with anthers that flutter in the wind. By Beltane,  early May, the marsh marigold is flowering and the comfrey just in bud (each bud about 2mm wide, top right below).

lf_g_17may3_gs_1100Paul has tilled the arable (cropped) patch ready for Gladys, Jackie and Paula to plant the ancient cereals, which are now in.

This year we are planting a wide range of vegetables. It’s good to see them bright and fresh in their rows. The pigeons think so too.  There is a row of brassicas one evening and the next morning they are gone. (And gone again the next morning after replanting.) So we had to resort to covering the plants with hoops and fleece. Let’s hope it works. (Bet the slugs are happy the birds are kept out.)

Geoff has been working on the medicinals and dyes beds but the ground is like rock with the dryness. The spade does not get deeper than six inches into the soil. Not much can be done in the way of moving plants without a good soaking from the sprinklers. (But by 16 May it rained a couple of times!)

Some of the small trees have begun their annual cycle. Late March and early April – willow is moving through its flowering phases: each floral ‘branch’ starts compact, black bracts shielding red anthers (male, pollen); then anthers enlarge, still red at first (top, right below), turn yellow briefly, and then shrivel to black, their stalks white, extended (top left below).

lf_g_17mar_wllwblckthrn_gs_1100From late March also, blackthorn in the hedge is in full flower (lower above), white against the black stems, no sign of leaf yet. A few bees were looking for food, mostly on the willow.

A month earlier and a spell of clear days and nights gave some coloured skies just before sunset. Here is the one on 27 February 2017, fleeting yellows, reds and blues as the sun went down on a cold, clear wintry day, silhouetting the sculpted dragonfly and native trees in the Living Field garden.

The Living Field Garden is maintained by Gladys Wright, Jackie Thompson, Geoff Squire and Paul Heffell from the farm. For some of Geoff’s photographs from 2016 and 2015, see Previously in the Garden.

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