I was glad to revisit some of my old plantings last night on the edge of another brutally cold darkness. The thermometer on the hill was down to -7 as I crunched and spattered through the rime, and I turned in a moment of curiosity to find the juniper trees which I planted here in May 2010. They were little sprigs back then, no more than a foot at the longest leader. Juniper is a slow growing tree at the best of times, but here it has worked steadily away to create shrubs which around the height of my shoulder. The branches at the bottom are as thick as my wrist, and the clutchy little needles rise and droop in thick clusters.
Juniper is expensive to buy, so I only put in a few. Then I heard of a new disease which was sweeping across Scotland, killing juniper and leaving the stems all rotten and black. That stymied any further investment, but not without some regret. It’s a beautiful native tree, with a great deal to offer birds and wildlife. I’d love to have deep groves of it on the hill, overhung with birch and scots pine – that would be a fine place to find black grouse on a bitter cold evening. As it is, I’m limited to a handful of bushes which seem to live and prosper on borrowed time. I’m always pleasantly surprised to find that they are healthy, and I only wish that we could have more juniper on the hill and across Galloway more generally.