Sandy’s Garden ... The Joys of the Coup

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

The recent prolonged spell of really warm weather - oh, all right, of hot weather, by Scottish standards - worked wonders for most of the plants in my garden.

I grant that the grass wasn’t too keen on the idea, for my grass … and no-one could, or would, ever call it a lawn … grows on a thin layer of poor soil which covers stone; and as a result, my grass starts to turn brown if we enjoy three dry days, let alone three weeks of hot weather. But almost all the other plants, including my many shrubs, revelled in it and grew as they have never grown before. One could almost watch them growing.

Now this may be fine and dandy in the countryside if the shrubs have no near neighbours competing for the same growing space. But my garden is just that ... a garden … heavily over-planted by the general standards of nature so that I can enjoy a profusion of a much wider variety of plants than would ever be possible in the countryside. And then there is my desire to walk through the several parts of my garden, meaning that there must be access paths; and these access paths are seen by the shrubs which border them as a vacuum, a space which is said to be abhorred by nature and, as such, a highly desirable space for the shrubs to expand into. This means, in turn, that I have been unusually busy with secateurs and loppers, constantly trying to keep the pathways open and the shrubs in check.

Of course, there is a brown bin tucked away near the house, ever-ready to accept green waste and waiting to be put out on the kerbside on the appropriate day to be emptied into the council’s bin lorry … and I fell in love with the local term ‘bin lorry’ when I moved to the Falkirk area from Perth more than fifty years ago, for these vehicles were called ‘dust carts’ in the city where I grew up. But I have long enjoyed the ability to take my own green waste to what Falkirk Council nowadays calls the ‘Recycling Centre’ … capital ‘R’, capital ‘C’ … at Kinneil Kerse near Bo’ness or Roughmute near Bonnybridge. I think I remember these facilities formerly being called ‘Waste Transfer Stations’, although the memory is not what it once was; and I am absolutely certain that, in local parlance, they were …and still are … commonly referred to as ‘coups’.

A coup, my trusty Pocket Scots Dictionary tells me, can also be spelled cowp or coop and is … amongst other things … ‘a rubbish tip’. It is a different thing from a midden, which is defined as ‘a dunghill, compost heap or refuse heap’, although that definition does not really explain the difference that all Scots understand between a coup and a midden. Kinneil Kerse and Roughmute are coups: they are most certainly not middens, that at Kinneil Kerse in particular being kept admirably neat and tidy by its staff. Interestingly, those men and women have never been called ‘coupers’, this term being allocated to traders or dealers, particularly horse-dealers; nor, to the best of my knowledge, has the dust cart or the bin lorry ever been called a coup-cairt, an appellation reserved for a closed cart or a tipping cart. (Let’s not go into why a tipping cart has very little to do with a rubbish tip.)

Regulars at the council’s coups… like me … become recognised by the staff; and, as I write these words, I have in front of me a mug which was presented to me by an employee at Kinneil Kerse a couple of years ago. Readers may well have heard of Capability Brown, the soubriquet by which the famous English landscape architect Lancelot Brown was commonly known: but the mug features a gardener slumped in a wheelbarrow, pint glass in hand and tools scattered around, and is captioned ‘Incapability Brown’. I do like and appreciate it!

Sandy Simpson, Polmont Horticultural Society