Our brick collection

It has been busy, busy, busy at Seaview what with elections, visitors, – and a film crew! A certain film company read my blogs on our beach treasure collections¬†and our local seaside walk and thought we might fit into¬†the storyline they were working on. So one blissfully hot Sunday in May, we had an invasion …They snapped up our view ….photographer capturing the viewWhile we laid out our curious beachy¬†collections ….In preparation for this visit, I had tidied up our brick collection (as you do) ….Bricks outside our conservatoryAnd since I¬†mentioned our brick-collecting in Sanquhar in my last blogpost, I thought I would continue here with more of our brick story.

We started collecting ¬†bricks the first winter we were here. Over that icy first winter of 2010/11, our walks regularly took us to the spit (the sand mound between the river and the sea at Spittal Point). At this time the spit was a long protruding neck of sand running along the Tweed opposite Berwick.looking over to Berwick from the SpitThere were all sorts of treasures washed up on these shifting sands, midway between the river Tweed and the open North Sea.washed up treasures on the SpitAmong them were bricks …Finding bricks on the seashoreAccording to one local we spoke to, workmen demolishing buildings in Berwick’s Marygate to make way for the bus station (now in its turn demolished) threw the old bricks into the river Tweed. Gradually these bricks are being washed up onto the local beaches.

I say gradually because that first winter we found a lot of bricks. Then the sands of the spit shifted, moulded by storms and floods and wind and weather, and our brick-collecting almost stopped. For a long while we found very few bricks on the beach. Now I’m delighted to report the bricks are back again!

Back to that first winter: we would regularly carry a brick back each from the beach – if not two. What has really defined our brick-collecting is the writing on the bricks. They all tell a story.

Let’s take Niddrie as an example.The Niddrie brick works was on the south-east of Edinburgh. Founded in the 1920s to accommodate the expansion in house building, the brickworks were demolished in 1991. If you’ve ever visited the Fort Kinnaird retail park, you’ve visited the site of the Niddrie brickworks! I love Niddrie bricks – this one is warmly golden and we know they were solidly made because we often find them undamaged.Other bricks from other places. Glenboig, Castlecary and Boghead Glasgow all hail from areas round Glasgow. Backworth is a Durham brick, and like many brickworks adjoined the local colliery. A ready supply of fuel and waste from the mining often supplied the perfect materials for the brick making.

A couple of Castlecary bricks in this collection below indicate the variety of brick that might have been produced from a single brickworks.The Sandysike brick below comes from an area north of Carlisle. This is an area that has a history of brick making dating back to Roman times.Our interest in these local bricks has inspired enthusiasm in other family members. It’s not unusual for us to send a car back to the Westcountry laden with Dougall bricks. You betray your age here: the young fondly remember Father Ted, and I hark back to The Magic Roundabout. Either way, this has nothing to with the real history of the Dougall brickworks. They were made at Bonnybridge, north-east of Glasgow, from 1896 to 1967.In turn our Westcountry family has supplied us with some nice bricks. St Day hails from a Redruth brickworks. And I particularly like these old tiles designed to protect electricity cables which were also a gift from the Westcountry.Of particular¬†relevance to Berwick with its history as a long-time grain exporter are these granary bricks. The holes in the bricks¬†were designed to aerate the grain. I believe they were made at a Nuneaton brickworks, north of Coventry.Some are superior to others. Compare the glazed brick here (reminding me so much of Victorian jelly moulds!) with the rough-cast granary brick below. The added patina of green mound is from sitting in damp parts of our garden.I am deeply indebted to several knowledgeable and brick-loving websites for all the historic information which I have linked to, and I have listed my sources at the end of this blog. I guess those writers and researchers, like me, are fascinated by industrial archaeology and the ordinary stories of human labour and habitation tied up with brick manufacture.

For me the pleasure in bricks also lies in the tones, shapes and colours of all the different bricks and how they marry up with the flowers in our garden. Poppies and forget-me-nots self seed in the gaps.A collection of bricks sits around Gary, our classy garden gnome, and the planter, here full of spring flowers …And here, later in the season, featuring poppies ….The bricks come in handy about the house for all sorts of purposes.Actually, our present abundance of bricks makes me chuckle – when I lived in Devon I was always short of bricks! Some twenty years or so ago, I had a spell of making doorstops from half-bricks and would guard those few bricks I found jealously. You’ll recognise my language obsession here too. This doorstop is a¬†pleasing play on Francis Thompson’s poem, The Kingdom of God: “Turn but a stone and start a wing.”And here, from the same poem: ‘Tis your estrang√®d faces, That miss the many-splendored thing.”I don’t think these compressed lines from Dylan Thomas’s poem Fern Hill perhaps work so well here (I’ve used too many colours): “Now as I was young and easy […] Prince of the apple towns […] Time let me play and be golden […] in his mercy.”There are an odd few doorstops that are a bit wonky and without words.Nowadays I find myself more drawn to bricks than ever. They stand out on an ordinary walk round the countryside¬†… or a nearby village ….We were delighted to find this wonderful brick sculpture by Julia Hilton in the beautiful and mysterious boggy gardens at Paxton House. Her sculpture, aptly called Entrances,¬†is made of¬†old bricks from the Armadale brickworks.And a visit to the local builders’ merchant offers new unexpected delights!!As to that film crew – well, we’re still waiting to hear too ….

I have drawn on these excellent internet sources for historic information on brick making:

To Cumbrae and back through the Scottish borderlands

Last Monday we left our home near Berwick and drove over the country to the Scottish west coast, roughly on exactly the same longitude as our home in England. It has always fascinated me that we are so close, have so much in common … and yet are so different.To our delight, whilst English Berwick on the east coast was bitterly cold, Cumbrae, in Scotland on the west of the UK, was sky-blue – shorts and sandals weather! We waited for the ferry to take us from Largs to the Isle of Cumbrae.Our visit to the Isle of Cumbrae was prompted by my wish to visit West Kilbride and some very talented Scottish craftswomen there.¬† Stephen was tasked with finding us somewhere to stay in the locality … and he came up with the College of the Holy Spirit, which adjoins the Cathedral of the Isles on Cumbrae.These establishments were designed by¬†William Butterfield in 1851, at the request of the 6th Earl of Glasgow,¬†George Frederick Boyle. Boyle was an enthusiast of the Oxford Movement, believing in the reinstatement of older Christian traditions.¬† He wanted the College to train priests for the Episcopal Church – perhaps like the men enjoying the College grounds in this old print below.Alas, Boyle, an enormously generous and devout man (he was also pouring money into the building of Perth Cathedral at this time) depended too much perhaps on divine providence – Dominus Providebit (God will provide) is the Boyle family motto – and went bankrupt in 1885.Luckily the College Chapel had been consecrated as Cathedral for the Scottish Episcopal Church United Diocese of Argyll & The Isles in 1876, so the Diocese was already responsible for these buildings.

The Cathedral Spire towers over the island, even when glimpsed from the hills above.We first glimpsed it through the trees. You get an idea of Butterfield’s original concept¬†from this drawing that appeared on the front of “Butterfield Revisited”, edited by Peter Howell and Andrew Saint, and published by the Victorian Society. The Cathedral stands proud, surrounded by manicured lawns, with a young avenue of lime trees.That’s not how it is now!¬† The Diocese may have funded the Cathedral buildings, but there was no money to pay for garden upkeep.

By a magical transformation, those uncared gardens have become wild and more beautiful than one could imagine. Trees have grown up everywhere – the lime avenue is enormous. Underneath the trees, are masses and masses of flowering ramsons (wild garlic).The fine lawn banks host bluebells as well as the ramsons.I do¬†so hope George Boyle¬†is not turning in his grave as he contemplates the changed garden!¬† He is indeed buried here – in the large flat tomb in the foreground of this picture. He must have loved this place very much. It is extraordinary to find such¬†buildings on such a tiny island. Butterfield’s vision of this small group of buildings is harmonious and elegant.¬† Here you have the windows of the Lady Chapel, the Cathedral and the Refectory – all varied in pattern and size, but united in stone and form. And look how very deftly Butterfield has highlighted the Cathedral window with the¬†descending dove of the Holy Spirit¬†above it.We stayed in the North College which had once housed the choristers. Our room was the upper left hand window, set amidst the tiles.¬† We had the place to ourselves¬†for the first couple of nights, and after that only another couple came and stayed at the other end of the building.¬†It was extraordinary!The rooms are called after Christian virtues.¬† Ours was Fortitude ……hmmm.Inside was all dark wood and heavy carving. The corridor …The fireplace in our bedroom …..¬†huge and cumbersome!The common room …What I didn’t like was the inside of the Cathedral.¬† It looks OK from here …But once you go up into the Chancel, you get tile madness!¬† I don’t care for the Victorian tones of green and brown anyhow, but, that to the side, it looks to me as though some student was told to see what variety of patterns they could come up to fill the space available. It’s truly tile pattern madness!Sometimes we joined Warden Amanda and Lay Chaplain Alastair for morning and evening prayers – quiet and peaceful, though the Scottish rite (just slightly different from the Anglican one we know) caught us out a bit¬†…Outside the calm inner sanctuary¬†lurked danger … In the evenings we explored Millport.¬† I don’t think the authorities¬†meant us to take this image away with us ….And we chuckled at this …..There are¬†lots of boarded up properties round Millport, looking just a little¬†bit sad and unloved … Masses of rabbits everywhere … (not an easy place to be a gardener, I guess) …Including several black ones (or was it the same one and¬†it just got¬†round a lot?) ¬†…After our evening walks,¬†we went¬†back to the College and lowered the ecclesiastical tone, sitting in the warm, evening sunshine with a bottle of wine …The road round Cumbrae is perfect for cyclists of all ages.¬† This looks like a 1960s group setting out to enjoy a bicycle ride en famille.You can hire all sorts of cycles …We hired two quite ordinary bikes to get round the island.¬† This was extremely brave of me since I haven’t been on a bike for well over 15 years.¬† It was a glorious ride, and despite much moaning on my part (the seat was horribly uncomfortable), it was a wonderful experience.Picnic lunch and an opportunity to enjoy the view of the islands of Bute and Arran (grey and lowering in the far distance).I don’t think I¬†have ever seen a war memorial as powerful as this. It is dedicated to the men and women of the British and Allied forces who have no known grave.After our bicycle tour of the island, we¬†spent a couple of days on the mainland about West Kilbride. I got to do the workshop that I have longed to do for so long with lovely Lorna of Chookiebirdie.¬† We spent an entire day sewing together …. Oh, just look at this sewing heaven!Lorna¬†was teaching me to make paisley botehs like these ones of hers.And I was so thrilled with what I made that I have only just stopped carrying it round with me!Another day I finally got to visit Old Maiden Aunt’s¬†yarn shop in West Kilbride –¬†somewhere else¬†I’ve longed to go to for ages! So many gorgeous colours.¬† And we got to peak into her dye studio too. As an amateur dyer, it’s fascinating for me¬†to see her professional systems – though perhaps the multi-coloured spatters behind the pots is the give away that Lilith herself might not call it that …I have to confess that I find yarn buying overwhelming.¬† I may have decided that I am going to make a green scarf, and need green wool, but when I see the yarns available, all my carefully thought out plans go awry.¬† This is what we came away with – all lovely stuff, but not a lot of green, and certainly not the grassy-greens I had in mind …At the Barony in West Kilbride we found an amazing exhibition of¬†Radical Craft.¬†Doesn’t this Landfill Tantrum by Pinkie MacLure just say all you really long to say about waste and rubbish and pollution?!!Who¬†could not love Rosemary McLeish’s What I Do When I Don’t Do The Ironing ?! Dedicated I think to all those who hate¬†this chore¬†…But the pi√®ces de r√©sistance for me were these two works paying homage (as it were) to Angus McPhee.¬† They were both made by Joanne B Kaar – the boots are copies of Angus McPhee’s orginal boots (those too fragile to be exhibited now) and she made the hats in the spirit of his work. I came upon¬†the story of Angus McPhee from Donnie Monro’s song, Weaver of Grass.¬†¬†As far as I can see the pop song world is dominated by mostly saccharine love songs, so ¬†it amazes and delights me to hear such a glorious song about a mentally ill man. Perhaps it is really¬†a love song in another guise …..

Time then to say goodbye to the little Isle of Cumbrae. The weather was changing as we headed back to Largs …On to sunny Sanquhar – another place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time because of their famous¬†knitting designs.¬† The little Tolbooth Museum there is a gem …Holding information¬†about and examples of¬†lots of historic¬†Sanquhar knitting patterns …..We were also interested in the displays there about the local brickworks.As it happens, we have a small collection of¬†lettered bricks.¬† This started with us finding them on our local beach at Spittal.¬† There is an¬†entire history of northern English and Scottish collieries and brickworks to be revealed from those names.¬† Luckily the lovely museum attendant at the Tolbooth Musuem knew just where to send us!And so we found ourselves quite unexpectedly rooting around the old Sanquhar brickworks.There were the sad remnants of the buildings ….And we found a brick or two …..Most poignantly, Clarks Little Ark, an animal rescue shelter at this site, have constructed a memorial wall of the old bricks for those dear ones they have lost.Finally our last stop in Sanquhar, the Euchanfoot B & B – and, yes – would you believe it! –¬†more bricks!¬† (along with a very comfortable room and delicious breakfast).Norma, our lovely hostess, explained that the collapsed old mill buildings which stood at the end of her garden were now just a pile of¬†local bricks.¬†¬†So there we were, brick-foraging again ….Time to go home – perhaps crawl would be a better description for¬†our heavily-brick-laden car. The weather got nastier and nastier as we travelled up through the Lowther hills …Still extraordinarily beautiful ….We had decided to travel back via the source of the River Tweed, high up in the Lowther Hills. There, masked in the mist and murk, we found this sign. From this point, a tiny stream and all the little tributaries that run into it flow eastwards to where it meets the sea on Spittal beach.This is an iconic spot to many (including us) because it is a great river. Appropriately there is a finely ornamented stone, incorporating words that speak off the Tweed: “it is one of Britain’s cleanest rivers …”Sadly, it was not a clean site.¬† The rubbish was disgusting and a terrible reflection on lazy, casual visitors. I have an uncomfortable idea that people feel they have license to behave so because Dumfries and Galloway council have not provided a litter bin ….Oh dear, what a negative way to end a great holiday!¬† So I won’t.¬† As we travelled through the Borders, the sun shone through the damp leaves, and we slowed down to enjoy the wonderful countryside …. and an antique Rolls Royce … Festina Lente!

An absence of birds and rain

It has been a slow and boring March for us here, with painting, painting – and it seemed – yet more painting …We had a new porch built outside our front door last December.¬† It’s on the colder, north side of the building, so gives us extra protection with a double entrance as well as accommodating all our muddy, messy outdoor wear.All sorts of things had to be done to make it a useful part of the building …And it is finally just about there …But the painting – the oh, so very¬†boring painting – dragged on and on.¬† Little bits all over the house and garden also appeared in need of a paint in the fresh clean light of spring days …We are now making up for lost time, and outside as much as possible, catching up on the garden.Stephen’s potting up of seeds and young plants includes making these nifty little newspaper pots – so ingenious!Sometimes he has a not-so-helpful helper with him …The salad greens in the greenhouse are feeding us comfortably …But it looks like we will have a while to wait for any crops from our raised beds.¬† The problem isn’t just the very cold nights we are still getting (although our days are blessed with sun a plenty).¬† No, it’s the absence of rain …Our water butts are empty.¬† We have light rain showers occasionally, but they are so very light as to make little or no difference.¬† I can’t remember when we last had a decent downpour. ¬†The water butts remain almost empty. So most reluctantly, we have got out the hose …It’s easy for us – but not so easy for the local farmers.¬† At the beginning of April, there were still ponds on the local fields.¬† We watched these with great¬†interest as they provide home and sustenance to the local gulls.This is what they look like now … parched …Walking around the local farms, there is evidence aplenty of parched fields.¬† This is an interesting spot because it is at the bottom of fields that run down to the sea on the right.¬† In other years – in wetter winters – there has not been the same marked run off as we are seeing this year. You can’t really tell from these pictures, but this winter wheat crop has barely grown at all.It’s easy for us to water our slow-growing raspberries plants, but quite a different matter for a farmer with huge grain fields …Elsewhere, the monopoly of bright yellow early spring flowers is over.¬† Those daffodil heads are in the compost heap, contributions to another year …There are flash-coloured tulips about now and lots of forget-me-nots … oh dear, I see something else that¬†needs a fresh coat of paint! The forget-me-nots really come into their own on the other side of our garden fence … this year they are tiny plants … usually double the height …I always think the very best thing about gardening is the surprises, the things you have forgotten you planted.¬† These entirely white narcissi are exactly such a case in point.¬† I have absolutely no recollection of planting them, but I think they are just exquisite, fragile and elegant … Ghost flowers …Another delight this year is the japonica flowering for the first time.¬† Usually in the autumn I collect japonica fruit from my friend in Devon to make quince jelly.¬† Perhaps this year, I’ll have a couple of my own fruit to add to this year’s jelly …There are disappointments too.¬† The rosemary bush has died – and just look at the scorch marks from salty easterly blasts on the snapdragon plant in the foreground …The other big disappointment for us is the absence of birds.¬†It’s true that there are pigeons¬†… hours of entertainment for Eggy (hunched in the foreground)¬†…But there have been no ordinary birds like sparrows and blackbirds for weeks. In February, Ilsa brought a song thrush in to Stephen.¬† He was able to rescue it, and as it seemed fine, we hoped it¬†would survive. However,¬†we later¬†found it dead in the field.¬† RIP beautiful bird.So now the cats wear collars …They don’t seem to be very perturbed by the collars, and are out and about enjoying themselves as usual …But have they frightened the birds away for good? We take heart from a new young blackbird who¬†has been seen around,¬†and a sparrow was sighted on the bird feeders today.

There are still larks. On my knees, as I weeded the flowerbeds, with the sea on the horizon, the sun on my back, my head was full of the sound of the song of the larks – singing their hearts out in this glorious place. Rain and birds …. please come back!

Goodbye 2016!

So many ups and downs in 2016! It’s been a topsy turvy year – a year of sadness and upsets for my family and a deeply shocking year in global politics. I have travelled through the year with a pervading sense of loss.

But, in the last few days I’ve been indulging myself drawing up a #bestofnine2016 for my Instagram feed. I’ve looked through all the pictures I’ve posted online, and selected the nine pictures that most capture 2016¬†for me.¬† It has taken me quite a time to finally make a selection, but it was a good exercise because after that, I didn’t feel so bad. So many little ordinary happinesses and pleasures that I have taken for granted!¬† Here are my chosen nine:bestofnine2016Top left: That’s my dearest husband Stephen and our lovely cat, Poe, who passed away in her 20th year, this August. This photograph was taken on her last night of life, when we knew she was extremely ill and would have to visit the vet next day, probably to be put down.¬†She is curled up asleep, comfy and trusting, next to Stephen, on the sofa, as she regularly did. RIP Poe, faithful friend.stephen-and-poeTop middle: Lots of little pleasures here. My knitting, my nails – and my travel knitting bag! Those of you who¬†know me well¬†will know I almost always have my nails painted – and doesn’t this colour match the knitting so well! The Solace bag was a generous gift from Rebecca of Needle & Spindle¬†and symbolises to me the constant comfort of knitting, and the friendliness of the wonderful online community of knitters and makers.solace-bag-and-knittingTop right: This is our lovely local beach, just five minutes away from our home, and my very grown-up children, visiting from London, on a beautiful blustery day.¬†¬†Stephen and I¬†walk here several times a week, and watch the tides and waves and sands move, the holiday visitors with their families come and go.¬† To share this with my own family is the greatest of all pleasures.j-h-on-spittal-beachMiddle right: A golden GiveWrap, made with the Japanese and Indian silk scraps I was given for my birthday, and mixed up with some very¬†treasured pieces of old¬†clothing.¬† It’s been another year of GiveWrap making, sharing the ideas with my cousin Polly, and spreading the word about sustainable wraps.golden-givewrapBottom right: I wrote about the poppies that we grow here in a recent blogpost.¬†They are the best of our gardening in this wonderful place, right up on the north Northumbrian border, exposed to all the elements.¬† Lots of plants won’t grow here – it’s too salty, too windy, too cold.¬† But poppies flourish, and best of all, they self-seed.¬† They grow where they will, not just where I choose.¬† Don’t they adorn the view so very well …poppies in laneBottom middle: In the turmoil of family events earlier this year, two little cats, Eggy and Ilsa,¬†found themselves needing a new home – so they came to Seaview!¬† And look how these little smilers love it here!¬†These little London softies have become Northumbrian toughies.¬† They’re good at mousing, chasing the neighbours’ cats, exploring their territory, and finding the comfiest places in the house to sleep (usually some special fabrics I have carefully laid out).eggy-and-ilsaBottom left: Nothing says Seaview to me as much as the big skies with their endlessly-changing weather stories.¬† Through the winter months, we are privileged to watch the sunrise as it moves over the south-eastern horizon. So often it is explosively dramatic and exciting. Perhaps best of all, the sun doesn’t rise until a decent time (8.38 as I write on 31st December), so I don’t sleep through it … You never tire of these skies.seaview-sunriseMiddle right: On the 23rd June 2016, Great Britain voted in a referendum on their European Union membership – and we all now¬†know the result.¬† In the days leading up to this¬†referendum, those of us who hoped to stay in the European Union became increasingly worried about the result – as indeed there was good cause – and I was inspired to stitch my Love letter to Europe,¬†incorporating some lines from John Donne’s poem No man is an¬†island.¬† Embroidery isn’t really my thing, so this was a textile experiment for me.¬†It wasn’t, of course,¬†an earth-shaking contribution – really rather feeble – but it was very comforting to stitch at the time.¬† Now it hangs up our stairs, and it speaks to me of our continuing membership of Europe, even if we lose the membership of the European Union.love-letter-to-europeCentre: We saw this little 18th century ladies patch box on display at Traquair House – a very happy daytrip to a most interesting place to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. So there are lots of things bound up in this picture for me: my very happy marriage to Stephen, the pleasures we have out and about exploring this beautiful part of the world, and above all else it speaks of¬†hope.¬† More than anything else in these unsettled times, the message of this little box comes back to me, and I find in it great, great comfort.¬† At some time in its history, it must have given hope to another person.¬† Now again, it is holding a hand out to¬†a dodgy future.patch-box-from-traquairGoodness knows what I will be writing at the end of 2017.¬† But hope isn’t a bad travelling companion.¬† So thank you for your company on the¬†journey through 2016, and may you all be sustained by hope in whatever comes your way through the next year.¬† Happy New Year!

Another London visit

Just over a week ago I was in London Рbusy, bustling, exciting, varied Рso much to see, so much to do. I love visiting London, love the excitement, the endless small details of interest, the big statements of serious important world-changing matters in one of the largest cities in the world.

A visit away is always unsettling – even the kits feel it. Eggy seems to think that if I can take Northumbrian heather to London, I could take her too.eggy-in-my-suitcaseIt was nominally a visit to see family and friends.¬† To visit my nonagenarian mother (92!) in her Surrey nursing home …selfie-with-my-motherAnd sit in the¬†autumn sun on the bench marking my father’s life …rhes-benchThis London trip was different because both my children have moved to areas of London that I don’t know at all, and for one who hates using the Underground like me travel round London is always a challenge!

My daughter’s bedsit was the easier visit because it’s at Mornington Crescent, within walking distance of King’s Cross station where I’d arrived. These tall houses remind me strongly of those at Earls Court where I used to live in the 1970s. helens-flatThe building on the right in the photograph above is the back of the amazing Carreras Cigarette Factory¬†(now the London headquarters of Asos).front-of-asos-headquartersThis is just the sort of the thing I love about London – the serendipity of discovering fascinating buildings, and architectural detailing everywhere.¬† Black cats were part of the Carreras branding, and if you look carefully, you will see them right high up over the windows. I would love to see what it’s like inside.cats-all-over-the-asos-buildingHer little flatlet allows for window sill picnics …candlelit-window-picnicAnd there’s just space for Mum to tog up¬†before gadding about London.togged-up-for-london-selfieThe highlight of my visit with Helen was a trip to the Victoria and Albert museum.¬† I used to visit regularly, but for one reason and another haven’t been for many years.¬† We are watching ITV’s Victoria¬†which is a lot of fun even if I doubt some of the nineteenth century veracity.¬† A major theme is Albert’s struggle for some sort of role, and with this in mind, I was amused to see on the entrance fa√ßade that Victoria is very much in the senior position.¬† She – with orb and crown and sceptre – stands¬†high over the entrance; Albert – a mere mortal – is far below over the main door.v-a-museumThe great delight again with a museum such as the Victoria and Albert museum is the serendipitous treats all around.¬†Look at the marvels of the design of the original building here – that stucco, those arches, a rotunda above – coupled with a magnificent mediaeval altarpiece – and to crown it all a striking piece of modern glass.¬† v-a-at-its-bestSo much good to see that you don’t really know where to start.¬† I had it in mind to visit the glass gallery after reading LittleLollyTravels blogpost London Baby!¬†some while ago. On the way to the glass we were seduced first by the tins …fancy-tinsWhat a particularly desirable biscuit tin this one is!literature-tinAnd then the metalwork … metalwork-from-castel-henrietteThis fantastically snakey green wrought iron piece is a window grille from Castel Henriette, designed by Hector Guimard.¬† Sadly, Castel Henriette has been demolished, but if you travel on the Paris Metro, you can see more of Guimard’s¬†metal¬†designs at some of the entrances.¬† What chance that this lovely piece ended up in the V & A?!!
castel-henrietteThe glass gallery – when found – was indeed a treat.¬† From the¬†1969 sculpture “Lollipop Isle”, designed by Oiva Toikka for Nuutaj√§rvi glassworks …lollipop-glassTo the dawn of the twentieth century¬† with these exquisite German drinking glasses (I posted this picture on Instagram and everybody declared the crocus glass on the left to be their favourite – I wonder which is yours?) …german-wineglassesTo the nine earlyish Egyptian or perhaps Iraqi fragments of glass, dated to¬†sometime¬†in the 7th – 12th centuries¬†(this case contains lots of fascinating treasures, generally¬†Middle Eastern¬†glass, of the same period) I am blown away by the pattern on these glass fragments¬†…glass-fragmentsOnly a snapshot of what we saw, but there is really no way to justice to this remarkable museum.

My London travels then took me (very bravely by Underground – buses would have involved hours of travel) to Walthamstow where my son now lives.¬† His cottagey terraced house couldn’t be more of a contrast to the mansions of Mornington Crescent.walthamstow-terraced-house But nice detailing still mostly unspoilt (despite the¬†conversions to modern windows), and I think William Morris would have approved.¬† Walthamstow is very much William Morris’s place. What a way to improve a car park!william-morris-wall-paintingHe¬†grew up in Water House, and this fine building is now the William Morris museum.water-house-william-morris-museumMorris is intriguing because he defies fashion with an enduring appeal.¬† He was enormously popular in his lifetime, of course.¬† In my youth in the 1970s, he had a comeback, fitting in with the hippy vibe rather well.¬† And now, he seems to be all the rage again – check out this article on New York Fashion week!

So, all the patterns are very familiar – either I’ve had furnishings made of them sometime in my life, or known someone who did.¬† Part of the fun then in the museum was looking for old friends.

It was also intriguing to see how the designs were created. Here’s the Trellis design, both in its raw design state, and as a completed wallpaper print.¬† We know this 1862 print as Morris’ first design for wallpaper, but, in fact, it was Philip Webb who drew the birds.¬† Without them, Morris’ rose trellis would be somewhat lacking. I hadn’t realised how collaborative these designs were.trellis-wallpaperPleasing details in the museum included these oak drawers – beautiful smooth action, and look at those leather handles.¬† I’m sure William Morris would have liked these.drawers-in-morris-museumAnd I was glad to see the museum had fully exploited the fine patterns at its disposal with Morris prints decorating their very superior toilet facilities.william-morris-patterns-on-toilet-doorsmorris-in-the-toiletThe gardens of Water House are now a public park under the care of that rare species (nowadays) a park keeper.back-of-water-houseWe decided that it was the work experience student who was helping with the planting earlier this year and that is why some beds are surrounded with silvery grey foliage and others are not.something-wrong-with-the-plantingLike the visitor from Peru, I cannot praise this¬†museum too highly – if you are in London, check it out!william-morris-galleryIn complete contrast to the sumptuousness of the V & A and the William Morris Gallery,¬†I paid a visit to¬†the Wellcome Institute to see their Bedlam exhibition.¬† I’ve been there several times before – it’s a most convenient gallery¬†to visit¬†if you have time spare while waiting for a train to leave King’s Cross railway station (just a little further up the Euston Road).¬† There is a fascinating permanent collection of medical curiosities from the past, and some most interesting modelling of modern problems like obesity.

But I was there to see an exhibition on Bedlam, the infamous London mental asylum founded in the 1700s.  Well Рthat was the starting point of the exhibition, but it continued to examine attitudes to mental health in the years up to the present, as well as focussing on art associated with mental health.

The exhibition was very crowded – lots of students making notes busily.¬† By chance I became separated from my friend. People swirling round me as I looked and looked for a familiar face in the crowd.¬† Suddenly, I realised how cleverly the exhibition was structured to give an impression of the helplessness of the inmates of an asylum.¬†A deeply thought-provoking exhibition.bedlam-exhibitionSuch a brief visit – lots of interest, company, catching up with family and dear friends. I have now¬†returned to the big skies of a very autumnal Northumberland …autumn-colours-in-the-gardenStill plenty to do in the garden …homely-choresThe¬†farmer and seagulls are busy too …big-skies-and-harrowingWorking long and late into the night …farmers-working-late-into-the-nightHow incongruously different Northumberland¬†seems from London!

Poppy paradise

Everybody in the northern hemisphere seems to be talking autumn Рand with good reason: the nights are drawing in, the garden looks shaggy, and it now consists mostly of seedheads interspersed with just a few bright sparks of colour.Seaview autumn gardenBut before we give into autumn gracefully (and yes, it is very tempting Рthere is so much about autumn that I love), I want to look back on the poppies we have grown at Seaview this summer because they have been Рas ever Рa delight.

When we came here in late 2010, there was no garden so we had to dig all the flowerbeds (you can read about our gardening travails here).¬† And that first summer, we filled the newly-dug flowerbeds with poppy and cornflower seeds.riotous explosion of poppy colourAn¬†explosive¬†riot of colour!first summer poppy colourComplemented with heady nights …magical moonlit nightsAnd strange days of misty beauty …misty poppy morningsSo those are the parent plants of the seedlings we have had all over our garden this summer.¬† Seedlings spilling out into the lane …escapee poppies in laneSome brave little souls here …seedling poppies in laneIn the compost heap …compost heapGrowing beside the garden benches …greenhouse bench and poppiesAnd through them …rogue poppies growing in benchThey’ve tried to take over the vegetable patch …selfseeded poppies in veg bedThere were so many poppy seedlings in the veg patch earlier this year that I dug them up and moved them to a communal part of our Seaview holdings.¬† There they have really blossomed.poppies in new bedEach year, we¬†add a couple of new packets of poppies.¬† Last year we sowed Ladybird poppy seeds, and they have seeded new generations.red cross poppiesThis year we added Papaver rhoeas “Mother of Pearl – not a lot of them grew, but those that did were a delight (for us as well as the hover flies).fancy poppy and insectsThere’s this ¬†gorgeous¬†red version too.different types of seedling poppiesHowever, it was definitely Papaver somniferum “Black Single” that stole the show this year.detail of black poppyWhat pleased me particularly was the¬†spectrum of colours these seeds produced.¬† Not just that heady purple-black, but softer dark pinks too.black and pinker poppiesSome frilled white centres, and some frilled black.black and pink poppiesAnd when their petals fell into the cat water, it turned a deep dark brown – perhaps worth doing some dye tests with this next year …black poppy waterI love the mix of colours, of varieties as the self-seeding takes over …poppies and bricksRosy pinks here …mid pink poppiesCandyfloss whites, edged with delicate pink …white and pink poppyYou never know how each poppy bud is going to develop … will it be fancy frilled …frilled red poppyOr just plain very¬†frilly indeed …frilly selfseeded poppies in compost heapA glorious mix of colours here!collection of seeded poppiesAnd just as we come to the end of the season, the poppies’ demise hastened by hot feisty winds …poppy petals in bird bathA¬†last few Californian poppies start to bloom.californian poppiesTime now to draw in, to make lists, and study seed catalogues: to make¬†plans for next year!

 

The gift of plants

We are back in the busy world of full-on gardening after what seems like a long, damp and difficult winter.  How blissful!

As I get busy in the garden again, spending long hours out in the wind and the sun Рweeding, planting and watering, РI seem to be re-acquainting myself with some very old friends indeed.  Why many of these are plants that have travelled with me from garden to garden, and a lot of them have been given to us by some of our dearest family and friends!

You see many of the plants that I grow in this Seaview garden are plants that I have grown in other places, at other times.¬† They are cuttings and rootings that I lovingly potted up and transplanted when we came here. There they sat, against the wall, in the wind and snow and cold of our first winter, waiting for us to start work on the garden in the spring.Arrival at SeaviewTake, for example, the alchemilla mollis (also known by its¬†very charming colloquial name of Lady’s Mantle)¬†– one of my very favourite cottage garden plants.¬† Here it is in our Northumbrian garden:Alchemilla mollisAnd here it is –¬†edging another path¬†– in the little Devon garden we used to have.Alchemilla mollis in DevonIn our Seaview garden, the wild pink geranium is¬†just about¬†flowering.pink geraniumThe white valerian is now out.white valerianThose too flourished in our Devon garden (the valerian on the right, and the geranium on the left).Devon gardenHere in Northumberland, the¬†Lamb’s Ear plants¬†are¬†doing well¬†– they particularly love our seaside climate.Lambs tails 2As well as the small garden of our terraced Crediton home, we also looked after the garden of the nearby mediaeval chapel of St Lawrence.¬† There are the parent plants of¬†our Seaview¬†Lamb’s Ear plants¬†(as well as lots more Alchemilla).¬† On the very far right of this picture, you can see a glimpse of the rose we planted when Stephen and I married here (alas, I have lost its name – such a pity).¬†St Lawrence pathHere is the cutting of that self-same rose, blooming in our garden at Seaview. (Bit of a cheat this picture because it is heavily in bud right now, but not actually in bloom, so I have borrowed a pic from last year to show you this beautiful rose.)St Lawrence roseAll these plants reminding me of other gardens, other places, other times that I have enjoyed.

In addition there are a whole host of other plants that have come from friends and family.¬† There’s a purple houseplant that was given to Stephen as a¬†cutting some 30 years ago. Such an amazing colour.purple houseplantThis gorgeous pot of marigolds grew from a handful of seeds I picked in my cousin Polly’s garden last summer.¬† They have been a constant delight, remarkably flowering in this pot right through the autumn, winter and spring.Polly's marigoldsIs is a family thing, I wonder, this wish to pass on plants from family gardens? Polly’s lovely Cambridge garden had its own tally of traveling plants.¬† This fine yew tree grew from a cutting her father took in his Somerset garden.Somerton yewAnd here is the Ancestral Box, no less!¬† Her American mother, brought it back as a cutting from her ancestors’ lands in Virginia.Virginia boxOf course, passing on¬†plants is an economy too.¬† A kind Devon friend gave me 6 raspberry runners from his garden when we first moved here.¬† We were so cash-strapped, and so grateful!¬†We discovered that raspberries¬†grew so well here that I supplemented our raspberry bed with other varieties.Raspberry plantsMy Aunty Jilly in nearby Edinburgh has been so very generous with seeds, roots, and cuttings from her garden.¬† There’s a Holly seedling from her garden in this bed, those elegant tall cream flowers in the centre of the picture also came from her garden (don’t know their name – can anybody help me out?), as did the Centaurea in the bottom left of the picture (not yet in flower).Plant from Aunty JillyWe pass plants back to her too.¬† Here are the sweet pea pots we have prepared as a gift for my aunt’s 90th birthday next month!sweet pea potsPlants have come here as birthday presents too.¬† Our apple tree was just such a gift to me from my parents.Apple tree giftThere are certain plants in my garden that give me particular pleasure because they have such strong associations with my late father. He loved to grow these little yellow Welsh poppies which have snuck into their courtyard garden at Wells in Somerset.Welsh poppies at Wells homeI grew them in our Crediton garden in Devon.Welsh poppies in DevonAnd I am so delighted that they are beginning to self-seed here too.¬† Many would call them weeds, but I love them and encourage them to grow, especially on the edges of plants and walls, where the soil is dry and poor (just what my father used to do).Welsh poppiesI come from a family of enthusiastic gardeners, but it is my father’s gardening choices that have influenced me most.¬† Morning glory, cosmos, sunflowers – these are all plants we have grown/try to grow/ would like to grow, and all plants he grew most successfully.

He also grew geraniums.¬† There were always pots of geraniums in the summer months at the front door of my parents’ houses.¬† Here we are outside our Farningham home in 1978 with my American cousins.¬† Amid the geraniums.geraniums at Farningham front doorLater, they moved to Budleigh Salterton, and again, here we are – this time in 1987 –¬†beside the geraniums!geraniums at Budleigh front doorThere were geraniums too in the conservatory of their house at Wells.geraniums in Wells conservatoryNo prizes for guessing that what flourishes most beautifully and strikingly – and preciously¬† to me – in the conservatory of our Seaview home are geraniums.¬† Preferably scarlet or hot fuchsia.conservatory geraniumsWhen it came to his funeral last year, it was natural to make a posy of geraniums to sit on his coffin. The dark-leaved geranium is one I particularly remember him growing.geraniums for RHE's coffinJust as I was mulling over my ideas for this blogpost, what was to arrive from Rebecca in Melbourne but a little bit of Australian sunshine – a¬†packet of her sunflower seeds! ¬†Do you remember her writing about packaging sunflower seeds in her Needle and Spindle blog?¬† How extraordinarily opportune that they should arrive¬†so perfectly to illustrate my own blog on the pleasure of gifted plants!¬† Thank you so very much, Rebecca!Sunflower seeds from Australia