I’ve been muttering about a pond for some while (several years in fact) but I do not know why this summer was the summer when we actually started to make one …The first sod was dug in May – when the summer was ahead of us and the weather full of promise …It grew impressively quickly – but was hard work …Local walks brought treasures for the one-day-to-be-completed pond …The tadpoles were given a temporary home in cooler surroundings until the pond was ready for them …Meanwhile with the relaxation of the covid rules, Visitors arrived! A blessing in itself after all these many months of bans on travel and visiting, but perfectly timed to help with the pond too! It was all hands on deck …Elias proved to be a master digger!Felix was not to be outdone by his father’s prowess and joined in heroically …Soon we had a lovely dry pond …And Eggy loved it!Sunning herself on the side …And rolling appreciatively – and worse! – in the lovely muddy area which surely we’d prepared specially for her …?While Eggy was showing her appreciation in the way only a cat can, elaborate works were taking place to shore up the crumbling earth walls …And edge the pond with a level brick surround …Stephen spent long hot hours working on this. Ilsa – as you can see – scarpered when hard work was mentioned …Meanwhile more Visitors arrived. Here are Stephen and Lorna deep in pond party consultation …Finally it was time to prepare the pond for water. First some manky old carpets collected from local skips were laid on the base (to protect the expensive butyl liner from sharp stones) …Then the felt pond liner and final butyl liner were unwrapped …… And laid in the pond. Time to start filling the pond!Result! Here’s the butyl liner trimmed and held in place by more bricks and water …The next step was to acquire plants. Norjan Pond Aquatics of nearby Coldstream supplied us with some fine healthy native plants: Water Mint, Yellow Flag Iris, Giant Kingclip, Cypress Sedge, Hornwort and Milfoil. Just enough to get started …The June pond filled with water and planted up called for a celebration …We got seating! – even if the cats were a bit contrary when sitting on it …And the tadpoles moved into their forever home. Alas, it didn’t prove to be so for long …Because – to our intense excitement – the tadpoles turned into a frog. I say “a” frog because only one – or possible two – were ever sighted …So thrilling! You’d think we’d have learned many years ago at school that tadpoles turn into frogs …But the frog(s) and tadpoles just disappeared. It might be because of the birds. Or it might be because of Ilsa – who just loved the pond from the word go ..And spent hours studying it …Meanwhile the pond was acquiring an elegant edging from stones that we’d picked up in the locality …The completed stone edging looking so very “right” for this place …Visitors Jam and Nina arrived to admire the pond … But – oh, dear, Ilsa was nearly late for this party – just look at that wait-for-me tail!The grass seeded into the cracks round the stones began to grow – together with a few little Ajuga Reptans …And had to be carefully cut by hand …We watched the pond change as the seasons too changed. In June – as the wheat crop started to turn to gold – we caught the full moon …Come August those fields were seriously gold when Helen and Felix returned for another visit …Sunshine and shadows and colours of the plants and fields were strikingly beautiful …Hot hot colours in the ploughed field caught in September’s evening light …The gift of warm September days found me taking my breakfast by the pond …And when I wasn’t there, the cats were …Ilsa regularly drank there …Come the autumn Eggy finally made her peace with the pond. It had taken her several months to get over the loss of her beloved “dry” pond, and she approached warily, if at all. But one fine October day, I found her sitting in tranquil meditation, studying her reflection …She was taking an interest in the pond chores too. We had learned that ponds aren’t just pleasure – they require constant maintenance. Like removing the algae. A near-daily challenge …As I write in mid-October we are in the garden less but that doesn’t mean the pond parties have stopped. Oh no – just that there are other guests. Often pigeons …And delightfully, hordes of little sparrows. They’re too shy to be photographed close up, so I had to take this picture through the conservatory window. The pigeons are there, yes, and a crowd of sparrows on the lawn too. But there are also wee birds pecking and rooting around in the pond. Sometimes they bathe, sometimes they paddle – and sometimes they just drop by for a drink …The pond is still magical on darker early evening nights …And dawn from the pond (which we only see over the winter months) is promising to provide more stunners like this …We’d never planned for pond parties, but what an abiding joy they’ve proved to be. Long may they continue!
Last October a small article in our local paper (the Berwick Advertiser) about nearby Kyloe Camp caught my eye. An Iron Age promontory fort nearby – hmm – that sounds worth exploring …So explore it we did – we’ve been three times now, and we will go again and again because it is a beautiful and fascinating place.
Our first trip was in November last year. A beautiful crisp day. We weren’t initially sure how to approach this walk – after all Kyloe Woods is quite a large plantation – nor were we at all sure of what we were going to find, apart from – hopefully – Kyloe Camp on the promontory.
We found much much more than we expected – and many paths in and around the woods. But the Kyloe Woods are privately owned by Scottish Woodlands, and not all paths are open to the general public …This is the entrance on the western side of Kyloe Woods and the signage makes ownership and access clear. Scottish Woodlands have large machinery operating here at times and are understandably anxious not to find walkers ambling round in their way …So we settled on approaching from the north-east, following part of the route of St Cuthbert’s way. We parked near Fenwick Wood and headed down the the way-marked route …Walking along the initial approaches to Kyloe woods last November, we noticed the markings on the trees growing out of the old wall …When we walked there earlier in the week, Scottish Woodlands gave us clear warning …… they had been working on those marked trees …Leaving the old stone wall clearly exposed …All credit to Scottish Woodlands who made the muddy route very clear once we entered the woods … And indeed it was very very muddy amid the evidence of heavy machinery working …As I followed Stephen up and on into the forest …But it pretty soon became exciting as we met the Leylandii, massive in their natural habitat …Followed by enormous firs …Entered dense bowers …The path carpeted with beech leaves …Then the trees began to open out …The signage continued to be very good – very clear and very welcoming …Then we caught a first glimpse of Bogle Houses …Bogle Houses sits on the roadway crossing the woods. They are so named after the local bogeyman …But all boarded up now they are really more sad than haunted …Our track continued over the road …Up the hill …Lots of little seedling trees in the undergrowth …And the trees were getting taller and taller …Or else Stephen was shrinking …Suddenly we noticed the monkey puzzle trees …Then they were all around us …And it was terribly exciting – this is so far from what we expected from today’s walk …Turning round, we got our first glimpse of the sea through the monkey puzzles …We were in a bracken clearing …But – we hadn’t reached the top yet. Ahead of us the path stretched on to a little gate (which we explored later) …And above us – through the bracken – was the fort – presumably …It’s very hard to show the fort in photographs from ground level amid bracken, but you perhaps can get some idea here of the ramparts lying under that bracken …
The curious thing about the site of the fort is that it has been divided – part of it lies in Kyloe Woods, and part of it in the farmer’s fields through the little gate. So back to that little gate …Passing through it and looking back at the wall running through the promontory … And – stepping further away …We explored the mound – nothing obvious for us to see …But the views would have been commanding, both out to sea …And over the land up to Scotland …Back inside Kyloe Woods there was still plenty to explore – up the hill we went only to find something else we hadn’t expected at all – the top of the hill stops abruptly with the steepest of steep drops. Way, way down there is the road running through the woods …On our December trip to the woods, we walked along this road ourselves so I can show you the view of the cliffs from the bottom …This rock formation is known as a cuesta – “a hill or ridge with a gentle slope on one side, and a steep slope on the other”. And there are other examples of it around Kyloe Camp. These cliffs are where the great North-eastern Whin Sill is intrusive into the Fell Sandstones of the locality …What we were later to learn through internet research is that certain cliffs in Kyloe Woods are renowned for their bouldering challenge …
But we were still a-top on our walk, enjoying the views right over to Lindisfarne … Picknicking …And the Araucarias! They are more commonly known as Monkey Puzzle Trees, and are native to many other parts of the world but not Northumberland. However, they do like exposed situations, and here, at the top of the Kyloe Hills, must be perfect for them. Apparently, there are well over 100 of them growing here.
We sat in a sort of ring of Araucarias as they crown and surround the top of the iron age hill fort of Kyloe Camp. A most surreal combination of geographies and histories …They are such beautiful trees – those long curving branches (very prickly!) …With their beautiful bright green tips and rosettes …This is our favourite tree on the site. From its collapsed trunk has grown the most elegant of shapes …Finally time to leave, a little sadly perhaps – but, my goodness, the trees were as magnificent on descent as when we walked up through them …Back home to research this extraordinary plantation. Apparently these trees were planted by Christopher John Leyland of nearby Haggerston Castle in the early twentieth century …Christopher Leyland (formerly Naylor) inherited the estate of Haggerston from his uncle in 1891 and with great enthusiasm (and huge expense) rebuilt the estate, establishing fabulous buildings, gardens – and a small zoo!
He was an enthusiastic silviculturist, and had brought with him from his family home of Leighton Hall in Powys several small seedlings – one of which he named Haggerston Grey. And it is this seedling, later renamed Cupressus x leylandii (but commonly known now as Leylandii) that he nurtured and planted abundantly on his Kyloe hill estate – along with grand firs, sequoias and araucarias. What vision!
In recent years Leylandii have acquired a bad name for themselves – but this is because they have been planted in wildly unsuitable urban locations, giving no room for this fast-growing tree to expand as it requires …In the spacious surroundings of the Kyloe hills, it is a beautiful happy tree … Christopher Leyland died in 1926 and the Haggerston Castle estate was sold by Leyland’s son in 1931…The castle grounds are now Haggerston Castle Holiday Park . Leyland’s water tower and rotunda (both grade II listed) remain to remind us of the magnificence that once was Haggerston Castle …But I suspect Christopher Leyland would be happier to think his memorial was in the glories of nearby Kyloe Woods …
Well, the banner pic really says it all – it is glorious as ever at our Seaview home, even in these Lockdown times. How very lucky we are.
We continue to potter round in our garden with the help of our funny feline friends, Eggy and Ilsa …Who are eager to help with almost everything …Especially anything wheelbarrow …And of course the planting out of sweet-pea seedlings …In the greenhouse there has been sowing and growing of seeds …Which has necessitated some energetic digging to prepare veg beds for the new seedlings …Stephen has got the once-weekly shop down to a fine art, no longer arriving to find a long queue …Being second in the queue is much more manageable …We celebrated Easter with tradition. I found this enchanting tablecloth in a local second hand shop, and it is my special Easter treat. I don’t allow it to be used for long less somebody spill something on it … And I have been busy making Face Masks for family and friends …I was given this fabulous butterfly fabric by an internet friend, and thought it just right for a Face Mask – but on second thoughts, perhaps it’s a little too extreme Silence of the Lambs for me … I’ve sent it to my daughter in London and she loves it …Still making more …We have the local beach in Spittal almost to ourselves …As the car parks are closed off …But very best of all are our weekly walks along the sea cliffs to the limekilns on Cocklawburn beach …On some trips the weather has been just a little challenging ..Especially if – like me – you wear glasses …But, even in the damp sea mist, Cocklawburn is very very lovely …No problems with social distancing here! Just the odd ghost train …Cattle huddled together …Most of our trips to Cocklawburn are more promising …The sea cliffs along the way are at their very best right now, sprinkled with tiny primroses and heavily scented with gorse …You can barely make out that powdering of primroses as you look down to the sea …But if you climb down a bit, why – that’s heaven on a plate! Primroses interspersed with violets …The cattle are a lot more friendly these days …We were amused to see on our return walk that this nursery encourages a post-prandial nap for the young!There is so much of fascination on this beach – never a dull moment. Sometimes visitors leave their own marks …Sometimes there are sad reminders of the harsh world outside …Always there are miracles in the sand like these beautiful ephemeral sandtrees …Often we find Cuddy Bead (those little circular crinoid fossils) treasure …And there is ancient as well as relatively modern history at the limekilns sitting above the prehistoric stone formations …An occasion for a birthday drink (we walked down here on Stephen’s birthday) before setting home … More likely a drink to the end of Lockdown …Like most of you, we miss our friends and family so very much, and the hardship and sadness of this difficult time is creeping ever closer to our Seaview sanctuary with loss and separation. Beautiful it may be, but the heart can be very heavy. Stay safe.
I guess I should be honest … I’m really writing a gardening blog because – on a cold winter’s day – I badly need to remind myself how lovely summer can be in the Northern Hemisphere … Not that our garden has always been as it appears above … We moved to an unkempt wilderness, and, since we neither of us had any previous experience of coastal gardening, we turned to the authorities …
I treated myself to a copy of Mrs. Bardswell’s book on Sea-coast Gardens and Gardening …Her references made me laugh! Lady Battersea’s Overstrand garden is really rather grander than is relevant to our little Northumbrian coastal cottage garden.
… Salt airs stir leaves in broad plantations, red and white Roses stud smooth lawns, Lilies flower happily in the half-shade of trees, and pond-flowers are blooming in sylvan lake and pool. …
But she did make valuable points, among them the importance of plant protection from the prevailing winds.
Success in sea-coast gardening is really a question of shelter. That must never be forgotten. If natural shelter be lacking, however, it is not difficult to build it up.
My elderly copy of Scotts Nurseries catalogue (veritably a gardening bible!) says much the same …
Once a hedge is established to keep out, or even filter, the drying salt-laden sea-winds many tender plants will flourish in our equable coastal climate …
Perhaps the most touching (and expert) advice came from my Aunty Jilly, here enjoying her lovely Edinburgh garden …These are her recommendations for planting for shelter … (somewhat disconcertingly she refers to First and Second Line of Defence as though preparing for a military siege) …So we did indeed plant for shelter – but from the prevailing and often boisterous westerly winds … hollies (variegated for effect), sea-buckthorn, rosa rugosa, ribes …Making a solid protective border of shrubs which the birds and smaller plants love … On the coastal side – looking south-east to the sea – we actually removed the existing defences … taking down the five foot fence so that we could see the sea …Sometimes we pay the price for this folly – as when vicious easterlies sweep in and burn … Just look at the bottom of those raspberry plants … But we can see the sea!We also got advice and inspiration from another source. A local garden, designed by the wonderful Gertrude Jekyll …Lindisfarne Castle is just over the sea from us – it’s that bump on the horizon, glimpsed here in the soft glow of the evening light …In 1906 Gertrude Jekyll stayed at Lindisfarne Castle a couple of times while the architect, Edwin Lutyens, was also there. Lutyens had been commissioned to renovate the Castle by its owner, Edward Hudson. It was Hudson’s idea to turn the old walled vegetable garden into a tennis and croquet lawn and develop the valley between it and the Castle into a pretty water garden. In the event the pretty water garden never materialised – and the old vegetable garden became the Castle Garden where gardening wizard Jekyll worked her magic … We first visited the garden in the winter, so what struck us were the bones of the structure …Even in the winter it was clear that stachys lanata (aka lamb’s-ear) was the plant to grow in this locality … It does indeed flourish very happily in our garden. I think I’d go as far to say that it is one of the most contented of our plants … self-seeding happily … And that splash of silver sets off the other plants so well …Last summer we visited the garden for the first time in the summer months – July. Normally we avoid the Castle and Garden at that time of the year as it is so busy.
It was indeed busy when we visited. But it was worth it. And somehow the Garden felt very comfortable with all this busyness – perhaps because it is so fabulously beautiful and everybody was enjoying it so gently.
This is the view looking from the Garden back to the Castle – presumably the area where Hudson wanted his water garden …And if you angle your head a little bit more to the right you can see the mainland over the sea …Great swathes of colour everywhere …But the structure still strong and clear …Masses of sweetpeas …A bench from which to admire the view …Is it folly to take you now from this wonderful wonderful garden to our little patch of Northumbrian heaven to show you what we learned from Gertrude Jekyll … ?! Probably, but I’m going to risk it.
We don’t actually grow that many of the same plants as Jekyll and following gardeners have planted in the Lindisfarne garden. Sweet peas, yes, we do grow them, and they flourish very happily …
Sunflowers can be found both in Jekyll’s garden and ours … Undoubtedly the strength of our garden lies in the poppies which flourish all summer thanks to repeat sowings. They do grow poppies in the Lindisfarne Castle Garden (look behind that bench above) but not in the numbers that we do … Ours are not exclusively red … The other striking feature in Jekyll’s garden is that she’s not afraid of colour – great splashes of it! Nor are there coy toning colours. Just glorious perhaps vulgar-in-some-eyes colour …We aren’t afraid of colour either. Look at the strident yellow here: the broom echoing the local farmer’s rape field behind the fence …I think Jekyll would approve of the riot of spring colour provided by the wallflowers … And a little later in the year … lilies, alchemilla mollis, pinks, calendula … (and the ubiquitous poppies) … in vibrant clashing glory … Later in the year too when the crocosmia and loosestrife clash comfortably before the harvested field … In my opinion the most important thing for a seaside seaview garden is a good bench …And I’d like to think that Gertrude Jekyll would agree …
Yes, you may well wonder where I am going with this blogpost ….
I confess to having become fascinated by walls since we moved up to the north-east of England …
It’s all down to building materials, of course. When we lived in Mid-Devon, there was very little of the local sandstone, and what there was available was used for important and expensive buildings like the little St Lawrence Chapel which we looked after for Crediton parish church.Our own house (round the corner) and Victorian had nice brick garden walls in the garden itself …But once you ventured down the track behind the houses that the coal delivery man would have used, you were back to the older cheaper local stuff – cob. Cob is made up of anything to hand – mostly dung, mud and straw. It’s very vulnerable to the elements. To protect the wall, it was preferably built on a small stone base, and roofed with slates – both of which you can see in this picture. What you can also see in the picture is the render – that’s the modern casual way to repair a cob wall …I might once have been inclined to say there is no finer sight than a good cob wall (as you can see here on the shed wall at our B&B in Woolfardisworthy last damp summer) …Until I came to live in Northumberland where there is stone! Beautiful stone! Our own cottage (a converted steading) shows this particularly to perfection in the light of the rising sun a couple of days ago. This is sandstone, abundantly and gloriously available here …And everywhere there are fine stone walls (sometimes with the odd little whimsical brick) …Which we took for granted until we saw where a local farmer had driven casually through a stone wall so as to deposit the manure from the barn in an inaccessible field …Elsewhere we saw how a collapsed wall had been – well, err, left collapsed …
Time takes me in mouthfuls; the teeth of the frost bit into my body here; here my mortar crumbles; the wind rubs salt into every wound (says the poet, Kevin Crossley-Holland.) Yes, that’s just exactly what happens to the walls near the sea round here …Eventually the stones were cleared away leaving the bank alarmingly vulnerable …Walking up to Edin’s Hall Broch in the nearby Scottish Borders, we noted the irony of collapsed walls left to deteriorate and be replaced by barbed wire fencing … While the much more ancient stone walls of Edin’s Hall Broch itself were still standing well …Once we started looking at walls with these eyes, we saw a great deal that was both impressive and beautiful – and quite a lot that was sad. You cannot but be struck by the beauty of the wallflowers growing in the walls on Lindisfarne …Nor the mossy walls we found when on holiday near Lochgoilhead. I am overgrown with insidious ivy …And – oh my goodness – how I love to see the willowherb growing in the walls along the East-Coast railway line …But these are the beginnings of damage. A young shoot breaking through the wall …Puts down strong roots …Without doubt a broken wall is an evocative sight, adding strongly to this picture of desolation and damp and mist in Scotland. I am a desolate wall, accumulator of lichen …But a broken wall isn’t just picturesque – it can be downright dangerous. This is the wall separating the East-Coast Railway line from our local footpath – now, just think of the speed those trains travel! Why a hop, skip and a jump and I’d be over. I am unrepaired; men neglect me at their own risk …I was intrigued to see the anatomy of a good wall laid so clearly bare when walking on Lindisfarne recently …You can be sure that this hole (also on Holy Island) will be repaired properly. (I have to admit to being fascinated by this hole – what on earth caused it? It’s very rare for a well-built wall to collapse like this. I can only think a car drove into it.)Once – just once – we happened upon somebody repairing a wall (up near St Abbs). This man deserves every accolade because it was a miserable day to be out working … After all, there is so much in a good wall to admire – and intrigue. Can you see the faint line of stones in the centre of the wall sloping down to the left? I can’t explain this …Sometimes falling render reveals old secrets, little unsuspected doorways …And even unconcealed doors in walls have a special lure …This door is set in the wall which surrounds the local Paxton estate …And walls of that size are in themselves a source of wonder – all that labour! We had to stop and admire the colour of the worn sandstone …At one point there must have been a rather fine entrance here. Just look at that worked stone at the top of the wall on the left!Repairs vary – the best are surprisingly successful (aesthetically as well practically). Just like this large brick patch …Even painted walls have their beauty too. Every lump and bump is enhanced …And what a wall can do for a garden! This is Priorwood, in Melrose. These gardens nestle under the more famous Abbey, and my photo on a dull day doesn’t really do justice to them. But they are wonderful – and this large backdrop of a wall frames them perfectly …Then I found myself in London, walking round Walthamstow, with walls on my mind. Oh, the variety of these little walls! All the houses have similar mouldings, porticos and bay windows – but the front walls!Just look at the creativity here!And here!So much personality expressed in just a little suburban wall!You’d think I’d have had my fill by now, but an unexpected birthday present last year opened my eyes to yet another aspect of walls – political walls … This is a fascinating book – I had no idea that so many countries had built – and were building – walls. My business is to divide things, my duty to protect. It’s shocking – but I’m not going to dwell on it right now …I’m coming back to where I started – our home, and the walls around us. Because right there – on the boundary between our gardens and the next door farm – are some fascinating remnants of when this farm was a grander affair – coping stones. There are only a few odd ones left now, and when these buildings were converted, they were shoved higgledy-piggledy amid whatever stone the builders could find. Not very elegant, but a powerful reminder of what labour used to be. These coping stones are rounded and would have been worked with the simplest of tools. Makes you think …My business is to divide things: the green ribbons Of grass from the streams of macadam …
All quotes from Kevin Crossley-Holland’s poem, The Wall.
I have been busy, busy, busy out in the garden over the last month, seizing every available wind-free moment to get out and tidy up. As I’m a fair weather gardener (preferring not to be out when gusting westerlies are blasting around) that limits the available time somewhat.
Part of the drive to get on with the garden has been the need for pots! You see, we garden increasingly in pots, and over the last month the impetus has been to get the summer plants out and the bulbs in.
Let me take you through our gardening year and show you how we are increasingly becoming a (potty?) potted garden …
The first spring flowers – always a great lift – are in the pots on our patio. These are February’s Iris Reticulata from a couple of years back. The plants here flower first because the patio faces south and is the most protected part of our garden, sheltered from all winds except the extreme (and very nasty) easterlies …Hard on their heels are daffodils, tulips, narcissi and forget-me-nots …Then – come April and May – we start serious potting. The bulbs are all turfed out (to be replaced with fresh next year) and we pot up sweet peas (you can see them staked against the wall) and seeds …Seeds, seeds and more seeds …We grow poppies, cosmos, dahlias, nicotiana, nigella etc etc – all in pots. Early in the spring we have to accommodate these seedling pots and they find homes all around the garden. Here they are beside the raised veg beds …Meanwhile the main flower bed is looking just gorgeous with the plants that are growing in these little beds …The trouble is that these flower beds are just crammed with spring goodness, and there’s not much space for later flowering plants …Come mid-June we got an evil vicious blast of easterly wind, and this is what it did to the pot beside our front door! One of the reasons we grow plants in pots is so that we can move them at such times, but alas, this one’s just too big to move …It also caught the bottom of the raspberry plants, but luckily the other pots are protected by the raised beds … Everything recovered of course, and in early July the pots took on a life of their own – bursting with growth, full of promise …The patio beds were really flourishing now – and so were the pots around and about. Hard to tell which is which …The sweet peas we potted up earlier were doing very well in their protected spots beside the bench …There was a feeling of abundance and leisure about the place …The biggest problem with growing so much in pots is told in this picture which I rather think was taken with Ilsa in mind. But it’s the backstory that’s really important here – yes, the hose. All that constant watering! And this year – with hot hot days for so very long – called for more watering than usual …But while all is glorious around the patio, these little beds by the fence look tired and weary. It is now that the pots come into their own. Spread around in the flower beds, they don’t add much yet, but just wait – they will!In the pots round the patio we had some rather stunning black poppies in flower, and they demonstrate so well why we grow so many seeds in pots. These seedlings need nurturing – sown in the flower beds they are often lost, eaten by snails, or just buried by other more dominant plants …Black poppies lose those sultry black petals all too easily, but when the plants are grown in pots we can easily take them in when strong winds are forecast …Come mid-August the pots in the flower beds are beginning to prove their worth with fabulous blasts of colour … This pot of mixed cosmos and poppy plants is my favourite …Look at the light on the sea behind these pots of poppies and nicotiana!This September the landscape was dominated by the rich brown of the ploughed field. The hot hot summer had pushed everything ahead. Normally our view would be of golden fields for some time into September, but this year they are long gone. With this view the pots are only just holding their own …The Dahlias still look striking against the blustery sky …Happy gardening days for our little family! (this was before Ilsa’s attack that I wrote of in my last blog) What were Stephen and Ilsa talking about?!!And on the patio the sweet peas pots are still doing very well though everything else is looking a little lack-lustre …But come October it’s all change again – time to empty pots and plant up veg seedlings to overwinter in the greenhouse! These are spinach, lettuce and salad greens. They won’t produce a great deal, but it’s still nice to be able to pick some fresh salad veg over the winter …And the other pots? Well, they’re all sorted, emptied and tidied away – the glorious summer flowers consigned to the compost heap.
New spring bulbs have been planted, and here are the pots today, 24th November, – still a few lingering calendula and nasturtium flowers, but those pots at the back which look so dormant are – well exactly that!Watch this space come spring!
Cats and birds
Alas, our sweet little kits have turned into ruthless killers …When Eggy and Ilsa arrived here some two years ago, they were completely unused to country ways – and pretty useless at birding. They didn’t quite get the concept of self-concealment …But, with practice, they got better at it …Our old cat, Poe, had never been very interesting in birding – she was a serious mouser, and would go out in all weathers …Bringing back special mouse gifts …When Eggy and Ilsa arrived, she even gave a masterclass in the catching of small furry animals. I think this was the first time Ilsa (on the right) had ever seen a shrew, and she was absolutely fascinated …And Eggy and Ilsa learned to become dedicated mousers, proudly …leaving appreciative gifts …And tackling their mousing with enthusiasm, even in tight corners …Because Poe had shown such lack of interest in the birds, we’d always felt free to put food on the path as well as the hanging feeders on the house wall. This meant we got a range of birds into the garden who could only feed at ground level. Through winter …spring …and summer …we continued to feed the birds on the ground. Eggy and Ilsa watched from various vantage points. Upstairs windows …And the conservatory offered particularly good view points …But alas, last year they shocked us out of our naïveté, making us realise how stupid we were to think they were too slow and silly to catch birds. They brought in a beautiful song thrush. We managed to get it away from them, and set it loose in a safe place, only to come upon it dead later on.We were deeply upset – particularly (and irrationally I admit) because it was such a beautiful bird. We’d seen it feeding on the path, and had taken great pleasure in its presence in our garden.
So Eggy and Ilsa got collars with bells on them – and not just standard bell-collars. I added extra bells. They were very good about them, submitting to having them put on every morning before they went out. And – by and large – the bells worked.Eggy and Ilsa seemed content to get their kicks from bird tv …So this spring we expected to do the same. But, of course, it’s been horrible weather, what with the Beast from the East and its vicious relatives. The cottage has been truly snowed under …And some days it was nigh impossible to even see out …The cats really didn’t want to go out at all …And we were able to feed the birds lavishly – after all never had they needed food the more than in these horrible recent snows …We could tell from the footprints that we were hosting a great company – and some rather large birds …During all this cold and wintry period, we were delighted to have a family of four yellowhammers visiting us regularly – we’d never had yellowhammers here before, but how pleasing that we were to be able to sustain them through this harsh spring … (this photo below actually taken in the sun on Easter Day) …But one day, we came back from a long day out in Edinburgh to find this horribly unwanted gift. Aaaagh – such a little beauty, such a loss, especially as we know that yellowhammers are on the RSPB Red list of dangerously declining populations …Time to face the facts: our little cats are actually very clever killers – that is what they are programmed to be, and we were being very stupid in ignoring it. Just look at Eggy hiding in wait for birds to feed on the path …Can’t see her? Well, come along the path with me, and you can see how perfectly she is placed to pounce on any unwitting bird …So we’ve put planks in place to make it harder for the cats to spring onto the path …And we’ve moved the bird food, no longer spreading it on the path, but rather along the edge of the flower bed, which with a small shrubbery nearby is much more in the birds’ natural comfort zone anyhow …These are very poor pictures, taken on a miserably cold Easter Monday through upstairs windows, when snow and sleet were tipping down, but there are our little yellowhammers feasting away in their new feeding ground. If you enlarge the pics you will be able to see how many of these little birds there are. The young are far less yellow than the parent birds …The amazing thing is that in the few nice days midweek, the yellowhammers started to appear in abundance in our garden …At one time we counted 17 yellowhammers feeding there!Could it be, could it just be, that during that first vicious attack from the Beast from the East, when we’d just noticed the yellowhammer presence in our garden, they were nesting in the locality, and it is those young we are seeing in the garden now? I haven’t yet been able to find out dates for yellowhammer first spring nests, so I just don’t know.
So, wish us luck – it isn’t easy accommodating cats and birds, and nurturing both. We now shut the cats in when we go off on long days out – they don’t like it at all, but if it will help keep a few more of our little yellowhammers alive, it’s definitely worth it!
A final garden fling
It’s a strange time of year, no doubt about it. So many signs of summer lingering and not really proper autumn …
Over the last few weeks, we’ve had days when the garden bench is still inviting …When it is good to sit and smile at the sun …Or find a quiet sunny spot for a bit of punch-card preparation …The cats are still in playful summer mode …There is still plenty of colour to be enjoyed …Still flashes of intense green …Lots of red fruits and red flowers …The rose is having a wonderful second flowering …And there are still butterflies about, enjoying the flowers …The sweet peas continue to amaze …! why only yesterday I picked a bunch as good as this!So I’m still deadheading like mad …But the shadows are long …And I’m beginning to clear up and cut back …The compost heap is filling up. The compost on the right will be going out on the flower beds soon (when I’ve hardened my heart and uprooted that fine poppy).Our big beds show well the mix of the seasons: summer flowers jostle next to autumnal seedheads …There are days of weird and beautiful light …Sparkling sunny days …But we’re starting to get proper misty-moisty days as well …Which throws everything into a strange new perspective …Not that a bit of mist could dim the glorious oranges here …I love the fabulous new silhouettes the misty garden is throwing up …Spiders’ webs everywhere!But we’ve had the first of the autumnal gales blowing the pots around …Some days it’s better to be inside …Where we are putting on extra layers of cardigan …Time to put away the summer duvet cover …And get out the quilt …Or perhaps Stephen’s knitted blanket … ?Yes, I think Ilsa prefers the blanket!And over these last couple of weeks, the fields have changed from brown, brown, brown …To green again!Weird and wonderful …
I was in London for a very brief visit at the beginning of the week, planning to meet up with my Instagram friend, the artist Louise Cattrell. We have a shared love and interest in gardens, so when I read that there was a exhibition at the Garden Museum called Tradescant’s Orchard: A Celebration of Botanical Art, it sounded just perfect for us.
We’d both visited the Museum before in the days when it was the Museum of Garden History. I can’t quite remember when I visited – perhaps in the 1980s? – but I have very strong memories of a small dark and damp church completely dominated by the noise of the traffic swirling round the neighbouring Lambeth Bridge junction.
The Garden Museum is right next door to Lambeth Palace, on the southern embankment of the river Thames.In a former life this was the Church of St Mary-at-Lambeth. There were all sorts of ups and downs from the foundation of a church here in the days before the Norman Conquest, but by the 1970s the building was damp and damaged, no longer with a viable congregation thanks to London population shifts, and on the table for redundancy, and possible demolition.
However, this little church had a particular distinction which drew visitors, and among them its saviour, Rosemary Nicholson: it housed some very distinguished graves. There was the fine tomb of Admiral William Bligh, now a feature of the Sackler Garden.And more pertinent to our story, there was the even finer Tradescant family tomb, also in the central Sackler Garden.The Tradescants were a remarkable family of gardeners, travellers and plant-hunters. John Tradescant the elder (c.1570 – 1683) came from humble Suffolk beginnings to be head gardener to Charles I – and on the way did some remarkable plant-hunting which took him to the Netherlands, Russia and Algeria.His son, also John Tradescant (1608-1662), travelled to North America for his plant-hunting.They grew the plants they brought back with them in the gardens of their Lambeth house (here shown it as it was in 1798, much later than when they were living there).This wonderful tomb (Grade II listed!) was commissioned by the wife of the younger John Tradescant after his death to show the wonders of their travels. Now where, I wonder, did he see a multi-headed Hydra!! Methinks, the younger Mr Tradescant may have come home and over-exaggerated his travels a wee bit! Nevermind, it is truly a wonderful tomb (though not the original – it’s a nineteenth century copy, presumably because the original was so worn and damaged).Rosemary Nicholson visited in the 1970s to see the Tradescant tomb and was shocked at the state of the church. This prompted her to set up the Tradescant Trust, dedicated to care for this little church. As indeed it has very well – culminating with a major lottery-funded restoration which was only completed earlier this summer. Now the church that I remember as dark and dank is light and airy and inviting.That which is left of the old church (like the small piece of tracery, below right) sits so well in the new space.Stairs lead to an upper story where most of the museum collection is displayed.All sorts of treasures here – lawn mowers, garden tools, curiosities like this Ancient Order of Free Gardeners regalia …But my eye was caught particularly by the cat-scarer, lurking behind the glass plant-protectors. Why it’s not unlike our very effective little Eggy!Pictures too. This painting, In the greenhouse, c 1930, by David Thomas Rose, took me straight back to my grandparents’ greenhouse with the vine and the geraniums and dappled light. In my mind’s eye, there were tomatoes too, and I was so strongly reminded of the smell and the watery warmth (those huge pipes!). And the pottering …I particularly liked the Finnis Scott Gallery which is located in a separate room at the far end of the gallery. This couple – Sir David Scott and his second wife, Valerie Finnis, (shown in the painting below by Derek Hill) were expert horticulturalists – and also picture collectors. And it is their pictures that feature in this gallery. (My sincere apologies to the artists because I have had to use a degree of digital manipulation to make the pictures taken only on an iPhone 5S look decent for the blog).Such a variety of pictures, capturing so effectively the rich interests that are to be found in gardens and gardening. Look at the lush greens in Patrick George’s 1993 painting, The Vegetable Garden.And this gem of a photograph, taken by Peter Fryer in the early 1990s, of a man with his geese in his Newcastle allotment. Such joyous love.Downstairs then for the exhibition we’d actually come to see: Tradescant’s Orchard: A Celebration of Botanical Art.Where the scope of the pictures upstairs in the Finnis Scott gallery was almost unlimited, this gallery hosted illustrations of a very particular artistic discipline. The exhibition was inspired by this leather volume, The Tradescants’ Orchard, dating from the early seventeenth century, and on loan from the Bodleian Library.So there were remarkable pieces like this Pomegranate (Punica granatum) by Heidi Venamore. She grew this actual fruit in her Jordanian garden. How rich is the inside of the fruit!And the medlar (Mespilus germanica) by Dick Smit – in all stages of its life.The detail of the damaged leaf and the damaging insects reminded me so much of the Maria Sibylla Merian exhibition I saw in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Gallery a couple of months ago. This is her 1702 watercolour of a Cotton-Leaf Physicnut with Giant Sphinx Moth – similarly greedy creatures eating the plant. And similar exquisite detailing.Of course at the Garden Museum there would have to be gardens! Let me show you the new plantings in the Sackler Garden designed by Dan Pearson. I don’t think my photos really do justice to them, but Louise and I thought them wonderful – interesting and varied in colour and height – and marrying well with the coppery buildings about.Lastly, the Sackler Garden has a moving modern memorial to its benefactor, Rosemary Nicholson, and her husband John.So – that was London.
But, a couple of days later, back in Northumberland, I looked again at our garden. With the stories of the Tradescants travelling the globe to bring plants back to please their English patrons ringing in my ears, I looked again at the plants I grow. And I was amazed.
Our garden sits on the Northumbrian coast, with the view stretching over golden grainfields to the North Sea and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. It is windy, mostly sunny and very salty – but has the View.We inherited a field of a garden with no plants, no beds, and our planting decisions were entirely guided by the place. Large plants in these little beds would restrict the view and struggle in severe windy conditions, so they are a no-no. Our little plant guide was to grow plants that merge into the lane and the wild field edges and the view beyond.
So I just love it when plants escape out of the garden, and seed and root themselves beyond.And I thought – in my naïveté – that we were growing plants that belonged in this landscape. But how wrong I was! That valerian in the picture was recorded in use by ancient Roman doctors, so it is believed to have been brought here by the Romans.
All along the little fence are crocosmia plants (what I used to call montbretia). I’ve always loved this plant, particularly when found on old railway lines and other country tracks. I know it’s considered invasive, but I love those elegant fiery fronds so much that I’d forgive it anything.We grow both the common variety and scarlet Lucifer plants – roughly interspersed. To my mind it is just the perfect plant for this garden when the winter wheat is golden and heavy in the fields around. It sits so well just above our little garden fence, and even when the flowers have gone over, as it is dried and shrivelling up, it looks very fine.
Well, crocosmia hails from the grasslands of Southern and Eastern Africa.Mixed in with the crocosmia are poppies – mostly scarlet, but there are black, white, pink as well. Now poppies are indeed native plants, hailing from the little field poppy so familiar from the pictures of the 1st World War. The poppies that we grow are extremely sophisticated carefully bred plants, but they remember their proper heritage and flourish in these country field borders.Just over the fence, there are a group of yellow hawkweed plants flowering on the field edge (far left of picture) – they are native plants. But, alas, no native poppies accompanying them. I must remedy that next year.At the end of the small flower beds and standing tall against the fence are several golden-headed fennel plants. They’ve been natives of our shores for a very long time.Against our little Northumbrian cottage wall, swaying in the breeze, there are hollyhocks, sunflowers (not yet in flower) and verbena bonariensis. The hollyhocks are natives of Asia and Europe, sunflowers are North American and the verbena bonariensis hails from Buenos Aires. Thank you Louise for the information about the verbena bonariensis – and, of course, the clue is in the name! Further along the wall, there are all colours of dahlias. They are – most appropriately given their brilliant range of colours – originally from Mexico but were imported to Spain in 1789, only finally making a successful move to the UK in 1802.They must be comfortable with the cosmos plants we’re growing beside them because that also originated in Mexico. Aren’t these startling – though wonderful – colours against the very Northumbrian sandstone wall?And in pots at the foot of the taller dahlia plants, there are calendula plants. They were introduced from the Mediterranean countries in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.In the conservatory there are scarlet geraniums (actually pelargoniums), originally from South Africa.What an incongruous mix, you might say, with the fields of wheat running beyond the garden down to the sea! But the growing of wheat as an arable crop is believed to have originated in the Middle East.And, of course, there’s another plant I should definitely list when speaking of the Tradescants. Why – the tradescantia! John Tradescant the younger brought the type species back to England in 1629. Here, in a gloriously overgrown muddle, are our variegated and purple tradescantia! What a joyously rich mix of plants from so many parts of the world!
(Incidentally, the cafe at the Garden Museum was lovely. But disappointingly, the Wolfson Ark Gallery containing 30 objects that once belonged to John Tradescant wasn’t open to the public the day we visited. We will have to return, Louise!)
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 ….While we laid out our curious beachy collections ….In preparation for this visit, I had tidied up our brick collection (as you do) ….And 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.There were all sorts of treasures washed up on these shifting sands, midway between the river Tweed and the open North Sea.Among them were bricks …According 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 estrangèd 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: