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 – busy, bustling, exciting, varied – so 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 façade 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 Nuutajärvi 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 – that 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 – and 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 – there 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 – as ever – a 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 – weeding, planting and watering, – I 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

Winter guests

Over the winter we take as much care as we can of the local wildlife.  We have discovered that that we can feed most birds that come to our table by scattering birdfood (grain and grated-up fatballs) along the path to our house, so we dispense with the bird feeders for this time of year as they aren’t really used, and the food there just goes mouldy.Birdfood on path in cold snowy conditionsThis brings a number of birds to our table.  Crows, pigeons, sparrows, blackbirds, robins and wrens all feed there – we do not discriminate.  All birds need food on cold hard days, and all birds are part of our local community.birds eating on pathWe even have a friendly – and very timid – seagull, and I am happy to feed this seagull (a young bird, I think) so long as he doesn’t bring all his friends along too.  Indeed, I rather admire his ingenuity in finding us, and keeping us to himself!Seagull on pathWhen we first arrived here, Poe was good enough to extend our winter hospitality to other small folk.  She would be out in all weather, looking for little lost souls.Poe venturing out in snowShe was sure they would prefer the nice warm inside to the snowy cold outside. Poe returning with mouseTrouble was, she would then expect them to play for a little while …Poe has a mouse… before she lost them, and they ran off to make new homes inside.  A year later, we discovered the small carcase of just such a forgotten mouse, trapped behind the grandfather clock.  Such a considerate mouse – never smelt in its decay.  Now it has a place of honour on our nature window display.desiccated mouse and other treasuresLuckily, Poe is now too old to go out a-mousing, but we have discovered with our shed spring cleaning that we are still caring for the local wild mouse population.  I keep my spinning fleece in the garden shed, as well as our supplies of bird feed.  The fleece is high up on shelves.fleece on high in shedOne year, I brought a particularly special bag of Crookabeck alpaca out of the shed into the kitchen for dyeing, and I discovered that somebody had not only been making a home in my beautiful fleece, but they’d been helping themselves to the food supplies available in the shed.  A cosy way to spend the winter, don’t you think, with food and comfy bedding both on hand?!Evidence of mice making themselves at homeWe always know what the mice are up to in the shed, because they leave little guilty teethmarks all over the bird food.mice eating bird fat ballsAnother year, I caught the little blighters in action.  Mice in grainTime for some shed spring cleaning soon – I wonder what we will find in there this year?

Spring is in the air – sort of!

Oh, how we long for spring!

We had some blissfully fine weather last week, and got very excited.  All sorts of spring activity is starting to take place.  The washing is being hung out again (for the first time for goodness know how long).Washing out againSmall plants are beginning to appear in the flower beds – Irises … (I just love the way they are so tightly and neatly scrolled as they poke out of the ground).Iris buds to comeSnowdrops …snowdropsLittle Daffodils …little daffodils in bloomCrocuses …CrocusesLittle pots on the terrace are more confident in the sun. Flower pots on terrace These marigolds (seeds from my cousin Polly) have splendidly flowered all winter.Flower pot flowersAnd there are outdoor chores calling for attention.  The raspberry canes are sprouting and will need cutting back soon.Raspberries sproutingAfter a miserably wet and windy winter, we are enjoying walks out and about again.walks in spring sunshineHow good to see the gorse flowering again.Gorse is outA couple of days ago we had a truly wonderful walk further down the coast from Beadnell to Low Newton (you can see the route we took in the Searching for Sanderlings blogpost, almost exactly a year ago).  Shadows still long, warning that it is early spring and the sun is very low in the sky.  Just in the distance you can see Dunstanburgh Castle.Walking along Beadnell bayInside, thoughts are turning to spring too.  Poe is starting to moult, and needs regular grooming again.  I think she’s a bit unwise to start casting her coat so soon, but perhaps she knows something I don’t.Poe starts moulting againSeed catalogues come out, and we begin to get excited about summer flowers.  Stephen has plans to build a pond this year ….Seed catalogues come outStrangely, inside our flowers are mostly flaming scarlet-red, which is kind of weird, – but gorgeous too.scarlet flowers insideAnd despite the cold outside, we are still getting salad crops in the greenhouse.salad leaves in greenhouseLast weekend, I was in London, and things are rather further on there than here in the north.  Just look at these positively Wordsworthian daffodils at Alexandra Palace!Daffodils at Ally PallyThere was spring blossom too.Blossom on tree at Ally PallyThen – just as we are starting to take this beautiful spring weather for granted, the weather turns and we get snow – or is it sleet, or perhaps hail?Grey and cold againEvery year, it is the same, and every year we get over-excited with the first signs of spring warmth and growth.  Back to normal for Northumberland.snow at SeaviewIn Moominland Midwinter, Tove Jansson tells the story of how Moomintroll wakes up early one winter (rather than hibernating right through as Moomins usually do) and thus experiences cold, snow and wintry wetness for the first time. Moonmintroll gets rather fed up with it, and comes up with this wonderful grumpy little poem.

Listen, winter creatures, who have sneaked the sun away,
Who are hiding in the dark and making all the valley grey:
I am utterly alone, and I’m tired to the bone,
And I’m sick enough of snowdrifts just to lay me down and groan.
I want my blue verandah and the glitter of the sea
And I tell you one and all that your winter’s not for me!

I’m with Moomin on this one!Grumpy Moomin

Compost

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;  A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up …”

The writer of Ecclesiastes put it so well.  (Though you may have Pete Seeger’s version, memorably sung by the Byrds in your ears)  For us, in the dark northern hemisphere, it is the breaking down time of the year.  The time of decay, death, mouldering and rotting   – and so we come to compost.

On of our first chores when we came to Seaview was to build a compost heap.  Stephen had dismantled the ridiculously high fencing so that we could finally see the sea from our house, and we had plenty of spare treated planks of wood.So he built two compost heaps – one beside the other.  A work of genius!  As we fill one heap up with fresh victuals, the other heap gently matures.  Two states of compostOver the year, all sorts of goodies go into our compost heap.  It could in many ways be said to be a labour of love.

The core goodness is, of course, the green waste from the kitchen.  We eat a great deal of fruit and vegetables, and all their parings go in.  Eggs and anything meaty don’t – that would encourage rats.

All our garden waste goes into the compost heap – bar the very woody material, which wouldn’t disintegrate quickly enough.  Grass cuttings are an important element.

To this we add treasures lovingly collected on our walks in the neighbourhood.  Cowpats from the friendly local cows.Horse manure – when we can get it!  This was nicely bagged up by some wonderful folk on Holy Island – free for the taking!  How very generous.Horse shit from Holy IslandSeaweed from the beach.  We never pick or cut seaweed – but then we don’t have to.  If you wait for the right time, there will always be storms to sweep it up onto the beach.Seaweed for collection at the beachSeaweed is a really important addition to the compost heap because of the minerals and sea goodness it adds to the pile.Seaweed on the compost heapSometimes the sea gives other treasures for our compost heap.  One winter, after terrible storms, huge piles of beech leaves came down the Tweed.  So large were these piles on the beach that they dwarfed Stephen.Huge piles of beech leaves washed down the TweedWe weren’t alone to appreciate these beech gifts – lots of little bugs and insects to feed hungry birds too.Beech leaves washed down the TweedAs we add all these good things to the “operational” compost heap, the other compost heap – the maturing one – is just so good that plants (like these poppies) start to grow.  This is an indication of the biggest failing with our compost heap: it never gets warm enough to kill the seeds and weedlings.Poppies growing in the compost heapCome winter, come this time of year, we are at the turning point with our compost heaps.  One is very full indeed – Stephen has to jump on it at times to compress all the garden waste that has been piled up after the autumn clearances.This year's compost piled highAnd the other pile is rich, matured – and compressed.Lovely crumbly composted materialIt’s time to spread the goodness round and about.Loading up the wheelbarrow with compostAll sorts of treasures come to light … that’s the blade of the paring knife that went missing last year!  And there are worms – a sign of a healthy heap because, of course, it is they who have been eating our composting greenery and vegetables and excreting them as loam.worm and potato peeler in compostTime to spread goodness around.  Great mulchy piles around shrubs …Compost nestling round the roots of shrubsAnd I do so love my little borders tidily put to bed like this!Compost spread on flower bedsAs we compost and reuse the goodness from garden, house and locality, we are part of a cycle that others follow too.  Last winter the farmer put great piles of cow dung (cleared out from the cattle’s indoor habitation) in the field up the hill from us.  By the end of the year there was a sizeable heap.Pile of manure beside fieldAfter harvest, it was loaded up onto tractors …Tractors collecting manureand spread on the fields …Spreading manure all ove fieldSpreading manure over the fieldCompost heaps have been part of my life for as long as I can remember.  I can still vividly remember the grass-cutting smell of my grandmother’s heap in her Oxfordshire garden – probably because the heap sat under a large tree which we children liked to climb and hide in.

And my five-year old son – on his first school trip to the beach at Exmouth – coming back with a puzzled teacher and a determined expression on his face as he lugged home some grubby, sandy carrier bags full of seaweed for my compost heap!

We are not the only ones to love the compost heap here at Seaview – our neighbour’s cat is particularly fond of this spot too.Our neighbour's cat likes the compost heap too

No-one sums it all up better for me than the poet, Edna Eglinton:

“What I am now is made from this rich compost, deep-stirred with fellowship and love, sunshine on green pastures, may-trees in blossom, and the heart singing.”