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!

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!

 

Our Seaview garden story

I have been much in the garden lately, enjoying some fine warm days.  And I have been reflecting on how our garden has grown with us Рand what solace it has given.  But it has been hard work.

As I have written elsewhere, we inherited a garden that had been unloved, and grown wild. Wild Seaview garden when we first arrived The grass was long; some of the fencing had come apart round the oil tank; and in the corner you might just glimpse the sad remains of the plastic shed that had been blown apart in storms.

The first chore was to mow the lawn.¬†¬†Stephen mowing wild gardenThe garden was well-fenced in.¬† This was useful¬†while our cat Poe made her preliminary expeditions in her new territory, but meant we couldn’t see the view from the house.Poe exploring garden for first timeSo the next task was to reduce the height of the fence.¬† Then we could see the sea!¬†¬†Lowering the fenceAfter that we replaced the shed.¬† This sounds an easy task, but was complicated by the fact that we were experiencing very strong winds at the time, and there was no way we could hold the large wood panels correctly in place with the wind blowing as it was.¬† Everyday we checked the Met Office forecasts.¬†¬† A week later our opportunity came and we got the shed up.Stephen building the shedSitting in those pots on the patio were the plants and seedlings we’d brought from our old Devon home.¬† We now needed to make some flower beds in our new garden so we could give our much-travelled plants a new home.Seaview with the wild lawn tamedWe started with a large bed in the corner of the garden….. first bed we dugand that’s when we realised how hard it was to dig this ground.¬† Eventually we acquired a pick-axe.Stephen pickaxing new holeWe learned that digging flower beds here involved removing all the earth, clay and stones and rubble from the proposed spot, sieving it, putting back a little bit of good earth and buying a lot of expensive compost and top soil to refill the hole!Stephen inspecting a newly dug holesThis is why it was such hard work.

One of our neighbours kindly showed us some pictures of the old farm steading when it was being converted into homes.  This is our kitchen.  That pile of rubble behind the kitchen is our garden.  We further learned that our garden was where the tractor was usually parked.  To keep the mud under control, the farmer regularly tipped hardcore and rubble on this spot.  Aaaaagh!Seaview farm kitchen being built

Despite the hard work, we did finish the little beds beside the fence¬†in time for our little seedlings to be transplanted there in the early¬†spring.view out of garden to seaIt felt such a triumph to sit out in early summer as we came to the end of our first year here.Stephen sitting in the gardenThese little beds¬†under the fence were¬†still very empty, so we bought poppy and cornflower¬†seeds.¬† This was the result in high summer – just amazing.first year crop of poppies¬†We added a conservatory.¬† new conservatoryThis has been a huge bonus for us in windy, colder Northumberland, meaning we can shelter ourselves and our more delicate plants.morning glories around conservatory doorStephen put a lot of care into making raised beds to grow our vegetables inStephen building the raised bedsIn a few years we had transformed the garden with the addition of water butts and three raised beds.¬† new raised bedsAnd, of course, a greenhouse.Stephen putting up the greenhouseThis is the last garden bed Stephen dug.¬† Judging by his expression, I think it is the last he is ever planning to dig.Stephen beside new garden holeSuddenly it looked like a proper garden!plants growing well in raised bedsAnd we got produce from the raised beds.¬† Our first year carrots were a little curious.weird carrotsBut last year we had these beautiful courgettes …yellow courgettes from the gardenand tomatoes …tomatos from the gardenand chilli peppers¬†too.chillis from the gardenI cannot believe that we now have what looks like a proper garden!¬† There is still often work to do.Katherine weeding the garden pathThe garden is now showing us that it has a mind of its own. How silly of me to think it is our garden.¬† Of course, it isn’t!¬† It belongs to the place itself …

Self-sown poppy seedlings are growing round and through our bench …Poppies growing through benchand in our raised veg beds …Poppies looking gloriousand in the lane …Wild poppy seedlings in laneNever mind, Poe can still do the fence walk …Poe doing fence walkand she can still find the bird water when she’s thirsty.Poe drinking from the birds' waterAs for Stephen and me, – well, we’re happy so long as we can still see the view.Poppies in the gloamingWhat we have tried to do, is build a garden where the plants we grow merge into the natural grasses of the fields around us. Garden merging into field

The essayist, Francis Bacon, was¬†surely right when he¬†wrote¬†that “…[a garden] is the purest of human pleasures.¬† It is the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man; without which buildings and palaces are but gross handyworks.”Poppies in the new garden bedHow lucky we are to have a garden for solace, beauty, abundance – and hopefully a lot less hard work!