Category: Living with Nature

My Sister Viv, has opened a small gallery in Pukehou. It is called “Artistically Inclined’ which is a clever way of inviting people who are creative, but perhaps in unexpected ways. (

Between us, we hatched a plan to bring some fresh work into the gallery, and encourage people to put their creative thinking hats on. We both love the ocean so the idea of a sea based exhibition was born. Well, because it’s a small gallery we thought that a ‘rolling exhibition’ would be good, so that work can be sold and new additions brought in.

When Viv & I were young, we lived on the coast, in Kent, UK & have both always had a strong affinity with the sea & all the creatures that live in it. I spent many hours exploring rockpools, looking for shells and other treasures washed up on the beach and of course we ate a lot of seafood, winkles, cockles, shrimps , prawns, oysters, scampi, eel and marvellous fresh fish.

We also experienced bizarre sightings, one year the whole beach was covered with hundreds of cuttlefish, they swam about in the boating pond until the next tide. Another time huge cream coloured jellyfish arrived looking like so many string mops. Most exciting was the year the sea froze, 1964 I think. There were big slabs of ice strewn all over the beach, as tall as I was, and no sign of water, just a gentle chinking sound as the ice moved on top of the waves. When the ice thawed it left behind an assortment of unusual creatures, including starfish as big as dinner plates & lobsters.

When I was about 11 or 12, I found a Guillemot covered in oil on the beach. A Guillemot looks like a penguin but can fly.  We cleaned it’s feathers with butter and fuller’s earth and nursed it back to health. It lived in the garden shed and every day I fed it strips of fresh fish, and on fine days it would sit under the sprinkler. We knew we could not release it back to the sea until it had moulted and got new feathers. So the next season I dutifully carried it down to the beach and sadly set it down by the water. It took off without a backwards glance and was quickly lost to sight. As I was  turning to go home, someone came up to me & said “I don’t know what it was that you put in the water, but it’s coming back.” So Gilly came back home & stayed with us for several years.

It may have been that Gilly was a victim of the Torrey Canyon disaster, 1967, a huge super tanker that ran aground spilling millions of gallons of oil. I clearly remember walking our small beach at Westgate and counting over 50 dead seabirds, covered in black oil.

When I was fifteen I got a part-time job in a vets, & over the 18 months I worked there I took home a number of seabirds including a very fierce Herring Gull, a Razorbill and a Puffin, and another Guillemot. Later still when I was in high school in Tavistock, part of the A Level Zoology course included studying marine biology. For 2 years we spent a week each summer staying in a hostel and visiting about 8 different beaches, where we named and counted and measured all the sea life we could see. I used to know all the latin names of the seaweeds and animals, but alas I can’t recall them all now. One of the things I learnt then was the effect that different levels of exposure have on the creatures. Steep rock faces, fierce waves or sheltered estuary beds all provide habitats for different combinations of life.

Ok, back to the gallery…after spending some time looking for images to inspire us, both Viv & I could not avoid the awful truth of what is happening to our oceans & the precious & incredible life they support. I knew about the Pacific Gyre of plastic, but the scale & horror of the plastics in the seas was and is, truly appalling. In an effort not to be totally overwhelmed and despondent I have put together a ‘Devastation Menu’ it has been a lot of work collating information and putting it together, so I thought it would be worth sharing it here. As I was pondering these things I remembered that we had a project at school when I was 12 to paint images from the local beaches and I had collected a big pile of plastic debris and painted them. My attempt at conservation was not encouraged & I had completely forgotten it until just the other day, fifty years on. Things certainly haven’t improved since then.

So below is my latest foray into creative conservation. Thanks for caring enough to read it.


This is a link to an article in the local paper about the exhibition:

I see too, that New World & The Warehouse are starting to implement collection points for recycling soft plastics. As yet they haven’t reached Hawkes Bay but are available in Auckland, Wellington and much of the South Island. We shall all have to start asking for that option, as it seems almost impossible to completely avoid plastics in our every day lives.


Dyeing Easter Eggs

This is a great Easter activity for the whole family. You need some blown eggs, white if possible, onion skins, strips of cloth about 1m long, by 2-3cm wide, wool or string, a large saucepan, a little vinegar & water.

First go out into the garden & collect a mixture of leaves & flowers, try a wide variety, ferny leaves are good, plus bold coloured small flowers & petals.

Spread your gleanings out on the table, & cup an egg into a piece of onion skin, tucking pieces of plant against the egg shell. This is quite a feat of co-ordination, sometimes it’s easiest with 2 people working together! Continue to wrap the egg, so that it is eventually covered with 2 or 3 layers of onion skin, holding the petals etc in place. Now you bandage this, CAREFULLY! so the egg doesn’t get cracked. Wrap the strip of cloth around in all directions, then bind that in place with a length of string. You can write the persons initials on it, so you know whose is whose.

When everyone has finished their egg, put them in a saucepan, with warm water to cover, & a slosh of vinegar,which acts as a fixative.Put a heavy plate upside down on top of the eggs to keep them under water. Bring to the boil, & simmer for 20 minutes. Drain off the hot water & cool in cold water. Unwrap carefully & se what you have created, be careful there may be some hot water inside.

When the eggs are dry, you can rub them with a little vege oil to shine up. You can tie cotton onto small sticks & poke into one of the blow holes so you can hang them on a branch.

Originally written for ‘Growing Today’

Quotes from my Grandson’s journal, The Nest, Clive….’Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives”

“I hear-I forget

I see- I remember

I do – I understand’

I’ve been thinking about family patterns, passed down through the generations, & that there are many cycles in family life which are positive & nurturing. In my family for instance, we have all grown up with a passion for the natural world. My Grandfather was a keen gardener & a wealth of knowledge about the woods & hedgerows of England. We used to walk through Epping Forest & find all sorts of treasures, a rare Blue Jay’s feather, a glimpse of a shrew or Green Woodpecker, the first violets. My Mother is also an outdoor person, liking nothing better, even now in her seventies, than to go beachcombing, or potter in her garden. Needless to say I have picked up the same interests & passed them on, in turn to my children.

I’ve been pondering on those things that make us who we are, & how often it’s easy to be unaware of the messages we give our children or of opportunities passed by. I have three children aged 32, 29 & 22, I’ve worked in Pre- School education for over fifteen years, over this timeI’ve had plenty of opportunities to share my love of nature & pass it on. I’m saddened when parents inadvertently turn their children off, by showing disgust at an earthworm or spider, or treating living things with little respect. They are missing out on a wealth of opportunities to explore together the mysteries of life, to share their child’s wonder, to communicate together & to encourage their child to develop a life long respect & interest in, our World & it’s many, varied inhabitants.

The wonderful thing about children is that they don’t need grand gestures, they can spend hours, fascinated, watching a snail. I think, as adults it’s easy to forget how to slow down & see the smaller things in life. In the rush & struggle of daily living it’s hard to make time for outings.It’s easier than you think, a brief pause to stop & look, a plastic bag to collect leaves & treasures as you walk to the shops or in the park, or at the beach, a visit to the Library to look up information, a few minutes spent here & there can make a big difference.

I remember when our youngest son was about three, we read in a book about making a bug catcher. The simple directions told us to hollow out a half grapefruit & prop it up on a stick in the garden. We took our grapefruit & then went outside with a torch to set it up. Honestly, we only went about twenty steps from the house, propped up the grapefruit & walked home again. Our son was so excited, he said it was the coolest thing he’d ever done. We thought he was very sweet, but on thinking further we were amazed that we could create such an adventure so simply. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s not so hard to have adventures with your family, & thinking smaller is a good start, & as a bonus, you too might rediscover your sense of wonder.

O.K. now for some practical suggestions to get you started. Of course small children are a lot closer to the ground than we are, & there’s a lot to be seen at ground level, all sorts of bugs & creepy crawlies, spider webs to inspect, try looking under logs & pots to see what you can find. I f you are squeamish, try not to let it rub off on your children, maybe by learning a bit more about spiders, slugs, or whatever, you might feel differently.

Collect leaves & grasses, posies of wild flowers. See if you can learn their names together. Press them, or use in collage pictures, leaves can be threaded onto a string, with pieces of cut up straw as spacers, & hung up as decorations. Pieces of Toi Toi heads make great paint brushes, or you could try twigs, feathers or leaves.In the Autumn there are dozens of tiny fungi about, there are pods & other seed heads, old birds nests to investigate, just what have they used to make it? You might find some leaf skeletons , these are lovely & can be stuck onto works of art, used for print making, or hung up on mobiles. You could bring a pot of bulbs indoors from time to time to see what’s happening, even better if you have planted them together. In the early Spring cut a couple of branches of a deciduous shrub or tree, put them in water, indoors & watch the buds unfurl.


One of my delights as a child was that sometimes, if we had a really heavy downpour, my parents would wrap me up & we’d go for a walk in the rain, I can still recall how exciting it was, more so because adults weren’t supposed to do this, we would slosh through the puddles, & admire the torrents of water flowing by. It’s great to go out in the elements, a wild storm at the beach, a howling gale, can be very exhilarating. Explore what happens to your garden after a frost. It’s fun to put some dishes of water, food colouring & water, salt & water, fruit, etc. out in the evening & then see what effect the frost has had on them.

A visit to the beach is always a treat, & as with all play, it also provides plenty of opportunity for learning.If you want to explore the rock pools, time your visit for low tide, often the most interesting creatures live in the pools at the low tide mark. If you are looking under rocks, turn them up gently, & make sure you put them back the way you found them. It’s better to inspect living creatures & let them go again, they never survive if you take them home, also check shells for occupants, often hermit crabs hide in seemingly empty shells in pools.If you collect treasures to take home, you can use them to extend maths concepts, simple counting, one paua shell, two sticks, three stones. You can make sets of objects that are similar, plant material, shells, edible, smelly, whatever you can think of, make it fun. Another good game is Kimsgame, where you lay a number of objects out, have a long look, then cover them up, trying to remember what is hidden. A variation is for one person to remove an item, then the others have to guess what is missing.

As your children get older it gets easier to find interesting things, because they can apply their own thought processes to what they see, they can absorb more complex information & ask more questions. It’s alright not to know all the answers, in fact, finding answers is a useful skill, you can teach your children. You can try your local school, library, the computer, maybe a friend or neighbour with knowledge on a certain topic.

We live in Hawkes Bay, in limestone country, we have a creek that runs down from the ranges & through our property. One of our children found a number of pointed, fossil like objects in the gravel on the side of the creek, at first we thought they might be shark’s teeth. We could not find out anything definite about them in books. So the next trip we made to Wellington, we went to the museum, treasures carefully wrapped in tissue, in a matchbox. There in a draw we discovered that what we had were Individual Corals, over three million years old. It made us think again of the tremendous upheaval it had taken to put those corals at the top of our range, & the journey down from there to our creek.

Did you know that plant juices can be used as indicators of acidity or alkalinity? Our son was studying science in the third form, & learning about Ph, I’m not sure how the connection was made, a combination of fiddling about with a pestle & mortar, & seeing the colours he could get out of poppy petals & other plant materials. We used vinegar as our acid, & baking soda as our alkali, & it was fascinating to see how different plants solutions reacted, red cabbage was especially sensitive.

Our youngest son still has a natural affinity to the sciences, I feel sure that his natural curiosity will help to sustain his learning through the years to come, & help him to find a meaningful place in the scheme of things. Our eldest son is very connected to Nature too, & he creates wonderful baskets from natural fibres, meanwhile our daughter has a young daughter of her own, & the cycle goes on. I hope that I have given a few ideas that you can use to encourage your children, or Grandchildren to embrace the world they live in, & to look upon nature in it’s many facets with wonder & respect. Who knows where it might lead them?