Sunday, 21 November 2010

What to do with all those Leaves in the Garden

Making Leaf Mould

We have been making leaf mould in our garden and have done so for the last couple of years. It is an easy gardening activity for children; one that gets them into the garden in the autumn. Leaf mould is organic and involves no carbon footprint. It is simply a case of raking up the leaves, bagging them and storing them, and then waiting.

Here’s how we do it. The garden has leaves mainly from Silver Birch, Goat Willow, Oak and a little bit of Acer. We rake them into piles and bag them up. I know that many people use black plastic sacks. We recycle and use the plastic coverings you get when clothes are returned from the dry cleaners. We like it best if the leaves are dry as they are not so cold to handle. As water is an essential ingredient for leaf mould we place couple of holes in the plastic bag and the add water.

A couple of times I have left some bags of leaves under shrubs and find that as the plastic begins to disintegrate and worms worm their way into the leafy mixture the leaves return themselves to the garden with very little help.

The filled sacks then spend the following 18 months in an old dustbin in the garden. We spread the leaf mould out onto the soil early spring as a kind of mulch. This is another gardening job for the children help with. I have also sieved the leaf mould and used it with potting compost for transplanting seedlings.

Last years leaf mould
 The people at Gardening Organic have more detailed advice about what to do.

But why oh why is it called leaf mould? There is nothing messy or mouldy about it. It doesn’t smell and once rotted down turns into a lovely friable material. The name conveys up images of fungus and stained walls and must surely put some people off. How about calling it leaf compost or leafy soil?  Love to hear your suggestions.

Let me know what you do with the leaves in your garden. Please please don’t say you take your leaves to the local rubbish tip. We find it so simple to recycle them inside our garden and hope you can too.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The London Wetland Centre: A Great Garden in the Heart of London.

If you hadn’t thought of a wetland as a garden, then please think again. All the elements of natural beauty, native planting, seasonal interest, open space, and water are present in a wetland. For me and for my son the London Wetland Centre is a fantastic garden. We had one of our many visits there this week and I thought I would share with you some of the simple pleasures he loves there.

  • The trail of the duck feet marked on the ground leading to explore the children’s adventure play area.
  • The mock duck nest and its eggs, together with the ‘dinosaur’ bones.
  • The new webcam set up in a pond, filming both on top and under the water. He spent ages operating this, focusing, zooming in and out, and looking at the screen to see what he had found.
  • The pathways that lead off the main pathways and then rejoin later on.
  • The willow dens, both when they are covered in leaves and in their winter state.
  • The foot operated water pump in the new rain garden.
And for me there is always something new. This time it was the new rain garden. Opened by Alan Titchmarsh in September it shows how gardens can be sustainable by capturing and using rainfall. It forms a series of rain gardens, fed from the roof of a pavilion.  This is made from a converted cargo container and  provides living space for animals and insects in its walls and a green roof. There is a prism to view the  green roof.

I do not have a full photo of the garden to show you as was so bowled over by the fact that a flower meadow was still flowering in November that I concentrated on the flowers.  I have since learnt that they are from Pictorial Meadows. They provide an unique colourful meadow-flower seed mixes that rapidly produce a naturally vibrant display with an extended flowering season. The mixes contain no grass and all the green foliage you see are part of the plants.

So Wetlands are not all about birds, though there is presently a bittern at the London Wetland Centre and plenty of other wildfowl to see and things to do.  And, oh yes, there are also at least the six water voles we saw at the Wetland Centre in Arundel this summer.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Gardens to Visit with Your Children in October

The Eden Project Cornwall

Thousands of families will currently be thinking about where to go in the autumn half term holiday with their kids. If you live in London, the South East or Scotland there are some great ideas on garden destinations on kidsinthegarden . The winter garden at Hillier’s garden in Hampshire will be looking particularly good. The Kids Guide has some suggestions for gardens to visit in the North West of the UK.

Most of the RHS and National Trust gardens will have some sort of family event and/or trail available at this time of year. There will also still be plenty to see if you have a botanical garden located close to you.

A good choice this time of year is a visit an arboretum or a garden with woodland. Nothing beats a good play in the leaves. Here the opportunity to pick up leaves, conkers and fir cones should keep everyone amused. We always come away with our pockets full of precious collections. The Woodland Trust has an ‘autumn colour’ search category for its index of 1,000 plus woodland sites across the country.

The Royal Parks in London are all free to visit and all have gardens and/or woodland gardens. As a family we will be visiting Kensington Gardens next week, both the Peter Pan-themed Diana Memorial playground and the outdoor exhibition by Anish Kapoor of large reflective metal structures.  I am intrigued to see what my son will make of them.

I love visiting a Wetlands Centre this time of year.  Not only is it a good time to see the winter birds just arrived in the UK you also get the evocative sound of rustling wind in the reed beds. So they are great places to play sound games with the children.

If you have a favourite garden to visit this time of year please leave a comment and share it with us all.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Gardening Helps to Grow your Children.

Get gardening with your children and give them skills they will use for the rest of their lives. All of us committed to children’s gardening know that it helps to promote a healthy and active life style. New research by the Royal Horticultural Society shows that it can also improve confidence, resilience and self-esteem. The report concentrated on Gardening in Schools.  However much of its findings can also translate into gardening at home with your kids.

Here are a few detailed findings of the report pertinent to gardening in most settings.

  1. Tasks such as planting seedlings and tying plants to canes can help to develop children’s fine motor skills.
  2. The changeable nature of gardening projects and uncertainty e.g. weather and plant disease forced children to become more flexible and think on their feet.
  3. Waiting for crops to grow taught the value of patience.
  4. Public praise for a school garden generated a sense of pride.
  5. A calm outdoor space helped to improve children’s concentration.
  6. Gardening helped children to take responsibility for their own physical health and diet. Children who grew their own crops displayed a greater willingness to eat new vegetables.
What better reasons are there for you and your children to get gardening.  Don’t leave it all to the school.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

How Did Your Vegetables Grow

September 2010

April 2010

I posted back in February about the new vegetable plot in the garden and you’ll see from the photo that it is now full of vegetables and vegetation. We have had great success in growing tomatoes, courgettes, strawberries and beans and are currently harvesting daily. The tomatoes have been prolific. We have not been so lucky with the carrots, onions and garlic.

Lessons learnt include
  1. Use a type of courgette which has smaller leaves and therefore uses up less space on a small plot.
  2. Provide stronger staking for the tomatoes.
  3. Plant more beans because they are so yummy and help us avoid using the beans flown in from Kenya. 
  4. Plant strawberries in pots and hanging baskets next year to prevent slug damage.

My son has got his hands dirty in every sense. He has loved watering, picking and eating the veg. If we were away for a couple of days in the summer holidays his (and my) first action was to run down the bottom of the garden to check out the activity in the vegetable plot

I am going to sow some Kale – ‘Nero di Toscana’ and some winter salad in the next couple of days and then start doing a good search of the seed catalogues. Can’t wait for next year.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Dens and Mazes

Top of the list of children’s favourite things to do in a garden has got to be building dens and running around a maze. We visited Wisley in Surrey this week and found both of these.

The children’s play area has been upgraded to include a fantastic den building area. A great way to keep your children occupied in a really constructive way. The frames of the dens are provided by permanent wooden poles stacked into the ground. A range of building material is then provided for your kids to create what ever they want. It was interesting to see the different techniques eomployed.  There were those children who kept redoing their den, those who just wanted to chill out inside, some made elaborate doors and some dens were completely sealed up. There are some ideas for creating a den in your garden at Kidsinthegarden.  If you have a large garden the Wisley format is a great idea.

As well as the usual climbing frames and stepping stones there was also novel spying area.  The blue circles in the wooden stakes pictured above are binoculars.

A sunflower maze is a great idea. Unfortunately due to lack of water the giant sunflowers at Wisley were only about 3 feet high, but the little ones still couldn’t see over.  It also meant that the sunflower heads were accessible so the whole maze was filled with sunflower faces and patterns created by the children. My favourite mazes in the South East of the UK are the hedge maze at Hampton Court Palace and the water maze at Hever Castle in Kent. We are just back from Normandy where maize mazes are very popular. The one we tried took well over an hour to find our way around, testing the patience of our 5 year old, so a little bit of cheating went on.  If you would like to visit one in the UK Adrian Fisher, the master maze creator, lists a number of maize mazes in this country.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Frogs in a Grow Bag

We have always had numerous types of frogs in our garden. A green frog watering can, stone frogs and some made of cast iron. Although we do not have a pond there have always been real frogs. One of which came all the way with me to the rubbish tip and back again. Than goodness I realised he was there before the clippings went down the chute. I always now check my garden rubbish bags before setting off.

This year we have had a real delight with the frogs. They have taken up residence in the tomato grow bags. Each time the tomato plants are watered one, and sometimes two frogs, peep their heads out to receive a lovely dousing. I am using organic seaweed fertiliser on the tomato plants so I am hoping that there will be no harm to the frogs. We have also spotted what I think is toad in the garden. The more the better as far as I am concerned especially as I am sure they are helping to reduce the slug population in the garden.

Most information on the internet about attracting frogs and toads to your garden concentrates on having a pond. However most frogs and toads do not hibernate in water and spend a lot of their time on dry land so there is no reason why they cannot be frequent visitors to most gardens. The tree stumps and log piles left in our garden may be a prefect habitat for them. The Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust gives lots of tips and information about creating a frog-friendly garden.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Hampton Court Flower Show: My Favourite Garden

The garden one that bowled me over most at The Hampton Court Flower Show was the ‘An Uprising of Kindness’ garden designed by Bill Butterworth. The garden celebrated the homeless charity Emmaus which began in France in 1954. The planting was beautiful, with an edible French Mediterranean theme, including vines, olive, bay and apple trees. The colours of purple and orange were divine. The main water feature had 19 stacks of plates representing the 19 Emmaus communities across the UK. However it was the entrance to the garden which appealed most to me. You enter through a circular arbor with seating. On the floor two curled up people are depicted with glass bottle bottoms sunk into the ground. To enter the garden you cannot walk around these people as you usually would homeless people. You either step over or walk through them when you go in. You also have the choice of sitting in the arbor and contemplating what you can see.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010


When I visit gardens I am always on the look out for ideas that will get children playing and really looking at their environment. This year there was lots on offer at the Hampton Court Flower Show.  A garden which aims to raise awareness of overactive bladders may not be an obvious candidate for having child appeal. Yet any garden with a giant pink tap hovering in the air and pouring out water is a great eye catcher. There is no doubt that children will be intrigued as to how it works and how magical it really is. I am sure there will be quite a few ‘I want one of those’ heard during the course of the show. And, indeed, a smaller toned down version would be great fun.

A Matter of Urgency

A garden with a more traditional child-friendly feel is the Playful Garden designed by Southend Borough Council. It combines a blend of play, vegetable and landscape garden, all with a quirky feel, so that plants hang down rather than grow up. The tunnels in perspex are designed so that children can see the roots and animals living in the soil. The design and planting encourages lots of different type of active play and interaction with the plants and structures. I liked the arena – giving children the freedom to run around, tumble down or to dress up and put on a play.

Playful Garden

Root World Tunnel

There has been lots of publicity the Legoland Garden, which has great novelty value for the kids and is definitely better than plasticine flower garden shown at Chelsea last year. It is unlikely that you will be able to use similar features in your own garden. If you miss it at Hampton Court you will be able to see it when it is rebuilt at Legoland Windsor.

The Legoland Pirates Landing Garden

For me one of the highlights of this years show has to be the Home Grown Area. You can take tour around the fields of an arable farm in miniature and a similarly miniature market garden or is it a large allotment.  There is an orchard and chickens and an unusual mushroom growing area..  Everything looks great and children can really see where there food comes from and how ornamental it can all be. Inspirational.

Finally there is the recycled containers competition from Girlguiding UK.  I rather like this container just about identifiable as a shopping trolley.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Hampton Court Flower Show 2010

My review of the 2013 Flower Show can be found here

 I  thought I would share a with you some of my photographs from the Hampton Court Flower Show.

More on my favourite gardens and child friendly and quirky gardens to follow.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Photography and Savill Gardens

I have recently realised that you can’t write a website and a blog about gardens without getting into photography. A trip to Savill Gardens in Windsor Great Park last week with a photographer friend provided the perfect opportunity to have a plant photography tutorial. I hope we will all benefit from any improvement. One of the photos below is taken by my friend, Brigitte Flock. See if you can spot which one.

Go to Savill Gardens this time of year to see the hostas, trees, new rose garden and stunning perennial borders.

I am attending the Hampton Court Flower Show on Monday 4 July so I will be practising my new skills then.  You can usually pick up good tips for child-friendly gardens at the show.  I shall be especially looking out for the Playful Garden.  Where plants are fun to look at, feel and smell especially if they are upside down!   So watch this space to find out more.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Out2Play in Scotland

As a family we have just spent two weeks in Scotland enjoying the delights of the outdoors and mountain scenery in the North West Highlands. We camped at Glenbrittle, right by the Cuillin mountains and a lovely sandy cove on the Isle of Skye. Then we rented a farmhouse on the west coast of the mainland in an area called Torridon.

The campsite was a fabulous garden itself, full of wildflowers and long grasses, the cliff tops were crammed with wildflowers and there was fantastic vegetation on all of the lower slopes of the mountains. My son managed a number of 4/5 hours walks uphill. He learnt to identify deer track. He smelt bog myrtle, felt how soft cotton grass was and added sundew to his list of carnivorous plants. His shell, crab and rock collection was extensive. I came across geum rivale, Water Avens, for the first time and we all learnt to identify the different types of shells collected.

Our farmhouse was on the Coulin estate right in the middle of Torridon and next to the Beinn Eighe (pronounced ‘A’) Nature Reserve. The first national nature reserve to be set up in the country in the 1950s. This meant we have the luxury of walking in the estate from 3 miles in whereas other walkers had to start their walks from the entrance to the estate. One of our walks passed a mountain bothy. Bothys are maintained by a charity, the Mountain Bothies Association.  They describe the use of a bothy as camping without a tent. The one in Torridon was called Easan Dorch (The Teahouse) and is unusual as it is a relatively recent bothy. Most I have passed and stayed in have been converted cottages or barns. This was very cute and actually looked similar to a children’s playhouse. It is very small but would be a great place for children to stay overnight. All bothies are also useful also a lunch stop on a rainy day or when you need to avoid the midges.

On the non-walking days we fitted in two visits to Scottish gardens. I was intrigued by Attadale Gardens in Strathcarron, Wester Ross as it had been voted Gardeners World Magazine readers 1st choice of Scottish garden and best day out for kids. The garden is hidden well from the road and is full of natural planting and bridges and small pathways some forming secret passages especially in the water garden. It has a fantastic giant sundial and is full of sculpture. The cheetah and chameleon were my son’s favourite. Mine was a piece of rock engraved with the words ‘Life is not a rehearsal’. They had a great display in the self service tea room with maps of the world showing where all the plants in the garden had come from.

The National Trust for Scotland’s garden at Inverewe is a must for a visit. Its highlight is the walled garden. It really is to die for as it is a walled garden with the most spectacular views. Go and see it just for this.

Back home and we find that the strawberries have ripened, the carrot seedlings planted close to the house have disappeared, and something has been eating our onions – I thought they would be slug proof.

Friday, 28 May 2010

How Green is My Garden?

The foliage in my garden has now all appeared and as usual various shades and hues of green predominate. So we have been playing the matching the shades game. I first saw this played in an outdoor centre in West Yorkshire with some teenagers, but I didn’t see why it wouldn’t work with younger children. I used some colour paint charts picked up from my local DIY store

We then had fun collecting leaves and trying to match them to the different shades of green for good 15 minutes. I have realised that if you want to get an exact match it is nigh impossible. Nevertheless it is a great game for the outdoors – fun, educational and providing the opportunity for stickers at the end of it. It really got my son looking at the foliage and thinking which shades were lighter and darker. We had a little chat about the variety of green colours in nature and how the leaves were different in size, shape and texture.

If you don’t have access to colour charts a set of coloured pencils may work just as well. Matching different colours is obviously an easier game. It would work well for younger children and help them learn their colours.

We are off to Scotland in a while and I hope to get some walking in. There will now be a couple of colour charts in my rucksack so we can play the spot the colour game as a way to help keep little legs moving.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Crops in Pots: Learning from the Experts

RHS Wisley Garden is a great resource for all things garden-related. It’s a wonderful garden, with acres of plants, fruit and vegetables. It has some good model gardens to gain inspiration from, a glass house, garden centre and a library full of all the gardening books you would ever want to read. They have good children’s activities and a new outdoor natural playground. My visit this week was, unusually, without children in tow. I attended a talk on growing vegetables and fruit in pots. Two hours of tips and advice from two RHS fruit and vegetable specialists plus a tour of the gardens they manage. Heaven.

Here are a few snippets of information I picked up. The grow bag of choice was an organic peat free one from New Horizon. They had found it performed really well. For strawberries and other water hungry plants it is best to slit more drainage holes along the side of the grow bag. The strawberries in the photo had been taken in under glass in early spring to force on. I also learnt that you can get pink flowered strawberries. I’ll be on the look out for them next year.

All fruit bushes and trees grown in pots need to be repotted every couple of years and, if necessary, some of the roots cut away before being repotted in the same container. No wonder my patio pear, never repotted, has just about stopped bearing fruit.

You’ll see from the photo the approach to growing carrots. Complete protection from the carrot fly. The fleece stays over the carrots until they are harvested. I am now beginning to wonder if I am being too optimistic in not having any protection over mine.

They were growing two types of leaves in pots which I had not come across before. Mustard Green ‘Red Giant’ which looked very ornamental with lime green and purple leaves. On checking it out I find that it only takes 45 days to grow and has a mild mustard flavour. The other was land cress. Both are suitable for over wintering so they will be on my seed list for the autumn.

On a more local note my local horticultural society held a plant fair at a nearby allotment site last weekend. It was a well attended event with lots of local families there. So much better to buy plants that have been grown locally. So I took the opportunity of rejoining after a 5 year gap. Membership was £2.50 and came with a free moneymaker tomato plant. Bargain! I know this is where the local gardening experts will be and I intend to make full use of my membership.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

May Flowers

There is usually lots going on my flower garden in May and this year the borders are blooming lovely. Some of my favourite family friendly plants are appearing.

Forget Me Nots, Aquilegia and Californian Poppies. Their pretty flowers all appeal to children and they have easy names to remember – that is if you use the common name of Grannies Bonnets for the Aquilegia. For us adults they are great because they self seed like crazy, require very little maintenance and do not seem to be particularly tasty to slugs and snails. Not so family friendly can be their habit of self seeding into a lawn. Their seedlings are also great for potting up and giving to friends and neighbours.

Today I realized that in fact I have forgotten. Last year I was given a packet of New Zealand Forget Me Not seeds which I had intended to sow in the autumn. This New Zealand native plant has intense blue flowers which group together in large clusters with huge glossy leaves. There are only four seeds in the packet so if I manage to grow them I think that they are going to be quite special. I also note that the New Zealand seed packet has an 8cm long measuring tape printed on it so you do not need to guess at measurements when planting your seeds. What a good idea.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

10 Reasons to get out into the Garden

The weather is picking up and the daylight is here for longer so it is now time to spend those hours in the garden. To motivate myself and my family to move from the sofa, through the french doors, to the garden I have been listing the benefits of outdoor play for all of us.

You move differently and more often when you are in the garden. Children can engage in more physical activity which in turn helps their development.

• It is easier to experiment - with noise, with large objects and anything that needs space. The sense of freedom gets the kids more active and active kids are happier kids.

• You use all of your senses outside. You see the difference between light and shade, your sense of smell is heightened, and you can hear what is going on around you.

• You are literally closer to nature and your kids can observe the birds, minibeasts and monitor the plants growing and other changes in the garden.

• You can get stuck into gardening – digging, growing, weeding and watering – the children can have a go at them all.

• You are more aware of the elements and weather. You can feel the wind and see it moving the foliage, smell the rain and splash in the puddles.

• Outdoors is great for messy play with water and sand, glitter and moon sand, in fact, any craft activity.

• If the kids are outside you are likely to find yourself outside more.

• You can be more creative outside – the more time you spend outside the more you will want to. Think about spending time your front garden as well – it’s a great way to catch up with your neighbours.

• It’s an easy way to stay fit – all those running around games, mowing the lawn and digging. Apparently if you weigh 10 stone, an hour spent weeding uses 290 calories whereas you will use only 60 calories watching TV.

The garden is not only the best children’s playroom in our house, it also an outdoor gym, chill out space, and sensory room for us all. It is a fantastic and indispensable resource.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Gardening Websites

I have been updating my website to include a whole new section on Children's Gardening.

I was particularly struck by a comment from a mum saying that she would not know the difference between sweet peas and nasturtiums. It is easy to forget that the popularity of getting children to garden has only been around for a couple of years. Many parents may not have been exposed to such expereince when they were little. So I have tried to include the sort of information someone would want to know if they had not gardened or grown anything before and were now doing so for the first time with their 4 year old.

Whilst looking to see what resources there are already on the web I have found two sites which I think are great for first timers and also contain a few tips for more seasoned gardeners. The first is the BBC Digin site. This has information to help you to plan your growing space and some neat videos on what to do and how to plant. Their newsletter comes out regularly to remind you what you could be planting. Ideal if you are like me and start sowing and planting and then thinkg you have loads of time only to find the days have turned into weeks.

The other site is Eat Seasonably. The site has information on what to grow now, how to grow it and what to eat now all with a slide show explaining things. It has a great interactive guide on what is in season when.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Garden Faces

For me there is something quite appealing about having a few faces displayed in the garden and kids usually love them. My current favourites in the garden are a tree face and a green man.

The tree face has been hung on the pussy willow tree. Though the faces are suitable for a shed, fence or playhouse. You do have to hang the individual pieces on nails. In the 18 months I have had the tree face I have had to place it new nails as the girth of the tree has grown so much it has absorbed the nails. The tree face comes from Truly Madly Garden. They have a wide range of them and they make great presents. My son is keen on the pirate one.

The Green Man design goes back over centuries. It is said to be symbol of mans union with nature and therefore feels like a good choice for a garden ornament. It is presumably the origin of the all Green Man pubs we have in the UK. I'd like to have one carved in wood as well so will be looking out for one at any garden fairs I attend this summer.
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