Friday, 16 December 2011

A Christmas Star from the Garden

Star Made from DOGWOOD

Christmas Star
Christmas Star

Last spring when I cut back my dogwood in the front garden I had good intentions.  I knew that the lovely red stems which had brightened up the garden all winter long could be put to further use.  I hadn't expected it to take me quite so long to use them.  Last weekend we brought the holly and other foliage in from the garden and settled down to decorate the house. This year the holly has produces loads of berries and the blackbirds have been feeding off them.  I have therefore decided no twigs with berries in the house this year.  They are to be left in the garden for the birds to feast from.   So the dogwood star we have made provides us with some festive red.

Bunch of Dogwood Stems
A bunch of Dogwood Stems


We started with the bunch of stems and then cut nine lengths of the same size.  We then tied triple stems to from a triangle.  It would have been lovely to use the red raffia.  However for my six year, and also myself, it was far too difficult connecting all the pieces of twigs whist trying to tie.  Our solution was to use red rubber bands.  After making another triangle all we needed to do was to attach the two together and our star was born.

We hope you like it. Other flexible stems could also be used, especially those from willows. Merry Christmas.  Hope you manage to bring some of your garden into the house this holiday.  And I don't mean mud!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Autumn Colours at Stourhead

We hadn’t planned to visit, but after a whole day of rain we needed to get out for an autumn ramble. Helpfully the evening before Radio 4’s PM programme had interviewed the head gardener from Stourhead.  The passion he displayed for the garden was infectious and helped us to decide that a visit to see the Autumn colours was a must. We were not disappointed.

Situated in Wiltshire just off of the A303 it is one of the best landscape gardens in the world. With tremendous views, situated at the source of the river Stour, which then runs south all the way through Dorset until it reaches the sea near Bournemouth.

Its a great garden for kids, as well as everyone else. There was a tree trail highlighting champion trees and a simple spotter’s guide on offer. However there was no play area. None was needed.

The garden was very busy – lots of people must have been listening to Radio 4. There were lots of families with children and all seemed fully occupied with the endless opportunities for collecting leaves – we played a game matching the red of my son’s jacket, running around, clambering over tree trunks and stumps, jumping in puddles and mud courtesy of the previous day’s rain and playing under branches full of beautifully coloured leaves.

The vistas were spectacular, the light superb and the refection of water from the beautiful lakes mesmerising. No human being could be unaffected by the rich tapestry created by the trees. It is a garden that has a restorative effect on adult and youngsters alike. 

Now enough of me waxing lyrically.  I just hope that everyone sometime somewhere gets to experience such beauty.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Apple Day and the Abundance Project

Picking apples from a tree must be one of the most valued childhood memories. Its great to have apple trees in your garden, but the harvesting, storing and preparation of them can be a mixed blessing. Having given away loads of our apples to family and friends and stored away several box full we were still left with rather a surplus. Kingston’s apple day solved our problem for us.

We took our apples and some empty bottles to Kingston Environment Centre. Here we washed them, cut them up into large pieces and put them, core and pip and skin as well, into an apple grinder. Next the pulp was placed into an apple press. A couple of turns of the screw and hey presto we had our own apple juice. Ours was particularly pretty as the addition of some apples with pink flesh added a perfect blush to juice.

Apple day events are held all over the country usually as close to Apple Day on the 21 October. A friend of mine who lives in a village in Somerset takes all her apple to the village apple press. It would be great if urban communities could have something similar.

Yesterday we learnt how easy it was to make pressed apple juice with just a bit of arm power. I also found out about Kingston’s Abundance Project. There is no more a sorry sight that seeing fruit rotting on the ground because nobody has harvested it. The project aims to rectify this by harvesting the seasonal glut of local fruit, such as apples, pears and plums and redistribute the surplus to the Kingston community on a non-profit basis. A great idea and we will certainly be helping to pick next year.

There is also a national fruitshare scheme where you can register as a fruit seeker of a fruit sharer. Rather like the landshare scheme.  With projects like these lets hope in years to come we will all be eating local apples and fruit going to waste will be a thing of the past.

Friday, 30 September 2011

An Indian Summer in the Garden

I read this week that an Indian summer can only occur in October.  Well if that is the case then ours is about to start tomorrow.  If you are a gardener, love gardens, have a young family then you are going to just love having summer at this time of the year.  Or are you?  It certainly great to extend the time you can get out into your garden and enjoy it.  But is it great for everything.  Are those plants and animals who use temperature to determine their behaviour going to get slightly confused?

In my garden the gains of warm sunny days are:-
  • Those green tomatoes that never ripen may actually all turn red this year.
  • Its been a great season for raspberries and they are still producing fruit and those apples may just ripen on the tree before becoming fallers.
  • For everyone growing pumpkins -  as a plant that does not like the frost, they may just get to stay in the ground until the end of October. 

Being in the garden this time of year enables us to listen to the acorns dropping and spot the squirrels squirrelling away those acorns. We have fantastic spider webs in the garden with highly active spiders for at least the last month. Tonight we are going to take full advantage of the warm, but dark by 7 o'clock, evening and do a torchlight safari.

On the minus side I am still having to cut the grass, with the help of my six year old, who is really keen to have a go at the push mower.   The pots and the remaining vegetables are going to need watering. My harvest of fruit and vegetables is ripening like mad in the kitchen.  So there is an urgent need to store, cook and/or freeze them.

This heatwave must be a goldmine for phenologists ( those who study how plants and animals are affected by variations in climate).  My garden certainly looks a mismash of plants from all seasons.  I have full red holly berries, together with a rose which started flowering in May and still has buds on.  I know in Dorset there are still swallows around and wonder if they will now be leaving later then usual.

I will be making to most of the sunshine and be out in my garden this weekend. Its a great opportunity for everyone else to do the same.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Creative Business Photography Workshop

On Friday I was in seventh heaven. Why? Because I was in a walled garden, having a go at photography, with a lovely bunch of ladies. I attended a creative photography workshop run by Vicki Knights at the Medicine Garden in Cobham.

If you are a regular reader of this blog or my Kidsinthegarden website you will know that there is still much room for improvement in my photos. We were given a really good grounding in the basics of lifestyle product photography, which in my case covers kids outdoor toys, children’s gardening gifts and, of course, plants and flowers.

I loved every minute of it. Its great to learn new things.  We were given loads of hints and tips from adjusting exposure to what to do post production. As a result of the workshop I am beginning to look at light in a very different way and consider how it will affect my shot. I am also far more aware of the composition of my photo. I now feel far less intimidated by the technicalities of my camera.

I hope you like the photos I took on the day. Please watch out for more changes. I will be working hard in the next couple of weeks. I have to, for we have been given homework!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Where Am I?

A pictorial post and a quiz for the summer.  This garden is in the heart of a large city in the UK.  Can you guess where it is?

It has a pond, a meadow and one of the cties busiest roads on its southern boundary

It is a real oasis in the heart of the city.  Well worth a visit.

The building in this last photo should identify it for you.  If you are not familiar with London it is the wildlife garden at the Natural History Museum.  When I took these photos a couple of weeks ago there were long queues for the museum, but only myself and two other couples in the garden.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Growing with Kids 1 - Radishes

Radish harvest
We are adding a few more veg to our repertoire this year.  Lots of kids gardening books suggest that one of the easiest vegetables to grow with kids are radishes and guess what they are right.  Our little bunch above were planted at the end of half term, in early June and have gone from plot to plate in less than five weeks.  That's fast growing.

They are of the globe variety, with a hot and quite fiery taste - a little bit too peppery for my son.  For me they brought back memories of my childhood with my family growing them and cutting crosses in the top to open them up into star shapes.  We also used to have great fun making vegetable faces with them and other vegetables.

They are ideal for taking on picnics.  Although they look good with leaves on we took them off of ours before storing to prevent goodness travelling up to the leaves.

We will definitely be sowing so more this summer though will take the advice from Love radish to sow a purple variety with a milder flavour perhaps more suited to younger children.

We have a sister site kidsinthegarden which has a wealth of information on growing vegetables with children.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Kids Garden Activities: Painting Pots, Bunches of Herbs and the Odd Decorated Pebble


Painted Pots using Star Stickers

Painting Garden Pots

If you are like me there are loads of activities you never get around to doing with children. Over the past week I’ve had the opportunity to test out a number of garden crafts without the kids, especially those involving paint.  Four weeks notice to stock and run a plant and produce stall for the school fair was not enough time to grow very much. We therefore decided to supplement the green produce on the stall with some home painted pots and stones.  I saw the advert for 100 free terracotta pots on freegle too late to grab them so it was off to Homebase to buy some.

Stencils on pot

A couple of class mums met one evening to stock the stall and have a couple of glasses of wine. I had diligently read up that to make the paint waterproof and weather proof . So we used 2 parts acrylic paint to one part PVC glue. Our experiences that evening taught us to let your creative juices flow and if they don’t use stencils. However the easiest method was placing stickers on the pot and rim. Large stickers that stuck really well worked best.  On the basis of the mess we created then if doing this with kids outdoors is probably advisable.  We had great fun and found it very therapeutic, hopefully something that will equally apply to children.

Painted Stones

All of the pots comments apply equally to painting pebbles. The smaller surface area and flatter configuration may well make them easier to paint. I loved the idea of painting a child’s name or initials on a stone.  Great for them to place on their plot.

Bunches of Herbs

If you have hardwood culinary herbs such as bay, rosemary and thyme already growing in your garden you can make good use of them.  This is a really easy kids activity. Depending on age, they can help to choose the herbs to cut, take off any decaying leaves and tie with pretty ribbons.  They can then be hung up to dry somewhere visible where the stages of drying can be observed.  Finally at a later date the kids can pick them for use in cooking.

So in future I won't be quite so daunted at having a go at the more messy garden crafts with my son.  I hope this account has also encouraged you.

Monday, 27 June 2011

More Green Space and Less Hard Surfaces in your Garden - WHY?

A recent report by the London Wildlife Trust on how London is losing its green gardens came up with some interesting facts.

  • There are approx 3.8 million gardens in London (if you count front and back gardens separately) – Wow what a lot.
  • 24% of London is domestic outdoor space with 14% of it vegetated. It is therefore really valuable green space.
As a result of garden design and maintenance since 1998/99 there has been a 12% drop in vegetation in gardens, hard surfaces have increased within gardens by 26% and areas of garden buildings by 55%. These are real losses as once an area is paved it is likely to be a long time, if ever, before it is removed.

The report got me thinking about how we transform our gardens to become more family friendly and suit the needs of our kids by adding paving, dens and outdoor offices. For front gardens car parking and more paving to ease maintenance are an increasing popular choice. Although planning permission is now needed if you wish to pave over your front garden unless the paving is permeable.

Our front garden

So how has our garden fared.  Are we helping this green decline?  In the back we have lifted a whole load of sleepers and created a vegetable bed (sorry edible garden – see previous post).  However we are extending the back of the house causing a 10ft loss of garden. So nil points here

In the front 2 years ago all the paving was lifted and a new garden created.  The idea was to create a low maintenance front garden full of plants.  The photo you see shows the garden now at the end of June having had no maintenance all year except for pruning of the dogwood.  So we are moving in the right direction here.

I reckon therefore our garden comes out neutral in terms of change, but more by accident then design - how does yours do?  I want our garden to attract wildlife and know that keeping it as vegetated as possible and planting insect attracting plants will help.  So from now on I will be monitoring it and checking on how we are doing.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The Language of Gardening that will get Children Growing

Crops in pots

Growing your own and getting the whole family involved in gardening has become cool over the last decade.

We no longer have vegetable plots, but edible gardens. Our flower gardens have gone vertical and our roofs have gone green. Kids at school no longer garden, but grow. Though we still have loads of school gardening clubs. Everyone wants a sought after allotment, but community gardens and land shares are now real alternatives. If you haven’t got a garden you can still take the one pot pledge.

The focus on growing food is highlighted by some lovely slogans. So we now have:-

  • Ledge Veg
  • Crops in Pots
  • Plot to Plate
  • Fork to Fork
  • Welly to Belly
There’s bound to be more, so please add to the list by leaving a comment.

Vertical garden in an urban landscape

Our children attend Seedy Sunday and Sow and Grow events. For those who like a combative approach there is Guerrilla Gardening and Seed Bombs.

On a slightly more serious note we also have food security. A reason for growing your own food you will see more often raised on US gardening websites that those in the UK.  E Coli outbreaks, knowing where are food comes and dealing with food shortages may all well be issues are children have to deal with in the future.

However, for now, whether you garden or grow, they are all life skills for our kids. I love this new language of gardening.  Its great for our children to grow up with this new vocabulary.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Children's Gardens at RHS Chelsea

A Child's Garden in Wales

The Chelsea Flower Show must be one of the few UK flower shows that does not encourage children to attend.  I only saw one child visitor and two children behind a stand on the day I attended. Children's growing was highlighted in several gardens this year.

My favourite was A Child's Garden in Wales. A 1940s inspired garden created by Anthea Guthrie, with the teenage boys from special needs schools in Heronsbridge and Ysgol Bryn Castell Wales with whom she had been working with for two years.  Home made footballs and hobby horses, a rusted iron junk fence with umbrella spokes all feature.  No plastic toys in sight.  As the garden is set in 1947 most of it is given over to fruit and vegetables.  The few annuals children then would have grown are surprisingly similar to those children would have grown today, including Love in the Mist, Calendula, forget me nots and night scented stock. They are similar to the easy grow flowers seeds I use with my son.  Its great that the children researched the history of the garden

Calendula flowers amongst the vegetables

Another group of schools showcasing flower and food growing were to be found at the Miracle Growers Learning Journey garden.  If you look at their site  you'll see they had some royal visitors.

Radishes from the Learning Journey

The cut flower part of the garden highlighted 9 inner city schools in south east London where the children grew their own cut flowers and able to take a learning journey into plant care. The project recognised that many urban schools are surrounded by hard urban views with little foliage and flowers. It demonstrated that
even schools without land garden soil can grow in containers,

Similarly the fruit and veg part of the garden demonstrated how the children in schools throughout the country grew food without a vegetable patch using window sills and containers on hard landscaped areas. The photograph shows the large variety of radishes which were grown, a really easy plant for children to grow.

If you have a favourite Chelsea garden this year please let us know.  If you are growing food and flowers in your school please get in touch we'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Three Doors at RHS Chelsea that all Kids will Love

I visited the Chelsea Flower Show in London yesterday.  If you are in the UK you will know that the papers and television have been overflowing with reviews of it.  The show certainly lived up to expectations.  I arrived as the gates opened at 8.00am which allowed for a quiet first hour and enabled me to take photos without the crowds.

There is a fuller more meaty post to follow about what the show had to offer children's gardening.  What I often take away from garden shows are one or two details where I think, I could do that or that will work in my garden.  On that basis I'd like to share three images with you.  They will appeal to children of all ages.  The first is from the Fever-Tree's Tree House garden designed by Stephen Hall.  This had a beautiful low level tree house with the most enchanting door.  No child would be able to resist going through this.  It conjures up images of secret gardens and hidden worlds.  Just raising the house off the floor by one/two feet added to the interest.

Tree House Garden

Faces in the garden are a firm favourite of mine.  Carving a face in the door to this tree house such a simple and clever idea.  It could translate quite easily to a tall garden gate or even a fence.

Finally a 'dor' with a difference.  A sculpture of this minute dormouse rolled up asleep in a  nutshell was quite

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

CBeebies, Gardening and Mr Bloom's Nursery

At the beginning of last year I wrote a piece on the blog about CBeebies and Gardening.  The BBC has now applied even more creativity to its childrens' programming and produced an entertaining veggie puppet show with Mr Bloom's Nursery.  Its worth a watch even if you don't have kids - well a short watch.  Its website has a great range of games and gardening related actitivies for younger children.

At the core of the daily life of the nursery are a group of singing, talking and moving veggies with rather traditional names.  There is Margaret the Cabbage and Joan the Fennel.  Soft toy vegetables are rather more endearing then the usual plastic vegetables available as part of food sets.  If you like the toys on Mr Bloom's Nursery then you are bound to fall in love with those featured our kidsinthegardenshop.  Each character has floppy arms and legs and a very smiley face. 

Kids in the Garden Soft Toy Vegetables

Tom Turnip

Tammy Tomato

Will they encourage and inspire your children to get growing and to eat vegetables?  They certainly will entertain them and provide loads of fun and from the planting of little seedlings great things can grow.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Potato Grass Heads, Children’s Plant Markers and Recycling Red Noses

Kids’ garden activities are now a routine part of most gardening events. So with a kidsinthegarden stall at our local seedy Sunday the childrens’ gardening activities fitted neatly with me.

By popular request potato head grass heads were on offer. If you have never created these creatures here’s how we did it.


10-12 inches of part of a pair of tights
Sawdust (from local pet shop)
Grass seed
Stick on eyes
Plastic cup

Tie one end of the tights and add a dessert spoon full of grass seed. Top up with sawdust to form oval face shape and tie at the bottom of head. Grass seed must to at the top of the head.  Create a face on the tights. Roll head in a saucer of water and keep damp. Within a couple of weeks, maybe less, a hairy grass top will show. Keep watering the grass and snip when necessary. It really is that easy.

The most popular gardening activity with the children was making plant markers, perhaps because of the immediate effect. For these I used:-

Small polystyrene balls (ping pong balls will also work)
Barbeque sticks
Drinking straws
Rubber bands to keep straw on sticks

Assemble and let the children create their own images (use waterproof pens). Planting in the garden is, of course, optional, but highly recommended. Children love to mark ownership of any seeds and plants they may have planted.

If you still have your red nose from red nose day why not recycle it.  It makes a lovely colourful plant marker.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

World Book Day: A Book to Inspire your Children to Garden

If I could only take one children's gardening book on to that desert island it would have to be 'Eddie's Garden and How to Make Things Grow' by Sarah Garland. It is a simple, homely and feel good story about a little boy growing vegetables and flowers with his family. It has held the attention of my 6 year old for the last 3 years and there is still more staying power in it.

Give your child their own plot of earth, let them dig and plant their own seeds and any child will identify with Eddie. What helps Eddie's garden to grow? Your little ones may well be able to answer that question and you certainly will because you will be reading it to them lots of time.

The story involves 3 generations of the same family. A nice touch as grandparents often help with nurturing those little green fingers. The illustrations include colourful characters from the garden. The ubiquitous robin always around when digging is on the go, wriggly worms and those evil snails. Eddie himself is inspired by the story of Jack and the Bean Stalk.

There is a useful list of Eddie's plants of 12 vegetables and edible flowers, with brief growing instructions. It is a great starter gardening book.

If you only read your children one book about gardening let it be this one. This is the time of year to get growing and sowing and this is the ideal book to read with your kids.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Growing Upwards, Spring and Ball-Proof Glass

RHS Spring and Design Show
Spring was certainly in the Air at the 2011 RHS Plant and Design Show in London yesterday. This is a gardening show which doesn’t usually have a kid’s element to it. However there were a few unexpected snippets of interest to families with young children.

Plant Heritage’s display held an amazing collection of early spring blossoms, many from ordinary gardens. It demonstrated just how much is in bloom in February and was a timely reminder to me to bring in a few cutting from branches of shrubs from the garden into the house. An opportunity for children to use their sense of smell.  The stall below is an example I suspect of how we would all like our garden to look in the spring.

Mini Greenhouses

I have owned an Access mini greenhouse for about 9 years, although sadly it is at present rather empty and uncared for. It will receive some TLC and be filled with seedlings in the next few weeks. I find a mini greenhouse a good alternative for those of us with gardens too small for a grown up greenhouse.

My sister has asked for one for her birthday. I had thought that the constant presence of cricket and footballs in her garden would rule out a glass house. However I have now been assured by the Access guy at the show that the glass can withstand a hit from either. Surely a great selling point. I’ll let you know how it survives the summer.

My mini greenhouse
The theme of the show was roof top gardens or as the blurb put it 'green roofing for urban spaces'.  Whilst I would not consider a roof garden to be an option for a family I loved the planting on the vertical walls.  This would be great those with tiny patio gardens.

Finally I thought you may like to see the latest version of a ‘green’ car. It was spotted on the road outside the show.

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