Monday, 26 November 2012

Celebrating National Tree Week

This week, 24 November to 2 December, is National Tree Week.  Its an opportunity to celebrate and highlight the importance of trees.  I noticed that the BBC Nature page was featuring a series of tree photographs, so thought I would review some of my favourite piccies.  I have chosen one from each season.

oak tree  in winter with hoar frost

This was taken after after a big freeze.  Everywhere was covered in hoar frost and this oak tree looked stunning.


oak tree summer

The same oak tree at midsummer in full leaf.

You can plant a tree this week or become involved in one of the community tree planting events.  However for most of us just thinking about the importance of these statuesque structures will be the way in which we participate.  Please go and have a good look at one close to you.   There has been much in press recently about ash dieback and its possible devasting effects.   Imagine a world without trees.

'A civilisation flourishes when people plant trees under which they will never sit'   Greek Proverb.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Autumn Leaf Hopscotch

Autumn Leaf Hopscotch

The autumn leaves in the south of the UK have been wonderful this year.  I have been seeing fantastic artwork, collages and patterns made from leaves.  This weekend a brief chat with my 7 year old about what use we could put some of the many leaves in our garden led to a eureka moment.  What garden game would be great to play with leaves outdoors?  We came up with autumn leaf hopscotch.  Hope you like the idea.

As it’s such a simple project  the photographs may explain it all. However we had such fun concocting it, counting, sorting, and deciding which leaves to use and then working out patterns for each number I thought I’d share a bit more detail with you.

We used leaves from the garden, but this activity is a great use of all those leaves bought back from an autumn walk that you never know what to do with.  Ours either lie dried up and shrivelled indoors or wet and soggy outside.  Flat leaves seem to work best, but you don’t have to use pressed leaves.  For some leaf shapes turning the leaf to its underside meant it was easier to lay them out.  It also gave us a chance to explore the vein patterns underneath and also note the different colourations.  Some of the leaves were really beautiful on their ‘other’ side.

leaf hopscotch

As for the hopscotch – do you remember how to play?  I had to think twice.  I had played it with my son when he was small and just learning his numbers, but not recently.  He obviously had not played it in the school playground (ever? or in recent past?) Oh dear the demise of playground games.  I’ll be popping a piece of chalk in his pocket this week.  I have a little book which we use as our Games Bible,  called 'The Games Book -  how to play the games of yesterday' which is currently available on Kindle.

Here’s a quick run down of the rules just in case you can’t remember either.  You number squares from 1 to 10 in the pattern shown in the first photo.   The aim is to be the first to finish to square 10.  The game can be played with a group or just one person.  You throw a small pebble onto square one.  If it lands fully within the square you jump over the square containing the pebble left foot in square 2 and right foot in square 3.  Continue hopping and jumping until you reach square ten then turn balancing on one foot and hopscotch back to squares 2 and 3 to pick up the pebble from square one.  If you touch a line, lose your balance or miss a square. Your turn is over and you must start at square one again.  You must never step on the square which has your pebble.

garden leaf hopscotch
This is how we spent our Sunday morning - a great way to be out in the clear frosty air.  If I had thought about it I would have used a fir cone instead of a small stone just to complete the autumn theme.
By the way 2 little points to note.  Yes you will step on the leaves and patterns and mess them up, but that can be easily rectified.  It was a lovely calm dry sunny day on Sunday.  This version of hopscotch probably won’t work on a windy day!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Floral Friday: Cosmos - Family Friendly Plants

cosmos family friendly plant

The Cosmos is the sort of flower that you may have seen in other people’s gardens and thought I would love to have that displaying in my garden.  It’s a lovely statuesque cottage garden flower, usually with very pretty pastel colours and feathery leaves. It is rather magical for toddlers as it grows to just about their height making it ideal for viewing, smelling and picking.  In fact the more picking the better as that will encourage more flowers to bloom.

The packets of seeds sold in the shops are usually those of Cosmos bipinnatus, which is an annual, and the variety you will most commonly see in the summer. 

The characteristics that make it family friendly and a good seed to sow with you children are:-
  • It is pretty easy to grow from seed.
  • It usually only takes about 12 weeks from sowing to flower – so you will not have to wait too long.
  • It has a long flowering period, as it will flower from June to September or even the first frosts.  Certainly I have seen them flowering into late October this year.
  • You can sow in pots or direct into the ground.  Although not a wildflower they were used to magnificent effect  in the Olympic Park planting scheme this year.
  • Good cutting flower.
  • Butterflies love Cosmos.
cosmos under apple tree
There is also one other type of Cosmos worth a mention because children love its scent.  It is the Cosmos atrosanguineus   If I say a good variety to buy is 'Chocamocha'  then I am sure you will have guessed the aroma.  Yes there really is a plant with a chocolatety smell. 
This is a perennial plant which means it will comeback every year.  However it is not fully frost hardy.  To minimise frost damage you need either to protect its roots with a cloche or to take the plant into a frost free environment, such as a greenhouse for the winter.
Add  a packet of  cosmos seeds to your spring shopping list or even better pop a couple of packets in your children's Christmas stocking this year.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012


I have been playing well outside the garden recently and having great fun.  This Saturday I tiptoed nervously for the first time into a conference for bloggers, called the Mumsnet BlogFest.

My BlogFest day started brilliantly.  I love coincidence and unplanned meetings.  I once went on holiday to southern Ireland and met a family for the first time who lived 4 doors down from me in my London house.  On Saturday the first person I started chatting with was a blogger, Natasja King from Crochetime.   She mentioned to another participant that she had recently decorated a local fence with some of her work.  A couple of days ago I had seen a photo from one of the social networks of a beautifully decorated bench, which I now know had been yarn bombed (watch for future posts about this).  We discovered that not only had she decorated that bench, but that she only lived a couple of miles from me.  Not a bad coincidence from an audience of over 300.  From then the day just got better and better.  We laughed, shared, digested, networked, chatted, listened, and learnt all in the spirit of BlogFestHood. 
This Blog is now over 3 years old and I have loved and looked forward to writing for it, thinking about what I might post, and taking and learning to take photographs for it.  As with a garden I couldn’t help feeling that it was time to dig in a few new plants and load a lot of more fertiliser onto the plot and to breathe some new life into the blog.  I hoped that the Blogfest would provide me with a few pointers on how to achieve this.   It did and it gave so much more.   A top tip early into the day I was reminded that to write and write well is like exercising a muscle that need to be stretched again and again.  Regular posts = improved writing.
Another very strong message  was to be true to yourself then you will start to find a sense of your identity and your own voice in your writing.  I always find it difficult when to make the decision to stop editing a piece and hit the send button to publish the post.  My thought are always, have I said too much, too little, crossed the border between the public and the private, expressed feelings and emotions I would rather remain private or might affect other people.
A number of bloggers on the platforms I attended had set themselves boundaries between their private and personal personas. I never identify any members of my family and others in my blog.  You may have noticed that this also includes photographs.  There is obviously much food for thought here. One of the most interesting questions from the audience full of mummy bloggers was what she should do now that her 16 yr old son had requested her to stop blogging about him.  A response from the Times journalist, Tania Bryon, that she should respect his wishes received a large applause from the audience. 

Caitlin Moran at Mumsnet Blogfest
I want to blog to connect with people and share experiences that may be familiar to them or that they may want to try in the future.  I would love people to read what I write and say yes what you say resonates with me.  Or think I’m kind of interested in your views and I’ll come back to this blog at a later date.  I loved Caitlin Moran’s take on good writing.  That it was like playing pool, where you had to walk around the table and take the shot on the ball no else has. I’ll now be doing lots of traipsing around my and other people’s gardens working my way through the angle I need to write about.
The day really made me think about what blogging was all about.  What makes it different from writing a book, a series of articles or a regular column in a newspaper or magazine?   My view following the Blog Fest is that it is most similar to that now rather old fashioned form of communication, the personal letter.  Several of those speaking on Saturday said they had a particular person in mind when writing.  A friend who now lives in India says that she often reads this blog as a way of keeping up with me and my family.   So maybe she will be my ghost reader.
Sunny Spells
Oh and by the way the day also ended brilliantly.  A goody bag to die for was the icing on the cake.  I loved everything in it, but what I liked best was the message above displayed on an umbrella box.  Well the sun certainly shone on Saturday.  Thank you so much Mumsnet for such a lovely lesson in Blogging.  It couldn't have been better
 Read more about the BlogFest here.


Sunday, 4 November 2012

Stourhead Revisited: The Beauty of Autumn Colour

Last year we visited Stourhead, Wiltshire, one of the best landscape gardens in the country.  It was so beautiful we couldn’t resist returning again this year.

There are over 600 species of trees and shrubs in the landscape gardens assuring a fantastic long-lived autumn display.  The expectation was for a good spectacle of autumn colour this year.  The wet summer helped the trees to produce large numbers of leaves whilst the spell of warmer weather later in the year allowed trees to increase their sugar levels.

We were not disappointed.  We visited slightly later than last year and some trees which had been in full autumn colour had already lost their leaves.  The carpeting of the ground was prefect though.  Other foliage, not in full colour last year was truly stunning.

If you read last week’s post you will know that I saw autumn colours at Wisley with a group of gardening buddies.  This visit turned out slightly different.  It was just me and my seven year old who made the trip.  The gardens are a fantastic space for children.  They have plenty of space to run around, points of interest, a grotto and are great for hide and seek. 

The beauty of the gardens make it almost compulsory to take photographs.  In fact the day we were there nearly everyone was busy with their cameras.  However, of course, I should have realised that it’s not just adults who want to take shots – 7 year olds are pretty keen as well.  So note to self, if I want sole use of my camera then I need to make sure that my son remembers to bring his. 

I was pretty pleased with the photo of the acer palmatum at the beginning of this post. As we walked away from the tree I noted there was possibly an even better shot from amongst some very ancient rhododendrons.  Click went my camera, thump went my son as he slipped of the branch of the rhododendron he had been climbing.  Silence for a very long couple of seconds and then a tremendous yell.  He had bumped his head and slightly hurt his hand, but thank goodness in the main was fine.

I am a strong proponent of children tree climbing.  However Stourhead with its many ancient specimens is not the location to practise this skill.  The thick branches of the rhododendron were also mossy, very slippery and clearly unsuitable for trainers.  My autumn colour visit to Wisley had been the perfect combination, today I had not achieved that.  But I had learnt a lesson about cameras, 7 year olds and trees not mixing. 
I have no doubt we will be visiting Stourhead again.  And when we do it will be 'remember that time you fell off a tree'- the memory of the glorious autumn colours will be relegated to second.

If you would like to take a look at last year's post here it is.

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