Category: Design


Simple natural elements can make a garden special for younger children

Simple natural elements can make a garden special for younger children

With many parents at home with their children due to the Corona virus pandemic why not take a look at your garden from your child’s point of view. Does it provide the sort of play potential they need to develop their creative, physical and social skills – and have fun too – during those long summer days (and for that matter all the year round)?

Surveys show how playing in parks or their own garden come out tops for children when asked what their favourite activities are. And experts are claiming that children are no longer ‘free range’, lacking opportunities to play outside and in more ‘natural’ surroundings. The garden can play an important part in meeting this deficit, especially for younger children. Thinking about how to make your garden child-play friendly and then spending a little money on creating the right space will repay dividends over many years.

A children's discovery space made out of old pallets

A children’s discovery space made out of old pallets

It’s tempting to go out to your nearest ‘Home and Garden’ Store and buy a ready- made (and probably self –build) swing, slide or combination play unit. This is certainly easy to do – though the cost of some of these items and the challenge to your sanity when you start to construct them might just give you pause for thought! Don’t get me wrong, ready made play equipment has its place. But it tends to focus on the physical activity side of play and can leave out the imaginative, creative and social play that are equally important. Providing simple play pleasures in your garden needn’t cost you an arm and a leg!

A more creative, and possibly better value approach, is to start with the idea that the garden for children (of all ages, and for adults too for that matter) should be a multi-sensory space, with:

  • different surfaces and textures to touch – stones/ gravel/ bark/ brick and plants with interesting leaves such as Stachys byzantina (‘Lambs’ Ears’) or Bergenia (‘Elephant’s Ears’)

  • varied smells – from different flowers and leaves (e.g. herbs)

  • tastes – growing and picking your own strawberries, other fruit or fresh vegetables

  • sounds – wind through grasses, chimes, water dripping into a child-proof pool

  • sights- break up the garden into different zones with their own character

A children's food garden

A children’s food garden

Once you’ve taken a critical look at your plot and come up with a few ideas, its time to talk about what you can create in your garden with your children.

They may well need their thinking broadened from the standard play equipment kit list, by focusing on the sorts of play activities they would like to do. Play consultant Jan White* has come up with a useful list to prompt discussion:

· run climb, pedal, throw….

· be excited, adventurous, energetic, messy, noisy….

· hide, be secret, relax, find calm, reflect, be alone….

· talk, interact, develop friendships….

· imagine, dream, invent….

· create, construct, dismantle….

· explore, discover, experiment….

· dig, grow, nurture….

· make sounds and music, express feelings and ideas….

· explore materials, make marks and patterns….

· be trusted, have responsibility….

· be independent, initiate, collaborate…

Perhaps add a climbing wall to a garden fence?

Perhaps add a climbing wall to a garden fence?

So, you’ve had your discussion and you’ve got some ideas starting to form. What next?

Well, gardens vary in size and shape – as do children – but you might find these seven tips of use when starting to develop your first thoughts into firm projects for play in your garden:

1. Natural resources- treat the outdoors differently to the indoors- its special, so create spaces and provide playthings which children can’t get inside; e.g a tree house or a tree for climbing (if you have one big enough), a pit or pile of sand, or if you’re feeling very brave– a mudpool!

2. Growing children give children a separate, personal garden where they can ‘grow their own’ food

3. Futureproof if you have younger children, think ahead and provide things which will engage children for several years or which can be easily adapted as they grow older – convert a sand pit to a growing area, a swing frame into a hammock frame

4. Small and simple a few odd bits and pieces of recycled wood (e.g doors, pallets, furniture), boxes, bricks, cloth, plastic pipe etc. can fuel children’s imaginations and creative play – it doesn’t matter if the place looks a bit untidy!

5. Doubling up make the most of space – think about garden structures which can play a role in the ‘adult garden’ as well as providing something for children; e.g wooden arches that can support a swing, sand pits concealed below trap doors in wooden decked terraces, a climbing frame that’s one side of a pergola, a climbing wall fixed to a strong garden boundary or screen, varied path surfaces with some in-built pattern (you can even get some with fossils imprinted on them)

6. Move the earth don’t be afraid of creating (even small) hills and hollows in your otherwise flat garden (unless you have these already of course) – children love running up and down slopes and use these for all sorts of creative games. If you like, add in a few rocks and logs (fixed down) for them to clamber over

7. Get social encourage your children to play with other children – invite their friends round and take them to friend’s gardens, play areas and other places where there’s a good chance of meeting other children

Even if your garden is small, you can use your imagination and create a unique and special place for your children!

Recycled materials can create a magical space- especially if the children are involved in creating it!

Recycled materials can create a magical space- especially if the children are involved in making it!

*’Playing and Learning Outdoors: making provision for high-quality experiences in outdoor environments’ by Jan White- published by Routledge (2008)

Further information:

Growing food with children

A children’s food garden

Garden games

Old School Gardener

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On a recent visit to Tavistock, I went over to see how the extended ‘Devon Wall’ I’d seen some months ago was looking…though mainly shades of green now, as most flowering is in the spring time, it was looking superb. Well done that gardener!

Old School Gardener

Sedum 'Chocolate Drop'- the foliage as attractive as the flower- and what a combination!

Sedum ‘Chocolate Drop’- the foliage as attractive as the flower- and what a combination!

We tend to think a lot – some of us almost entirely – about flower colour when we consider planting in the garden. Leaves last far longer than blooms, so why not go for a combination of flower and foliage that will add texture to flower colour and shape?

Some leaves are striped, others marbled or speckled, while others range from purple, silver and blue, to butter-yellow or lime-green. Geranium (Cranesbill) and succulent-leaved Sedum are good examples of plants that pack a punch with their leaves, as do Hostas and Lamium.

Stipa gigantea- wonderful

Stipa gigantea- wonderful

You can creat a soft, billowing effect with plants that have feathery foliage, such as Bronze Fennel, or those with masses of leaflets, such as Aquilegia and many of the ferns. Ornamental grasses can also be used to soften displays; many are particularly useful because they are drought tolerant. I grow several here at Old School Garden, and I love the variety they add to a herbaceous border with an evergreen structure of shrubs; Stipa gigantea is especially lovely when the late afternoon sunlight catches its stalks and waving awns.

From flower to seedpod- Agapanthus

From flower to seedpod- Agapanthus

To sum up….

  • Blend foliage plants with flowering ones to keep the border looking at its best over the longest possible time.

  • Combine foliage and flowers that contrast with each other in colour,shape and texture.

  • Use plants with ornamental seed pods, such as Agapanthus, Feathery grass heads, such as Pampas grass and evergreen foliage.

  • Use plants with variegated leaves, such as striped, blotched and marbled, to their full advantage.

  • Choose flowering plants that have attractive foliage, such as Alchemilla mollis and geranium so that they add interest to the border over several months.

Hostas are usually grown for their foliage- which comes in all sorts of patterns and hues, but the flowers can also be very attractive

Hostas are usually grown for their foliage- which comes in all sorts of patterns and hues, but the flowers can also be very attractive

Source: ‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens’- Reader’s Digest, 1999

Old School Gardener

 

Hmm... a suitable case for treatment?

Hmm… a suitable case for treatment?

You can extend the life of a freestanding garden brick wall, provided it is still safe.

First, cap the wall top with a coping of engineering bricks, which are water resistant. alternatively use tiles laid on the slant, so that water easily runs off.

Next, cover nearby plants with plastic sheeting, then rake out loose areas of mortar using a wire brush.

Repoint the wall where necessary using a ready-made mortar mix to save time using your own. If the walllooks like (it is probably worth trying to match the mortar to the colour of the existing if you can, so for an old wall it might mean using lime mortar).

Finish off by painting on a silicone sealer to extend the wall’s life and stop algal growth on shady walls. To finish off you can apply two coats of masonry paint- there are plenty of colours available…maybe black or dark green to show off those nice foliage plants and flowers you’ll plant in front?

This approach can be used on freestanding walls, such as those used as garden boundaries. But if your wall forms part of the house and it’s exposed to the elements, then it’s wise to avoid coating it as it needs to ‘breathe’; repointing is the best method of  repair here.

The ultimate in painted walls- extend your garden with a 'Tromp l'oeil'!

The ultimate in painted walls- extend your garden with a ‘Tromp d’oeiul’!

Source: ‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens’- Reader’s Digest 1999

Old School Gardener

 

 

brick pedestalThe simplest ornament has more impact if it is raised. Keep your costs down by making your own pedestal; use a length of clay drainpipe, about a third taller than it is wide. Alternatively use some old bricks to make a pedestal. Place a paving slab on a level bed of sand; cement the pipe or place the bricks on top of it. Fix a slightly smaller slab on top with cement and finish off with your ornament; this could be a large sea shell, bird bath or whatever….

You can also use 10- and 18-inch-diameter PVC pipes cut to varying heights to serve as bases for applying a mosaic surface. Overturned terra-cotta saucers turn two of the pipes into pedestals; the third cradles a flowerpot….

mosaic pillarsAnother idea is to make your own concrete pillars, stain them terracotta and put terracotta planters atop them….

stained concrete pillarsChimney pots can also make great planters or pedestals….

chimney pot planterAnd why not some sawn off tree trunks or chicken wire gabions filled with stones…

Or some simple sticks stuck around a piece of wood…

bundle sticks pedestalSources:

‘Good Ideas for your Garden’- Reader’s Digest, 1995

Pinterest

Old School Gardener

P1020823aSeen from indoors, or as you approach a stepped entrance, pots can make a ready-staged display as they mount the stairs. But always make sure that the pots do not obstruct the route and that they cannot fall or be kicked over. You can fix the pots in place with a dab or two of cement, as long as the drainage holes are not blocked, but this means they cannot be moved. The simplest way to secure each pot is to wrap a loop of gardening wire firmly round it and tie the ends of the wire to side railings or other firmly fixed uprights.

Source: ‘Good Ideas for Your Garden’- Reader’s Digest 1995

Old School Gardener

Front Loading

A magnificent Kitchen Garden 'out front' in Drummondsville, Quebec, Canada

A magnificent Kitchen Garden ‘out front’ in Drummondsville, Quebec, Canada

Front Gardens under the Spotlight

A new study to help understand what impact front gardens have on their owners and passers-by has been commissioned by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). Scientists from the RHS are teaming up with academics from the Universities of Sheffield (UK) and Virginia (USA).

They’ll be employing a PhD student to help determine how gardening affects the mood and psychological health of people who have not gardened before, by helping them, amongst other things,  to ‘green over’ once paved front gardens. The societal value of gardens will also be evaluated by gathering information on the extent to which gardening encourages communication and engagement between garden owners, neighbours and passers-by. Here’s a video about the creation of the ‘kitchen garden out front’ in Quebec, Canada.

Part of the RHS campaign ‘Greening Grey Britain’, the new research will seek evidence to make the case for gardening to local and national government, supporting what many of us instinctively know- that green spaces have positive impacts on health and well-being.

On a similar theme, the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show this year will feature four front gardens designed and created by winners of a new competition being hosted by the RHS and BBC Local Radio to design a front garden.

Anyone can enter a ‘feel-good garden, celebrating the health benefits of gardening and taking inspiration from where they live.’

See here for more information and how to enter.

Source: RHS ‘The Garden’ Magazine, February 2016

Old School Gardener

birdbath%20trio.jpg-550x0Birds will splash vigorously in an expensive ornamental birdbath – but just as readily in an upturned old dustbin lid. Prop it in place with bricks to ensure it is stable and put some gravel in the bottom to give the birds something to grip underfoot. change the water every few days and in the winter be sure to break any ice which forms. Give the lid a brisk scrub occasionally to keep it clear of algae.

Source: ‘Good Ideas for your Garden’- Reader’s Digest 1995

Old School Gardener

Potted_bulbsMore and more garden plants are available from garden centres in flower. If bought in bud, potted bulbs, such as dwarf daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths and tulips, allow you to instantly transform an otherwise dull border into a colourful, early spring centrepiece. This is particularly useful for adding colour to prominent beds near to the house.

Source: ‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens’- Reader’s Digest 1999

Old School Gardener

PIC00103Moving to a new house with a garden that needs whipping into shape? Need help with an idea for improving part of your established garden? Or maybe you want to completely overhaul your current plot and need a masterplan for achieving your ideas over a number of years?

If you live in the Norfolk area and want to develop your ideas and design skills, in the company of like-minded people, I might be able to help.

I’ve been running a series of short courses to inform, inspire and improve the design skills of gardeners for some years, and I’m planning to kick off the next one in a few weeks time.

I’ve taken the opportunity of a new venue to review the content and programme of the course, also building on the positive feedback I’ve had from previous participants. I’m thrilled to be able to offer a course that’s based at the wonderful Blickling Hall Estate near Aylsham, and hope to take full advantage of it’s fantastic gardens to illustrate and reinforce some key ideas.

WP_20150716_12_09_50_ProAnd as well as visits to the gardens I’ll be using a combination of presentation, group discussion, one-to-one support, handouts, books to borrow and links to further information. You won’t need any special knowledge or skills in garden design or gardening; just the germ of an idea or plan for your garden, or maybe just a general interest in finding out more about garden design.

Venue: The Old School, Blickling Estate, near Aylsham, Norfolk

Times and dates: 10am -12 noon Tuesdays from 2nd February – 22nd March inclusive (excluding 16th February)

Cost: £70 (including refreshments)

For an outline of the Programme take a look here. If you want to find out more about me then take a look at the Page ‘About Me’ on this blog. If you’d like to discuss the course, how it might meet your needs or want to register, please call me on 01603 754250, or leave me a message via the contact form below.

alliums and laburnumI want participants to have the space, time and attention to address their individual needs, so places will be limited; if you’re interested, please get in touch soon!

Old School Gardener (Nigel Boldero)

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