Category: Power of 7- tips


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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Old School Gardener

 

Most plants will grow in alkaline soil, but these are particularly tolerant of high levels of alkalinity (lime).

Old School Gardener

Verbascum 'Gainsborough'

Verbascum ‘Gainsborough’

1. Verbascum ‘Gainsborough’- flowers from June until August

2. Helictotrichon sempervirens (blue oat grass)- an evergreen blue-grey grass

3. Sedum telephium ‘Vera Jameson’- flowers in August/September

4. Acanthus spinosus– white flowers with purple bracts from April to July

5. Oenothera speciosa ‘Rosea’- white and pink flowers from June until September.

6. Landula angustifolia ‘Imperial Gem’- deep purple flowers in mid to late summer

7. Euphorbia palustris – bright green flowers May to June.

Old School Gardener

Symphytum grandiflora 'Hidcote Pink'

Symphytum grandiflora ‘Hidcote Pink’

1. Mahonia aquifolium- yellow flowers in February and May

2. Symphytum grandiflora ‘Hidcote Pink’- pink flowers in March and April

3. Iris foetidissima ‘Variegata’- scarlet berries from September until November

4. Geranium x oxonianum ‘Wargrave Pink’- pink flowers from May to September

5. Dryopteris filix-mas- a deciduous fern

6. Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae-  green cymes in March and April

7. Luzula nivea (Snowy Woodrush)- evergreen and good ground cover with white flowers in mid summer

Old School Gardener

Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'

Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’

First, three for damp soil in the sun

1. Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’- bright yellow flowers in June and an evergreen, golden-yellow carpet of foliage

2. Iris ensata– purple flowers in late June

3. Ligularia ‘The Rocket’- yellow flowers July – August

Finally,  four for damp soil in the shade

4. Cornus alba ‘Spaethii’- white flowers March to May and red stems in the winter

5. Aruncua dioicus – plumes of creamy white flowers in June and July

6. Primula prolifera– pale yellow flowers in June

7. Hosta ‘Zounds’- puckered leaves, pale lavender flowers in May and June

Old School Gardener

Garten Sempacherstrasse 531. Ajuga

2. Hardy Fern

3. Hellebore

4. Hosta

5. Hydrangea

6. Ivy

7. Mahonia aquifolium

 

Old School Gardener

Buddleja 'Ellen's Blue'

Buddleja ‘Ellen’s Blue’

1. Agapanthus

2. Aubrieta 

3. Buddleja

4. Iris

5. Nepeta

6. Rose

7. Wisteria

Old School Gardener

Sedum spectabile

Sedum spectabile

1. Stachys lanata flowers May- September, but mainly used for foliage.

2. Ceanothus ‘Autumnal Blue’- flowers August- October.

3. Hibscus syriacus flowers August- October.

4. Saliva officinalis ‘Tricolor’- colourful foliage, flowers May- June.

5. Caryopteris x clandonensis flowers June – September.

6. Sedum spectabile flowers July- August. Flowerheads provide interest in autumn.

7. Ceratostigma willmottianum flowers August- October. Autumn leaf colour.

Old School Gardener

seedlingsIt’s that time of year to get some seeds sown and new growth underway- but how do you ensure your new babies stand the best chance of survival? Here are some ideas for your ‘transfer window’- turning your newly born into successful seedlings…

1. Right pricking out time

For seeds sown in trays or small modules, once the seeds have germinated and you can see growth above the soil, keep a close eye on their leaves. Once the first ‘true’ leaves have formed (these will look more like the final leaf of the plant and follow on from the ‘seed leaves’ that are simpler in shape, like those in the picture above) it’s time to prick out these little seedlings and transplant them, usually into pots or larger modules. If you leave the plants longer they risk becoming spindly and overcrowded as they fight for what little nutrients are left in the seed compost.

2. Right tool

You need some sort of thin implement to tease out the seedlings – I find a chop stick or wooden BBQ skewer is useful. Or use a dibber or pencil – but these might be a bit too thick for some smaller seedlings. Gently prise the individual plants out of the compost so that they bring their roots and possibly a little compost with them.

3. Right handling

Gently take hold of the leaves of the seedling to help it on its way – don’t hold it by the delicate stem as crushing this will deprive the plant of its main channel for water and nutrients. Place your plant into a hole big enough to take the roots comfortably, settle the plant slightly deeper than it was in the original seed tray/module.

 

watering-vegetable-seedlings
Watering in the transplants

4. Right Pot

Use clean pots and in general a smallish pot (3″ diameter) or modular tray is probably OK for this stage. A guide is that the pot should be about twice as wide as the roots of the plants you’re dealing with. If you want to avoid several potting on stages and you have the room, then go for a bigger size pot/modular tray. Make sure that you clearly label the plants and possibly keep a note of when you transplanted them.

5. Right compost mix

The compost mix you use for potting up needs to have the nutrients the plant is looking for and the right consistency to allow drainage and air around the developing  roots. You can opt for a particular mix for the plants you’re growing but for most I find a general purpose peat free compost (e.g. ‘New Horizon’) is nice and ‘open’. But it can be improved by sieving (to remove bigger bits of organic material), and adding some horticultural grit or ‘perlite’ in the ratio of 1 part grit to 3 parts compost. Or you can make up your own mix.  If you keep your transplants in the same pot for a few weeks you might need to apply some liquid fertiliser to make up for the nutrients that are gradually depleted from the compost.

tall plastic greenhouse
A portable greenhouse like this one can be used to grow on seedlings

6. Right environment

Different plants will have different environmental requirements, but in general they need to be thoroughly watered in to their new pots/modules and moved into a light, cooler place than they were in for germination – but avoiding drafts and direct sunlight. For the first few days, the plants might benefit from covering with plastic to lessen the ‘transplant shock’ they experience. Make sure you keep the plants watered so that the compost is just moist – avoid over watering as this can lead to diseases.  Gently brushing the tops of your transplants with your hand or a wooden stick will help control their height and increase stockiness. Ideal transplants are as wide as they are high. Gradually acclimatise the plants to outside conditions – a cold frame or greenhouse after being in the house, for example. Then give them a couple of hours in the outside each day (as long as it’s not too cold or windy) before they are fully ‘hardened off’.

7. Right potting – on time

Keep an eye on your new fledglings and occasionally look underneath the pots – when you see roots  emerging from the bottom it’s probably time to ‘pot them on’ into larger pots. This is broadly the same procedure as for ‘potting up’ and may mean that some plants are transplanted two or three times before they are finally placed in the garden. ‘Keep them moving’ and don’t allow them to become pot bound.

Further information:

Capel Manor College video on pricking out

Garden of Eaden video etc.

Old School Gardener

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