Spring in the garden

‘‘Go and play in the garden’’

A sometimes exasperated suggestion offered by many parents in the past – I know mine did. Looking out of the windows today the weather does little to beckon many of us into the great outdoors. ‘‘Its’ too cold.. too wet.. too muddy… it’s boring’’, the reply may have come.

But if push came to shove, wellies, warm layers, an active imagination and a partner in crime was all it really took to make the most of it. Then we’d notice the little things that made all the difference to our play. The best shaped and sized conkers for throwing as high as we could, the depth of the muddy puddle once the water had all been splashed out of it or the gorgeous turn of leaves. I found myself getting all wistful about leaves this weekend as we sniffed our brisk but enjoyable way around Wakehurst Place http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wakehurst-place/

‘‘We’ve just moved house – the Garden is a mess, there’s nothing special out there for us to do right now, and the kids aren’t interested anyway’’…

Now we’re the ones making the excuses!

Q: ‘‘How can you make a session fun in the garden?’’

A: Don’t look any further than your household for your first piece of inspiration. What have you got indoors that can be used outside instead?

Q: ‘’We have to be careful what we spend, and the garden isn’t a priority to spend money on this year.’’

A: No problem. Have a look around the house together for old containers, shoes; things to be used in your ‘landscape’ for creative play. First experiments should be low – cost or no – cost, so you can afford to see how the garden fits you and how you like to use and play in it best. Why don’t you try a hunt in the garden. See what plants and creatures and objects are already out there; you might be surprised.

“Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.’’ – Luther Burbank

A Recent Success – the polytunnel

Even in late November and we still had chillis growing and ripening in the poltunnel.

This one’s for Nik Metcalf – a Pimento de Padron – I think this ‘roulette’ chilli might be a hot one!
Pimento de Padron
If I had to tell you just how much fun we have had as a family in our polytunnel, I might not be able to fit it all on one page! Firstly there was the arrival and the great preparing and putting up of the polytunnel, then the layout of tunnel, the filling of beds…. the sowing of beds and seed tray stations and the nurturing, tea drinking and general compostyness of it all.

Make some play opportunities.

We are never too old to play. As winter closes in the tendency to stay in the warm and hibernate. We really should seize the moment and go and play outside every day if we can. The health benefits outweigh any runny noses or chilly knees. I always found the garden to be the most democratising space in the family home, and we got busy and made things happen together, and sometimes kicked back and watched what nature was up to.

Piles of pots, stones, collanders and a bucket of water can bring a world of play to a toddler who might arrange and explore them all in ways we had never considered.
Rearranging stones
Rearranging stones

Flat lawns?– not many people have them and who’d want one anyway? A small mound of earth can be shaped to make a seat, a ramp for bikes and many other uses. Try making one now and turfing it for use in the late spring next year. Stepping stones, trails and circuits could be mapped out to make a story.

If you find wildlife and wildflowers, give them a place to co-exist and encourage the kids to get involved. Up turned pots with straw inside make great nests for toads and hedgehogs for instance.

There is no excluding the wildlife from polytunnels or greenhouses either – for good or bad, its’ best to work with it. We encourage frogs, hoverflies, ladybirds and lacewings and they in turn predate the insects we don’t want, and help pollinate the plants. It does also mean the mice come in too, so harvests need to swift if we want the lions share.

Start small, go often 

We can get overwhelmed by the sense of a task, but the secret is to pick bits off one at a time having had a good look, think, and play first. I think this applies to Designing a Garden and and everything else. It can even be fun.

Sarah Newton has been gardening and designing gardens professionally for around 8 years and is a keen allotment holder with her family. For a push and a pull in the right direction go to Sarah.

It’s never too late to get your garden great!