Category Archives: The active children’s garden

Turning Children into Plant Detectives

At 10 months old, Archie is suffering from his first bout of man flu.  To relieve his symptoms and get myself out of the house, we trailed around the garden this morning.  Never one to miss a multi-tasking opportunity, I decided to take a few photos while I was out.

I’ll admit I’m not a great plant photographer, but these weren’t meant to grace any walls.  Instead I used them to put together a quick spotters sheet for Ava and Oscar this afternoon.

Plant spotting sheets

Plant spotting sheets

This is a very simple idea – but it involves ticking things so I knew it would be a hit with Ava.

I found 12 plants which looked quite distinctive – from the emerging flowers of the stinking hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) to clumps of snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) and various evergreens.  These were then printed out on a single sheet of A4 and given to both children on their own clipboard.

The joy of ticks...

The joy of ticks...

It helped that I was able to walk round with them – not only to give them clues of where to look, but also to name the plants as we went along.  I did hold back on the Latin – I’d like them to be plant knowledgeable, not downright pretentious.

Hopefully, we’ll do this again, especially as so many more plants are about to make their entrance in the garden.  Also, they were both keen to paste the sheets into their garden journals, so they will have a record of what to look out for each month.

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Leave your children out in the cold

So after a week of white, we’re promised yet more snowfall tonight. This brings another possibility that my three and five-year-old will again be stuck at home with school and pre-school cancelled. 

Whilst this is testing my sanity, patience and will to live, it does have one bonus.  Children all over the country are actively volunteering to go outside.

Snow guarantees children outside

Snow guarantees children outside

What I’m wondering is, how do we get them to continue outdoor pursuits when the snow eventually melts? Below is my starter for 10 (or 15)

  1. Hold a treasure hunt – why leave it until Easter
  2. Send them out looking for animal tracks – you can even memorialise one or two in plaster castes
  3. Devise an obstacle course – nothing like the competitive spirit to get my ‘must win at all costs’ daughter outside
  4. Make a spotters sheet – you can use a digital camera and print out things they have to find in their own back garden
  5. Send them out with crayons and paper to collect as many different rubbings as you can – they can then paste them into their gardening scrapbooks
  6. Make a list for a scavenger hunt
  7. Climb a tree
  8. Blow some bubbles
  9. Sink a trampoline and watch them bounce in all weathers
  10. Invest in a playhouse and let them decorate it
  11. Weave your own birds nests from twigs
  12. Make ‘magic mixtures’ – sand, dirt, stones, really anything – add water and stir – it’s disgusting but strangely compelling for the under 10s
  13. Make a bird watching tee-pee from some long poles or canes and some camouflage netting
  14. Go on a mini beast hunt
  15. Hang some homemade bird feeders in trees

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How to create a sunken trampoline

 

Sunken trampoline in action

Sunken trampoline in action

I think a sunken trampoline has to be my favourite family garden feature. It’s a simple enough idea but solves so many headaches. It’s safer, less intrusive and popular with everyone. 

I have sunken a couple myself. Well, to be more accurate, I’ve sunken the same one twice (note to self – decide where to put the thing and don’t change your mind after 12 months).  So I now consider myself, if not an expert, certainly au fait with the ups and downs (no pun intended).

So what do you do…?

  • First, measure up – I would say buy a relatively large trampoline (ours is 14′) but make sure that it won’t dominate the garden.  Also, when measuring up, remember to leave at least another 50cm all round for the doughnut (don’t worry, I’ll come to that later)
  • Purchase your trampoline – these are easy enough to buy online and I personally don’t think there’s a massive difference between the brands.  What is worth looking at is shape and weight limits.  You might think the trampoline will be used by the kids, but you’d be wrong – adults are at least as likely to want a bounce (and in my experience, more likely to injure themselves, but that’s another story).  So, get one that will take at least 20 stone.
  • Choose the shape and colour – mine’s round, because it suits my garden shape, but I’ve also used rectangular ones to fit into clients’ gardens with a more formal layout. Finally – don’t forget to order green padding at the side (khaki if they offer it) as it’s less jarring than bright blue
  • Mark out the size of the trampoline – I have an old screwdriver I place through the end of my tape measure – stick this in the ground, hold a can of spraymark, and run round in a circle, spraying (just watch your shoes). If it’s a rectangle, try to use a builders square to make sure you are accurate, or simply place your trampoline upside down in the ground and mark round it.
  • Get digging – OK, you can cheat and get in a man with a digger, but this is likely to cost around £300 so if you’re on a budget or need the exercise, do it yourself.
  • Topsoil good, subsoil bad – Remember, the first foot or so is likely to be topsoil and should be kept to one side.  Below this is subsoil – and if you can, I would suggest this is taken off site, or buried somewhere below topsoil.  You can see the difference quite easily as you dig down. If you’re digging it yourself, allow a weekend and consider getting in some help as it’s pretty hard work, especially when you get further down and the soil’s more compacted.
  • Drainage If you’ve got a high water table or bad drainage, I would suggest you make a mini sump in the central area by digging down an extra foot and filling with rubble or pea shingle.
  • What depth? – I’ve seen advice which says; leave the trampoline sitting 2 inches above the ground to allow air to escape.  Personally, I don’t do this.  I’ve not found the air flow an issue unless it’s been raining which covers the micro-holes in the trampoline surface and stops effective bouncing, but this is rare.  Also, if you sink it flush to the ground, it stops things falling under the trampoline, negates a trip hazard and makes it easier to mow around.
  • Use top soil to form a doughnut – I put a foot high, double sloped and flat-topped edge round the area which disguises the trampoline from a distance.  The children also love running down this onto the trampoline
  • Turf the area – this helps make a neat finish and you can fold it over at the edges if you need to fill in any holes

And that’s it, except to say, sunken trampolines might be safer, but not so safe that you shouldn’t supervise very carefully.  However, they do make it easier for all ages to enjoy – my son was happily bottom-bouncing on the trampoline before he could walk and even Eric the cat enjoys a stroll over the surface to put a spring in his step.

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