Tag Archives: family

Building a Children’s Sandpit

Two weeks ago the children were making snowmen.¬† Yesterday they were playing in the sandpit.† Ah, the delightful vagaries of a British winter!

Ava in the sandpit

Ava in the sandpit

Our sandpit was something of an afterthought in the garden.¬† I had always wanted to create a large sandy space – a reminder of our annual English seaside holiday – but I wasn’t sure we’d have the space (or the budget).¬† However, I was nine-months pregnant and in full blown nesting mode, so when our legendary landscaper, Darren, said he thought he could put it together in a day, I decided to go for it.

  • The sandpit is pretty large – 275cm x 190cm.¬† This gives enough room for 4-5 children to play in it together – and plenty of space for ball-runs, monster sandcastles and the obligatory burying of parents.
  • We used oak sleepers for the outside edge – you can buy these from any landscape supplier.¬† As a hardwood, it takes no maintenance and will last for years.¬† It also turns a wonderful shade of silver after a season.¬†¬†The¬†one downside is price – they cost around ¬£25+ each and my design used 12 of them.
  • The sleepers can be laid on bare earth, but putting then on a foundation of graded rubble means that water drains away and the wood deteriorates far slower.¬† The first¬†layer was laid below ground level to give an attractive look to the interior of the sandpit.
  • Darren joined the sleepers together with long brass bolts although they are so heavy, it would be possible to simply rely on their weight and bulk to hold them in place.
  • I stepped the sleepers up towards the corner to give some child-sized seating although the entire outside edge is wide enough to perch on.¬† I also asked Darren to sink some sleepers in vertically to give a backrest and add some interest to the sandpit design.¬† These were bedded into 45cm deep concrete and then bolted into the horizontal sleepers.
  • I was determined to make the sandpit as deep as possible and we eventually dug down about 75cm.¬† We then used tacks to fasten geotextile membrane to the bottom of the interior line of sleepers where it could hang down to cover all the sides.¬† We placed more membrane on the floor of the sandpit to prevent worms mixing the earth and sand.
  • Finally, we were able to fill the area.¬† You can buy playsand in bulk from landscape suppliers.¬† I ordered two large cubic metre bags which was just about perfect to fill our sandpit.
Oscar making sandcastles

Oscar making sandcastles

I was concerned that I¬†might¬†have created an enormous cat litter tray. Surprisingly though this hasn’t been much of an issue.¬† I will probably have a sailcloth cover made up so I can protect the space¬†when it’s not in use, but I’m not in a hurry.¬† Also, it means the children can access the sandpit whenever they feel like it – even in mid-winter.

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Guerrilla Gardening for the Under 5s

So there I was this morning, trudging along on a¬†four mile training walk (I’m¬†attempting¬†the Moonwalk¬†this May – a walking marathon through London, at night, in a bra – no, really, I’m serious)¬†and I saw a wonderful sight – a few small clumps of snowdrops.

Now I know this is nothing out of the ordinary, but it wasn’t so much the ‘what’ as the ‘why’ and ‘who’.¬† You see these were planted by myself and my daughter two years ago on a desolate verge, guerrilla gardening-style.¬†

Snowdrops take part in guerrilla gardening warfare

Snowdrops take part in guerrilla gardening warfare

For the uninitiated, guerrilla gardening is¬†a movement, begun in New York in the early 70s, which seeks to take over and cultivate derelict or neglected spaces. Now, I can’t claim to be doing anything quite as daring as many, but Ava and I did decide to make our mark on some common land in our own way.

It was the tulips that did it.¬† You see, there is a grassy verge at the entrance to our village which I see almost every day.¬† In my opinion, it’s at its riotous best sometime in late May when the wild flowers grow unhampered and just before the summer grass cutting begins.¬†

However, it really caught my eye in the spring, and for all the wrong reasons. After a pleasant enough display of daffodils, I was suddenly confronted by some bright red tulips.  Now these are all very well in a cultivated back garden, but they were hardly fitting for the base of a hedgerow.

I realised someone must have thought they were doing us all a favour – brightening up a dull green landscape – but in my opinion it jarred to the point of being downright painful. So I thought, we should enter the battle of the bulbs in an attempt to bring back some native credibility to this little slice of countryside.

Early one sunny morning in late February ’07, myself and a then 3-year-old Ava took some trowels and a clump of snowdrops in a bucket and crept out towards the verge.¬† Snowdrops are best planted ‘in the green’ – which means they are still in leaf although they have finished flowering – as they establish far better like this than from dried bulbs.

We divided up the clump and planted them singly about 15cm apart.  We probably managed about 50 before Ava and I both decided we were chilly and feeling a little conspicuous.

Last year there was little to show for our efforts.  Such tiny, delicate flowers are hard to spot (especially compared to a garish tulip) but I like to think of them as Davids rather than Goliaths.  As a native bulb, they embrace our cold damp soil whilst Tulips, homesick for their native Turkey and its sandy loam, often rot off and have to be replaced.

If this is guerrilla gardening warfare, the small clumps I saw today gives me hope that if we lost the initial battle, we will still win the war.

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Making garden journals with children

OK, so it’s now slush, not snow, but with temperatures barely above freezing, neither I nor the kids fancied braving outdoor pursuits yesterday.¬† Instead, I invested ¬£2 for at least¬†45 minutes of non-Cbeebies-based garden fun. Plus, I had two garden journals to show for it – I think even my visiting¬†mother-in-law was impressed…¬†

Here’s the recipe:

Children's garden journals

Children's garden journals

Take one¬†scrapbook per child (about ¬£1 each from almost any stationery shop) and cover it with¬†some wrapping paper – it personalises the journal and if it’s flowery, green or in any way garden-related, all the better.

Let them design a front cover picture, or for the very youngest, why not write out their name and garden journal title in big letters they can colour.

Begin the journal…¬† Let your own children lead the way, and for your own sanity, don’t worry about how it looks (this is not for a parents’ evening display).¬† However, it’s worth giving them a few ideas and options to see what piques their interest.¬† So how about:-

  • Plants they would like to grow – I gave my two a big pile of old gardening magazines and let them loose with the scissors.¬† Ava plumped for a Magnolia flower (and was slightly shocked to find it comes attached to a tree), Oscar went for more food based options with apples, tomatoes and,¬†rather ambitiously, peaches
  • Pictures – let them draw their ideal garden or favourite garden feature
  • Seed packets – when you plant seeds, let them paste in the¬†empty packets and perhaps make notes of what was planted when and also dates of harvesting
  • Photographs – with digital cameras, it’s very easy to let children take their own garden shots as you can weed out all those random, unidentifiable¬†pictures without having to pay huge printing costs
  • Bark rubbings – a great one for the bleak winter
Cutting images out of old magazines

Cutting images out of old magazines

  • Pressed flowers – use some sheets of paper between heavy books if you haven’t a custom made flower press
  • Animal spots – find (or take) pictures of visitors to your garden, or draw the shape of animal tracks you have seen
  • Leaf identification – pick as many different leaves as possible and stick into the journal (best to do this after pressing and drying between sheets of newspaper for a few days)¬†– and for older children you can try to identify them from a book or website
  • Natural colour – find as many different colours occurring in the garden – you can gather these outside with double sided sticky tape on¬†a collecting card and then paste this into the journal.¬† Repeating the activity in different seasons will show you how the colours in your garden change.

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Filed under Indoor gardening with children