I’ve been coming up with ideas to keep children occupied outside for the last ten years. And let’s be totally honest here – it has been a somewhat selfish act. The thing is I love gardening – it is both my hobby and profession – and I realised that I would have much more time to do this if I could persuade my three children outside too.
And now I’ve assembled all my favourite ideas in my latest book 101 Things For Kids To Do Outside. Given my love of gardening as you might expect there are quite a few activities with a horticultural bent – brewing plant tonics, planting lettuce balls and creating mobile herb gardens to name but a few.
However, to me variety is the key to getting kids outside. Not only is every child very different but the activities also need to work for whatever mood they are in. So there are also plenty of games, crafts, projects and experiments. And while some ideas are perfect for a quick burst of activity, some will keep the kids occupied all day long.
My hope is that this book will remind children that outdoors can be the best play space there is and from this a love of nature and gardening might also be surreptitiously fostered. Or at the very least they’ll leave their screens for five minutes. I’ll take my victories wherever I can.
Five ideas to get you started:
1. Hold a snail race Find a smooth surface outside and draw two rings with chalk – an inner one about 10-20cm across, the outer much larger. On starter’s orders place the snails behind the line of the inner circle. The winner will be the one who crosses the outer circle line first.
2. Play Pickpocket Tag Each player has a strip of material, hanky or headscarf to hang out of their back pocket or a waistband. The aim is to grab and capture as many of your fellow players’ strips as possible. The winner is the one with the most at the end.
3. Go on a bear hunt Select three of your favourite bears and ask a grown up to hide them around the garden while you stay inside, or just shut your eyes. This may sound easy but, unlike brothers or sisters, soft toys are exceptionally good hide-and-seekers. They can stay very still and have never been known to giggle, sneeze or burp inadvertently.
4. Take the matchbox challenge Each player has an empty matchbox each and 15 minutes to fill it with as many things from the garden as they can find. At the end of the game, add up the points, one for each different item, to see who has won.
5. Make a nature walk bracelet Put a piece of duct tape, parcel tape or masking tape around your wrist sticky side outwards. Now as you go in your walk you can look out for natural objects with which you can decorate your bracelet. You could decide on a colour theme to match your outfit or perhaps collect a rainbow of colours from red to violet.
Dawn Isaac – To find out more please visit Dawns blog
Michael Perry, New Product Manager
Everyone always asks me what got me into gardening… and the answer is my grandparents!
My first bleary memories are of my grandparents’ vast greenhouses, their endless complex of sheds filled with garden tools and, of course, pots and borders lovingly planted with plants that captured my attention from that ever so young age!
Specific plants I remember from their garden are: rampant orange alstroemeria, a poor relative of today’s colourful, and more well behaved types! Zonal geraniums sat in fancy stone pots as well as much less fancy, chipped “crock” (terracotta) pots, my gran kept the plants from year to year too! Also, shasta daisies, in short and tall variety, and we used to cut some for mixed vases indoors too! And, during iris season, we used to spend time guessing what colours the blooms would be. Did you know the rhizomes of blue flowered ones are tinged purple??
In my Nana’s garden
I soon had a flower patch in my parents garden, and I remember going to plant out one of my first school-grown specimens, a trailing Zebrina (sometimes called tradescantia). Yes, its a houseplant, but that didn’t matter to me, I was eager to get my patch filled, the growing bug had bitten me!
Well, I went to plant it out and, in typical clumsiness which has plagued me ever since, promptly stood on the plant. This is a harsh memory for me, as I vividly remember running indoors crying!
So, I soon found other plants for the patch and was helping out my dad with his too. I was often busy sowing vegetable favourites such as radishes, beetroot, carrots and the like. I remember my dad used to stick each empty seed packet at the end of the row as a makeshift label.
In my parents’ garden
Somehow, somewhere, I developed an interest in herbs. I think this stemmed from a purchase I made of Jekka McVicar’s complete herb book. I was fascinated by the fact you could use plants for things! I was obsessed by using them in cooking, one of my star turns was lavender biscuits you know! I also loved mixing up concoctions. This was something that had a bit of a renaissance for me when James Wong brought out his show. I clambered to mix up his recipes, I managed some of the hand creams, but my breath freshener mix went a bit wrong and all dried up!
I seem to remember beginning to read Amateur Gardening from a teenage stage, obviously hiding this from any school friends. Then, I somehow got involved in the school garden, and when hoeing and weeding it at lunchtimes, seemed to forget it was in full view of the lunch hall! Oh well…
Another thing I did “on the quiet” was joining the local WI market, which my Nan was gardening matriarch of. I think my member number was 13 and I sold a range of plants, and also my lavender biscuits. At one stage I was growing so much that I joined the market in the neighbouring town too!
Around the same time, I started collecting herb plants avidly and soon had something like twenty different mints and a sage in every colour of the rainbow! As I grew more and more, my parents garden seemed to shrink. The entrepreneur in me then placed a small advert in the back of a BBC Gardeners World magazine. Soon, a rather basic, but fun, Springfield Herb Nursery was born! Handling six or seven orders per month, I was also producing a typed and photocopied catalogue! Little did I know that this was a bit of a premonition of things to come.
Anyway, I neared the end of my years at school, not quite knowing what I wanted to do in any shape or form. I had achieved good GCSE marks in geography, art and English I think…although my memory is quite hazy now!
I seemed to gravitate towards Otley College, I think fuelled by an earlier week of work experience there. So I enrolled onto the National Diploma in Horticulture, a 2-year course, which seemed perfect for someone who hadn’t made their mind up and really didn’t fancy uni!
My college class
The course was, how shall I say, varied… and included everything from economics to sports turf… tractor driving to biology! Well, I couldn’t drive a tractor (I once reversed over some steel girders as I faffed around trying to find the brakes) and every time I was in sports turf class I got soaked by the hose!
But, what I did like was the “plant idents”. This was a session where 20 or so pieces of plant are lined up in vases and you must name them! This I could do…! Plants had always come naturally to me, I seemed to soak in their names without any hassle at all. I positively excelled at this, and it fed my thirst for learning about plants. I pored over books, fantasising about plants I might never see (although some I now have!!). I always marvel when I see meconopsis in real life, as I spent so many years only seeing it in books.
I also seemed to like garden design and landed some work experience and regular helping duties with a local garden designer, which included getting to visit some superb country homes as his “right-hand man”! But, as I neared the end of my course, I still had no idea what I really wanted to do, nor did I bother addressing it. Even in the final few weeks, I still had no plan!
Until… I noticed a competition in the local newspaper. It was to design a garden at well-known local firm Thompson & Morgan‘s headquarters…