Inspiring kids to love the garden

Discovering the wonder of nature is a lifelong journey.
Image source: Oksana Kuzmina

My own childhood memories of high summer are filled with light, scent and taste: my dad’s mesembryanthemums with their candy-coloured faces following the sun, honeysuckle perfume saturating the evening air and summer raspberries still warm as I popped them in my mouth.

I was lucky enough to spend my childhood summers playing in a third-of-an-acre garden with apple trees, flower borders, a vegetable plot and a wild area where I was often to be found, at the top of the Scots pine, with an apple and a book.

Modern gardens are getting smaller, and more families are living in urban settings, often with only a balcony or window ledge for outside space. So how can we engage today’s youngsters with plants, nature and the outdoors, especially during the long summer holidays?

How to create a natural den

This living willow den will grow into the perfect hideout for small children.
Image source: Peter Turner Photography

The Scots pine canopy of my childhood was a special private place – the kind of secret outdoor space that many children like to create around themselves. But there are no mature trees in our small garden, so I planted a willow den for my kids as a place where they could be alone with nature. Willow dens are created by using whips (young, thin willow rods) that will root when driven into the ground and kits can be purchased from specialist suppliers to train into wigwams, domes and tunnels. As they mature, the foliage cover develops and entirely screens the centre of the den from the outside.

My children loved their den. We have fond memories of eager faces appearing from the entrance playing ‘peepo’ and small hands thrust through the foliage to wave at us from within. Willow likes fairly damp ground and our den finally perished after six years as the soil is a little too dry, but in ideal conditions these dens will last for years.

How to sow the magic of seeds

Tomatoes you’ve grown yourself are the best tasting tomatoes in the world.
Image source: Romrodphoto

There’s nothing like the magic of watching seeds germinate and develop bright blooms for flower pressing or tasty salad leaves. Getting kids involved in growing from seed can be the start of a lifetime’s fascination with gardening and it’s easy to grow plants like marigolds, lettuce leaves or tomatoes in a container or on a windowsill. If you haven’t sown seeds with the kids yet, it’s not too late. French beans, radishes and beetroot seeds can be sown as late as July, or alternatively you can buy tomato, courgette and pepper plants which will bear fruit throughout the summer.

This year we’ve been growing nasturtiums, calendula, cherry tomatoes and peas so the children can make simple salads garnished with edible petals. We also pickle the nasturtium pods as an alternative to capers – a peppery addition to pasta and pizza. As they eat their way through the vegetable bed, the kids are definitely developing more adventurous tastes and learning about where their food comes from.

How to get up close with wildlife

Nature is filled with beauty when you take time to observe.
Image source: altanaka

There’s a whole world in even the tiniest patch of grass or flowerbed: spiders, woodlice, ants and hoverflies are all easy to spot when you stop and observe the garden close up. We’ve had tawny mining bees in our small lawn this summer, exciting visitors that we’ve been watching as a family and the kids have a magnifying pot so they can examine the patterns on a snail shell or the detail of a ladybird’s wing.

A container in a sunny spot filled with lavender, salvia, agastache, dwarf buddleja or herbs like oregano and thyme will encourage pollinators into the garden or onto a balcony. Putting food and water out for the birds adds another dimension to the garden, allowing kids to learn more about local wildlife.

One of my favourite garden moments was watching fledgling great tits emerge from the bird box by the shed with my five year old son. He’d watched the adults feeding their young for days and was fascinated by the way the fluffy fledglings kept poking their heads out of the hole before finally flying the nest. When the last great tit left the nesting box, to our amazement, it landed briefly on my shoulder and then headed off over the shed – this kind of experience is a fabulous way to ignite a child’s interest, creating the gardeners and naturalists of the future.

Disclaimer: The author and publisher take no responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Not everyone reacts positively to all edible plants or other plant uses. Seek advice from a professional before using a plant for culinary or medicinal uses.

 

About the author:

Nic Wilson is a writer, garden designer and Garden Media Guilds Awards nominee (Best Blog, 2017). She enjoys growing flowers and unusual fruit, vegetables and herbs, and loves to encourage nature into the garden. She also blogs at www.dogwooddays.net

Gardening blogs for the whole family

Gardening is a great bonding opportunity
Image source: Shutterstock

What better way to get your kids excited and interested in the garden than inviting them to get their hands dirty? To help you pique their interest in all things green-fingered we’ve ploughed the internet for some great ideas to get your kids outdoors and digging.

The Outdoor Dad

Oli and Sonny don’t let cold weather stand in the way of their adventures
Image source: The Outdoor Dad

Does your toddler love to copy your every move? Two-year-old Sonny has a great time helping his dad, Oli of The Outdoor Dad, brush leaves in the garden. Oli and Sonny also have an awesome time bug hunting, looking for birds’ nests and building dens.

An ambassador for getting muddy, first time dad Oli shares his passion for adventure in the garden and beyond. He says, ‘there’s so much to see in the big wide world that I want him to get started early.’ Check out his 101 outdoor activities for families, for ideas like building a compost heap or giving geocaching a try.

The Newhouse Family

The world’s youngest gardening instructor
Image source: The Newhouse Family Blog

Little ones chomping at the bit to get into the garden will love Gardening with Willow, the Youtube gardening show with the world’s youngest presenter. When your kids watch Willow harvest runner beans and plant mushrooms they’re bound to want to have a go too.

A journey ‘towards a greener, cheaper lifestyle,The Newhouse Family Blog details the family’s quest to turn their garden into a sustainable paradise. Even if you only have a patio or balcony, you can still teach your kids eco-friendly gardening. Check out this family-friendly guide to organic growing to find out how.

The Ladybird’s Adventures

Encourage your children to grow into great gardeners
Image source: The Ladybird’s Adventures

Join Claire and her toddlers over on The Ladybird’s Adventures as they make bird feeders, butterfly biomes, and bug hotels in their back garden. Passionate about ‘learning through play and encouraging creativity,’ Claire also buys her kids their own mini tools, lets them choose their own seeds, and encourages them to keep a journal to track seedling growth.

Check out the rest of Claire’s tips and tricks for budding gardeners to encourage young children to engage with the garden. You’ll love the scavenger hunts she’s designed for you and your family to use.

Kids of the Wild

Old wellies make a boot-iful planter!
Image source: Kids of the Wild

Pairs of outgrown wellies kicking around the house? Get your kids growing boot-loads of herbs by turning them into planters. That’s just one of Lucy of Kids of the Wild’s creative outdoor gardening activities – she and her daughter Caroline also show you how to grow a willow den, dig a pond, and create wildlife havens.

A go-to resource for all things wild, Lucy’s passion for the outdoors helps spread the message that nature is transformative – a lesson she learned when Caroline was battling cancer. As she says, you and your family will benefit from getting outdoors, ‘even if you think you don’t have time.’

Rambling Dad

Craig planned his garden with his little ones in mind
Image source: Rambling Dad

Craig has achieved the impossible and encouraged his little ones to try more vegetables. How, you ask? By showing them how to grow their own. Rambling Dad blogger says his kids ‘have a better understanding of where food comes from’ and are way more likely to eat sprouts if they sowed the seeds themselves.

Dedicated to breaking routines and making nature a bigger part of his family’s life, Craig has won awards for his 30 days Wild challenge. Follow his lead to make your whole garden child friendly, build a wormery, and squeeze in as many trips to local wild spots as possible.

Inspire Create Educate

Lauren has a helpful gardening team on hand
Image source: Inspire Create Educate

Let your kids sow and grow their own plants from seed to harvest, says Lauren of Inspire Create Educate. That’s because there’s no better way of getting children to fall in love with gardening and the environment, than by putting them right at the heart of the growing cycle.

Green-living guru Lauren’s blog is a handbook for living sustainably with kids – and garden activities are key. Here you’ll find all you need to teach your little ones about ecosystems. Looking for something for impatient kids to do while they’re waiting for their seedlings to grow? Easy, Lauren says. Get them to dig a big muddy hole.

Mummy Matters

Even small hands can get to grips with garden tasks
Image source: Mummy Matters

Teach your kids to grow plants even when there’s no outside space by using Sabina at Mummy Matters guide to growing indoors. She proves you can turn those little fingers green even if you can’t access a garden, with tips on what thrives in tight spaces, and even without sunlight.

Find out how to grow veg, herbs, and make personalised pots with your kids’ names on, and more. And when sometimes enthusiasm just isn’t enough to get the little ones excited about gardening, why not get your kids to plant seedlings? As Sabina says, “they’ll grow much faster and the reward will come much sooner”.

Earth Based Fun

Kids love seeing things grow and it’s a great learning opportunity
Image source: Earth Based Fun

‘Gardening has amazing developmental benefits for children,’ says Vicky from Earth Based Fun – like helping to encourage healthy eating habits, develop maths skills and more.

Forestry school teacher-in-training Vicky used to work in the hotel trade, but these days, the only hotels you’ll see her running are for hedgehogs! Check out her blog for more outdoorsy ideas like how to build a DIY bird bath and going pond dipping.

We’re sure you can’t wait to pull your wellies on and get your little ones’ hands dirty in the garden. Let us know what inspires you to move playtime outdoors by heading over to our Facebook page and dropping us a line.

Grow your own summer drinks recipes

People sitting around a table in the summer

Enjoy sharing homegrown food and drinks this summer 
Image: Jack Frog 

There’s nothing more satisfying than sharing fresh, homegrown produce with friends and family on a warm summer evening. Except, perhaps, relaxing with a cool sundowner to properly enjoy the garden you’ve spent all year working on!

We asked green-fingered bloggers to tell us their favourite homegrown summer drinks recipes. From light and refreshing cordials the whole family can enjoy, through to something a little stronger to keep you warm as the sun goes down, here’s how to distil a glut into a glass.

Non-alcoholic summer drinks

 

Richard’s mint lemonade

Stock image of a lemon and lime drink

Zesty and refreshing, this lemonade tastes even better with local honey
Image: Artsyslik

Richard over at The veg grower podcast has a quick and easy recipe for homemade lemonade that tastes so much more delicious than anything you can buy in a shop. To get the maximum flavour from your garden mint, he recommends making the ‘syrup’ the night before and adding soda water just before serving.

You will need:

  • mint leaves
  • lemons
  • limes
  • honey
  • soda water

Katie’s strawberry and elderflower cordial

Katie's Strawberry and elderflower cordial from Lavender and Leeks

Intensely fragrant and delicious
Image: Lavender and Leeks

According to Katie over at Lavender and Leeks, the combination of elderflower and strawberries is “a match made in heaven.” Not only is the smell of her strawberry and elderflower cordial amazing, it’s lovely with plain water, soda water, lemonade, prosecco or even added to cake mixtures and jams. In short, it adds a welcome shot of sunshine to almost anything you like.

You will need:

  • strawberries
  • elderflower heads
  • lemons
  • limes
  • caster sugar
  • citric acid
  • water

Lou’s ginger and thyme fizz

This spicy mocktail is a winner with all ages
Image: Little Green Shed

Over at Little Green Shed, Lou’s simple recipe for a delicious non-alcoholic cocktail is a great way to jazz up an impromptu barbecue. Family-friendly, and healthier than reaching for a beer, a long glass of this ginger and thyme fizz has a botanical undertone that’s hard to resist.

You will need:

  • fresh ginger
  • fresh thyme
  • lemon
  • runny honey
  • ice cubes
  • sparkling water

Choclette’s strawberry rose mint fizz

This simple alcohol-free aperitif is the perfect way to start any summer event
Image: Tin & Thyme

The strawberry hit is as good as a Wimbledon grand slam – it’s delightful with subtle undertones of fragrant rose, fresh mint and cooling ice” says Choclette, sharing her Strawberry rose mint fizz recipe over on Tin & Thyme. The secret to this delicious drink is the rose syrup, which Choclette makes herself. Check out the full recipe on her blog to find out how.

You will need:

  • strawberries
  • rose syrup
  • mint
  • ice cubes
  • fizzy water

Robin’s nettle cordial

Red nettle cordial from Eat Weeds

Turn annoying weeds into healthy elixirs!
Image: Eat Weeds

If keeping on top of weeds is a constant battle in your garden or allotment, you’ll be delighted for this delicious excuse to relax courtesy of Robin Harford over at Eat Weeds. His nettle cordial tastes like nothing you’ve ever tried before. What’s more, nettles are good for you – naturally high in antioxidants and polyphenols – powerful compounds believed to help with inflammation, obesity, cancer, and heart disease. Keep this pink cordial in your fridge for up to four weeks and add to water, soda water or lemonade when guests arrive. They’ll never guess your secret ingredient!

You will need:

  • freshly picked nettle tops
  • granulated sugar
  • citric acid
  • water

Grace’s strawberry, cucumber and mint infused water

A healthy alternative to sugary drinks
Image: Eats Amazing

Inspired by tall jugs of perfectly chilled Pimm’s, Grace from Eats Amazing suggests a alcohol-free version that children will love. “I’m a great believer in eating with your eyes,” says Grace, so she serves her strawberry and cucumber and mint infusion in clear bottles or mason jars to give it real visual impact. If your children aren’t keen on plain water, perhaps growing their own simple ingredients will encourage them to experiment with healthy alternatives to sugary drinks. Check out Grace’s blog for the full recipe and more inspiration.

You will need:

  • cucumber
  • strawberries
  • mint sprigs
  • water

Alcoholic summer drinks

 

Nick’s ‘cool as a minty cucumber’ cocktail

This cool classic tastes even better when you’ve grown the ingredients yourself
Image: Two Thirsty Gardeners

We’re not suggesting that Nick grows mint and cucumber just to give his ‘cool as a minty cucumber’ cocktail a more interesting twist, but when you’re a ‘Thirsty Gardener’ it’s entirely possible! This zesty aperitif is a great way to welcome friends and family to a summer drinks party. Not to be outdone, the other ‘Thirsty Gardener,’ Rich, shares his delicious rhubarb collins recipe in the same post. Two Two Thirsty Gardeners’ drinks recipes for the price of one…

You will need:

  • gin
  • mint leaves
  • a slice of cucumber
  • half a lime
  • tonic water
  • ice

Janie’s blackcurrant cassis

blackcurrant drink

Deliciously more-ish cassis can be added to a wide number of cocktails
Image: 5PH

If you grow blackcurrants, this one’s for you. Janie at The Hedgecombers describes this delectable blackcurrant cassis syrup as a bottle of pure summer: “At first sip you get the scent of fresh blackcurrants, quickly followed by a nice warm glow before tailing off with the sweet childhood taste of Ribena. Weird and wonderful all at the same time!” Check out the full recipe over on her blog.

You will need:

  • blackcurrants
  • sugar
  • brandy

Eli’s elderflower champagne

Elderflower champagne is not as difficult to make as you might think
Image: Antonina Vlasova

Ever tried making your own elderflower champagne? Eli and Kate share two slightly different recipes over at their blog In the garden & the kitchen with Eli & Kate, including useful tasting notes to help you decide which is best for you. If you’re surrounded by elders in bloom, brewing your own bubbles is a great way to celebrate nature’s bounty! Read their full post to see just how easy it is to make.

You will need:

  • elderflowers
  • lemons
  • sugar
  • champagne yeast

Helen’s rhubarb and ginger gin

Don’t waste a glut of homegrown rhubarb on crumbles and fools!
Image: Fuss Free Flavours

After receiving a bottle of rhubarb gin as a gift one Christmas, Helen set out to create a homemade version of her own. The resulting rhubarb and ginger gin recipe is shared over on her blog – Fuss Free Flavours – along with some clever twists and serving suggestions. The trick for achieving such a beautiful colour? Pick the pinkest rhubarb stems advises Helen. “Stronger, cheaper and far better tasting than buying a ready made – what is not to love?

You will need:

  • rhubarb stalks
  • white caster sugar
  • gin
  • fresh ginger

Milli’s rhubarb vodka martini

A summery twist on the classic cocktail
Image: Crofter’s Cottage

Milli over at Crofter’s Cottage describes the blustery beauty of her homegrown rhubarb with infectious joy: “Slender long legs in an elegant shade of green, a hat, bigger and floppier than anyone else’s, wearing those daring, bright pink shoes; she’d be well at home at any summer party!” Who could refuse a sip of Milli’s rhubarb vodka martini after that show-stopping introduction! And adding a dried rose petal to finish your summer cocktails is simply inspired.

You will need:

  • rhubarb
  • vodka
  • sugar
  • vermouth
  • dash of bitters
  • dried garden rose petals (optional)

Wendy’s strawberry cocktail with basil

strawberry and basil cocktail

An unexpected hint of basil takes this simple cocktail to a whole new level
Image: AnikonaAnn

If, like Wendy over at Moral Fibres, you’ve been eagerly anticipating the arrival of strawberry season, you’ll love her strawberry cocktail with basil served over crushed ice. When in season, British strawberries are bursting with flavour in a way that imported counterparts simply cannot match, says Wendy. Do you grow your own strawberries? If you suddenly find yourself with more ripe fruits than you can eat, Wendy’s clever tips for making them last longer are a great way to prevent wasting this precious summer fruit.

You will need:

  • strawberries
  • fresh basil
  • gin
  • tonic water
  • lime
  • granulated sugar
  • ice cubes

Sarah’s rosehip liqueur

Similar to sloe gin, rosehip liqueur is an excellent way to enjoy local hedgerows 
Image: Craft Invaders

Sarah’s rosehip liqueur is so good that she hides it from her husband in case he drinks it all before it matures! Made from hips collected from the wild dog rose bushes growing in hedgerows around her house, Sarah harvests after the first frosts and stores her foraged bounty in the freezer until she’s ready to make her liqueur. Prized for their health benefits and packed full of vitamin C, Sarah says “syrup made from these fruits has a long history of being used here in the UK to prevent colds.” If you return from your summer holiday with a sniffle, or just fancy something a little different for cooler evenings around a camp fire, this is the drink for you. Get the full recipe and instructions over at the Craft Invaders blog.

You will need:

  • rosehips
  • lemon
  • cloves
  • cinnamon stick
  • brandy
  • soft brown sugar

We hope you’ve enjoyed our round-up of homegrown and foraged summer drinks recipes. If you do decide to try some of them over the next few months, tag us on your photos and show us how you celebrate long warm summer evenings in your garden.

Dreaming of a green Christmas

Wooden wreath with berries and leaves

Simplify the season of goodwill
Image source: Galina Grebenyuk

Christmas is the season of goodwill. A time for giving, and enjoying festivities with family. But all too often it becomes the season of ‘stuff’ – unwanted presents, plastic packaging and reams of wrapping paper – symptoms of the over-consumption that has such a negative impact on the natural world.

If you want to simplify the festive season, accumulate less ‘stuff’ and reduce your carbon footprint, here are a some ideas for a greener Christmas…
(more…)

Growing berries in pots and containers

Cranberry Pilgrim
Image source: London Plantology

There are many ways to grow berries in small spaces – wild strawberries in window boxes, a vertical wall of cranberries, dwarf raspberries in hanging baskets or blueberries in pots on the patio. Plant your containers now and you’ll get heavenly fragrance throughout the summer and a wonderful harvest with which to make delicious jams and cordials to last throughout the winter!

Strawberries

Alpine Strawberries
Image source: London Plantology

I started my berry garden by propagating alpine (aka woodland) strawberries from seed. The seeds germinated quickly and easily in the spring and by the end of July I had a few plants growing in the window boxes. Their compact growing habit and shallow roots make woodland strawberries ideal for containers and hanging baskets.

I love these little hard working plants. They always look cheerful and flower non-stop, even in winter! The berries are smaller than common garden strawberries but they’re packed with flavour and fragrance. On a hot day, a few freshly picked berries create an incredible aroma in your hands.

Grower’s tip: sprinkle alpine strawberry seeds on top of compost and don’t cover with soil as they need light to germinate. A bright windowsill is perfect.

For a vertical edible garden, try new varieties of climbing strawberries. Strawberry “Mount Everest” and strawberry “Skyline” produce up to 1m long runners which can be trained on trellis or a pea netting.

The visual effect of a green wall dotted with shiny red berries is stunning and the scent of strawberries in summer is delightful. With luck, slugs and snails will be too lazy to climb “Mount Everest” to get their pickings!

Climbing strawberries are also a great addition to patios and front gardens. They can be planted in ‘Tower Pots’ (pots with a supportive frame) and trained into living vertical columns. Place Tower Pots strategically around your patio to create unusual focal points. They draw the eye making small spaces look more spacious, and you’ll have the added benefit of eating freshly picked berries when they’re ripe!

Blueberries & cranberries

Blueberry Bluecrop
Image source: London Plantology

Growing blueberries and cranberries is easier than you might think. Given the right soil conditions, both will supply delicious berries year after year. Acid-loving plants, they will perform best if the soil pH is less than 5.

The easiest way to ensure a correct pH level is to grow blueberries and cranberries in pots filled with an ericaceous compost mixed with bark. Bark mulch will help to retain moisture in containers, needed for the plant’s shallow root system.

Bluecrop and Pink Lemonade are my favourite blueberry varieties. Bluecrop is a compact bush, suitable for containers, and has large bell-shaped cream flowers in the spring, blue-purple berries packed with antioxidants in the summer and colourful leaves in the autumn. Pink Lemonade is the first pink blueberry! A truly unique variety with delicate pink flowers and sweet rose-pink berries – it’s loved by kids for its delicious sweet flavour and by grown-ups for its amazing appearance.

Both varieties are self-fertile but having two or more plants will improve pollination and your harvest.

I also grow Pilgrim cranberries, or rather they are spreading everywhere on a pilgrimage across my garden. I planted them last spring under pine trees but they quickly became overrun with weeds. The creeping cinquefoil weed intertwined with the crawling cranberries became impossible to bear, so this season I am experimenting with a new method.

I’m now planting cranberries in three hanging baskets positioned one below the other to create a cascading effect. Cranberries send out runners which I will be rooting in the baskets lower down to propagate new upright plants. Flowers and fruit are produced on upright plants so it is worth rooting as many new shoots as possible for a good yield.

An added bonus is that the glowing red berries look amazing in the late autumn when all other colours have almost disappeared from the garden.

Grower’s tip: Water blueberries and cranberries with rainwater to help maintain the acidity of the soil.

Dwarf raspberries & blackberries

Juicy blackberries
Image source: London Plantology

When I got my own small London garden, my dream was to plant a few raspberry and blackberry canes, but I did have some doubts. Large thorny bushes spreading across the middle of the lawn wasn’t very appealing! However, with new fruit varieties available, it’s easy to grow your own berries even without a garden.

Trailing raspberries and blackberries are a perfect choice for hanging baskets and require less maintenance than flowers. They look wonderful hanging on the patio, balcony or by the front door, and you can pick delicious home-grown berries on your way in from work! For an interesting colour mix, try pink raspberry “Ruby Falls” and dark blackberry “Black Cascade”.

Dwarf varieties like blackberry “Opal” and raspberry “Ruby Beauty” reach only 1m height and are good for growing in large containers. Their flowers attract honey bees and bumblebees and their bushy habit ensures a bumper harvest. An extra bonus of the trailing and dwarf varieties are the thornless stems!

Have you tried growing berries in your garden or allotment? How did it go, and what are your favourites? Have you discovered any productive varieties or dwarf plants suitable for small spaces? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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