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
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
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
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.’
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
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.
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.
Gardening could be described as bending nature to our will. It’s the selection, planting, shaping, pruning, training, pollinating, pinching, grafting, thinning out and harvesting of plants to suit our requirements. But what happens above the ground is only the tip of the iceberg – half the story. How much more goes on beneath the earth that we never get to see?
In a recent study, a team at the University of Nottingham were curious to find out. Using cutting-edge imaging techniques (and a pile of seeds from Thompson & Morgan) they investigated a variety of plant roots without having to dig them up. The results are out of this world!
For the first time, these X-ray CT images showcase the diversity and complexity of plant root systems in their undisturbed soil environment. What no-one was expecting, is just how strikingly beautiful these images of everyday plants, vegetables and flowers actually are.
Why study plant roots?
Producing safe, nutritious food to feed the world’s growing population is a huge challenge for the future. We need to develop new, resilient crops, and do do that, we need better knowledge.
When we properly understand how plants grow, and have identified how specific features (e.g. root depth, thickness, angle or number of lateral roots) can be improved, this knowledge can be applied to allow more efficient food production. Particularly in regions with limited water or nutrient supply.
Finding out what happens beneath the soil could help eliminate hunger and famine around the globe. But in the quest for scientific breakthrough, it’s the beauty and resilience of nature that has been revealed in these never-before seen images – the secret life of plants.
Check out the full directory of images of plant root systems at The Hidden Half website, and follow their Twitter feed at @UoNHiddenHalf to get updates on their work. But for now, just scroll down and enjoy some of the incredible pictures the boffins have shared with us.
Cotoneaster berries feed birds through even the bleakest winters.
Image source: Artush
If you’d love to encourage wildlife to visit your garden but aren’t sure what plants to grow, this is the place for you. We asked some of our favourite wildlife gardening bloggers for their planting tips and here’s what they came up with – what to grow to encourage birds, bees, moths and butterflies to share your outside space.
Willowherb is loved by moths and butterflies.
Image source: Real Moment
Nocturnal insects love plants whose scent makes them easy to locate in the darkness. Wildlife blogger Dan Rouse says:
“Plants like lavender are great for attracting moths, which in turn will attract their predators: bats!
Nic who writes Dogwood Days was just a two-year-old in red wellies when her father introduced her to banks of rosebay willowherb alongside the vegetable beds. She says:
“Willowherb brings in moths and butterflies – especially the beautiful elephant hawk moth caterpillars with their extendable snouts.
Another favourite for attracting moths is honeysuckle. Bill at Frodsham Marsh Bird Blog says: “A large potted Honeysuckle is brilliant for attracting many types of moth species on those sultry warm summer evenings, and they in turn provide food for the local bats.”
Attracting butterflies to flutter about your garden is all about planting the right blooming plants whose nectar they’ll sup. Remember – the greater the variety of plants and fungi you grow in your garden, the great the range of butterflies, and other insects you’ll get to see.
Lisa at Edulis Wild Food says encouraging wildlife to thrive is all about “Mimicking nature in her timing and choice of habitat.” In her garden she grows:
“Alexanders, sweet cicely, japonica quince, wild raspberry, wild garlic, primroses, sweet violets, horse mushrooms, chicken of the woods, oyster mushrooms and scarlet elf cups.
Emma at Never Mind the Burdocks, meanwhile favours “ground elder, wild mints, and Galium species such as odorata which fill a borders edges perfectly and are easy to maintain.”
Providing myriad food sources is a great way to garden for wildlife, but if there’s a particular butterfly you’d like to see gracing your patch, often you’ll need to provide a specific food source. Dave at Why Watch Wildlife shares this example:
“A Brimstone is looking for Alder Buckthorn, so think about planting it. Not only will it benefit the butterfly, but in autumn birds will eat the berries too.
Birds and bees
Forget-me-nots are a vital early source of nectar for bees.
Image source: Ian Grainger
As well as enjoying the host of tasty insects living on your wildflowers, birds need winter foodstuffs to keep them going when the nights draw in and the temperature plummets. To help out our feathered friends, Bill says he planted Cotoneaster. He says it’s quite mature now:
“In the winter it retains enough berries to entice the local Blackbirds, wintering Blackcaps and once a small flock of Waxwing to feast on its berries.
Bill says the bees and hoverflies love the alliums he buried last year, and Julie of Garden Without Doors is a great advocate of early wildflowers like: “forget-me-nots, green alkanet and deadnettle”. She says the great advantage of spring flowers is that they’re: “beloved by bees and available to them before other flowers start blooming.”
Worried that by filling your borders with spring wildflowers, you’ll have less blooms to enjoy during the summer months? Don’t be. Julie says:
“Your spring wildflowers will die back in time for other flowers to take over.
Do you have any wildlife-friendly planting suggestions to share? If so we’d love to hear from you. Just pop over to our Facebook page and leave us a message.
In the meantime, we’ll leave the last word to Alan at the Scottish Wildlife Garden who, once the butterflies have enjoyed his thistles, finds they “have delicious, tender, juicy hearts that are quite easy to prepare once you have the knack.” As he says, that’s one way to “Have your garden and eat it”.
A small garden pond gives this song thrush somewhere to bathe and drink.
Image source: Ondrej Prosicky
By making just a few small changes to the way you garden, you’ll really help native wildlife to thrive. To get you started, here’s some expert advice courtesy of some of the best gardeners and bloggers we’ve found – tips to make your garden more wildlife-friendly.
Begin by asking: “what does the wildlife need?” says Brian of Brian’s Birding Blog. To answer the question, think about basics like food, water, shelter, and safety. By planning your garden around the building blocks of survival, your garden will be nature-friendly by design.
That’s a sentiment with which Nic of Dogwood Days wholeheartedly agrees – an attitude she inherited from her father who always says:
“The garden is an extension of the wider landscape in terms of its links to nature – the birds, insects and animals.
But too often, we design our gardens with privacy in mind without thinking about how our wild visitors will get about. With a little thought, hedgehog-loving Adam of My Life Outside says that’s easily fixed:
“By creating hedgehog highways through our gardens we can join up vast swathes of land and give these fabulous creatures a fighting chance.
So get together with your neighbours and create animal corridors by “lifting a fence panel a few inches, cutting a hole through wire netting or drilling through boundary walls.”
And do remember to provide a water source – an oasis for living creatures. As Brian says, installing a pond “gives the birds another food source and somewhere to bathe and drink,” and as Dave of Why Watch Wildlife adds “A source of fresh, clean water is good for invertebrates [and] amphibians.”
This nest box is a safe haven for blue tits to raise their young.
Image source: Erni
Now your garden works for wildlife, where will it live? Wildlife expert Dan Rouse is a passionate advocate of “messy zones” which she says can be a simple as “a small piece of old carpet and some bricks behind the shed” – the perfect hidey hole for insects and shy creatures like slow worms. She also says:
“Nest spaces or nesting boxes and roosting boxes are fundamental for wildlife to survive.
But it’s not just birds who need high vantage points, it’s bugs and beasties too, as Bill at Frodsham Marsh Bird Blog points out. His garden features a tree whose “winding twisted trunk and small branches hold a selection of brightly painted bean cans which have been filled with a variety of fibre material”.
And don’t forget to make spaces for “lone fliers” to hang out – Bill says a couple of catering size cans fitted with a wooden plug and drilled with holes make ideal accommodation:
“Solitary bees can access the interior to live their lives away from predators.
The same goes for dry hogweed stems which, cut to length, can also be used to stuff a tin – but be careful handling the live stuff, Bill says, because the sap can burn your skin. And because more bugs mean more bats fluttering overhead during spring and summer evenings, you’ll need to remember to install a bat box too.
An apple tree surrounded by wildflowers provides pollen and ground cover.
Image source: DrimaFilm
Look at your garden through the eyes of prospective wildlife visitors. Do you have a tree? If not, maybe consider planting one, or if space is a problem, make existing structures work for birds and insects. Bill (at Frodsham Marsh Bird Blog) whose garden is on the small side says:
“The washing line post has Ivy growing up it and now provides thick cover where robin and wren have nested.
Wildlife expert Dan Rouse says using your planting to create layers ensures there’s food for all: “Shrub-like plants like lavender or fuchsia give off a lot of smell and still carry pollen for our pollinators.”
And remember to make sure there’s plenty of ground cover to provide shelter for bugs and food for predators. Dan says:
“Smaller plants like ground creeper are great for our insects and small birds to hide in too.
That goes for grass too. Lisa at Edulis Wild Food says to delay mowing until wildflowers growing in it have had chance to bloom: “The bees are grateful for the early food and you realise how diverse your lawn can be if not totally mono-cultured.”
Do you have any wildlife gardening tips you’d like to share? Just head over to our Facebook page and leave us a message – we’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with this gem of a tip from Miles at Forager who says it’s not just the wildlife that benefits from wild planting:
“Eat your weeds! Bittercress, sow thistle, chickweed, nettles, dandelion are all delicious and nutritious.
Waste not, want not – the frugal gardener’s mantra.
Image source: Ondacaracola
Savvy gardeners are frugal gardeners for whom “waste” is a dirty word. Here we present some top tips from growers with a passion for repurposing, reusing, and recycling – ways to save money and the environment while helping your garden grow.
Old tyres make excellent planters, but make sure any chemical content doesn’t leach into the soil. Avoid use for food.
Image source: Praiwun Thungsarn
“Stand away from the skip. I repeat, stand away from the skip!” Pete of Weeds up to me knees’ daughter despaired of her dad’s embarrassing habit of examining the contents of every skip he happened to encounter. Pete says:
“I’m always looking when I pass skips etc., as I have found some great stuff in them for use in the garden.
Pete adds: “I’m not as bad as I used to be.” Sure, Pete; if you say so…
Another modern-day womble, Sara from My Flower Patch collects mushroom and veg crates from her local pub. As well as offering a good excuse to pop in for a pint, she says she uses the crates to plant up her dahlias: “I can get four or five tubers per blue crate and it uses much less compost and takes up less space than four or five individual pots.”
And then there’s Bill, author of Frodsham Marsh Bird Blog, who, tired of getting sore knees, found a novel solution The Borrowers would be proud of:
“An old chair base also made the comfiest garden kneeler to put in some new plants!
Landscape fabric can be used over and over again if you take good care of it.
Image source: Vadym Zaitsev
If you’re growing through landscape fabric, never cut your holes, always burn them – or at least heat seal the edges, says Kev at the English Homestead: “Cauterising the cut stops the fabric unravelling meaning you can use it again year after year.” Kev says he gets a whopping ten seasons’ use from his.
Another gardener for whom the term “single use plastic” doesn’t compute, is Mal of Mal’s Edinburgh Allotment whose top tip, is as timely as it is ingenious:
“Use rewritable tape to transform single use plastic labels into multiple use plastic labels.
Of course, not everyone keeps sheep, but even if you don’t, you’ll like this idea from Karen at the Square Sparrow smallholding in Scotland. She reuses sheeps wool to cover her herbs. As she says:
“Sheepish Herbs Survive Winter’s Worst!
Not even the “Beast from the East” could pierce her tender plants snugly covering of sheep’s wool.
Never throw away an egg carton – they make excellent seedling trays.
Image source: prachyaloyfar
With leafy ground-covering plants like strawberries, squashes and courgettes, it can be difficult to see where to water, but Belinda from Plot 7 Marsh Lane has a wonderful recycling solution. She cuts the tops off old Cola bottles, to make makeshift funnels which she presses into the ground next to the roots of her plants so the water always gets to where it’s needed.
Another gardener who’s nothing if not resourceful is Rachel of The good life ain’t easy, who germinates seeds in toilet roll tubes and egg cartons, and never one to waste plastic that could be recycled says:
“I’ve found grape boxes make perfect reusable greenhouses.
And then there’s Alan of Alan’s Allotment who recycles nature’s bounty itself – specifically comfrey – which he says grows like wildfire and can be used as “compost activator, liquid fertilizer, mulch or side dressing, companion plant for trees and other perennials, and production of potting mixture.”
What are your top garden recycling tips? We’d love to hear them. Just head on over to our Facebook page and leave us a message.