Friday, 22 February 2013

Community Garden at Dean City Farm

Please note that this blog has now moved to Kidsinthegarden. We would love you to take a look.

This week we had an invite to visit Dean City Farm just South of Wimbledon.  I was slightly uncertain whether it would hold enough interest for my 8 yr old. However my friend knows me well. ‘ They also have a community garden’ she says dangling a large carrot before me and knowing that I am never one to miss the chance to visit a garden.
The Farm is situated on land owned by the National Trust’s Morden Hall Park, but you enter the farm through a light industrial site.  It certainly is in an urban setting.  However this is just one side of the farm.  The other boundaries are the River Wandle (this is the river that gives Wandsworth its name) and the tram line which runs between Wimbledon and Croydon.  This tramline is a real added bonus for children as the trams are frequent,  a bit of a novelty in this part of London and great for spotting.

Morden Hall Park

Morden Hall Park
Our day started with a quick foray into Morden Hall Park.  What a delight  - a wander along the river Wandle, a foot crossing over the tramline and you then find yourself in a wetland environment  with bull rushes and reeds.  The Park also has a woodland play area and I’m assured by one of my companions that the rose garden has the most perfect stream for a hot summer's day paddle.  The children loved the woodland play area and all the bridges in the Park .  It was poo sticks galore.  There was even one little chappy with a huge supply of sticks on a bridge merrily handing them out to any passing child.   The wetland area the paths were flat and easy for every  child to run around and trace arrows and names in the sandy soil.

Dean City Farm

The Farm has beautiful chickens, the woolliest sheep you have ever seen and an eclectic selection of other animals.  My son’s favourites were the ferrets!  It has a riding school within it and children can also become a farmer for a day or a week - real country kids.  We learnt from one of them that why one of the goats had had its horns cut to stop it curling around and cutting into its skin.  I also learnt a use for those grapes that seem to discolour so quickly.  They are a favourite with ducks, as are tomatoes and lettuce.  White bread apparently does them no good what so ever.

Community garden Dean City Farm
Willow Spyglass

Community Garden

I have saved the best to last as we visited the community garden at the end of our visit.  The farm was very busy on this very sunny February half term day.  For some reason though most visitors passed by the garden and there was an immediate feeling of tranquillity upon entering.  The children loved it.  It seemed to have all the elements to make it really child friendly.  Pathways to run around, raised beds to make access to beds easy, a tree to climb, a pond and places to sit and hide.  For the wildlife there were log piles and bee hotels.
bug hotel
Lots of the plants were labelled and many were beginning to peep through the ground.  It was clear that many herbs and bee friendly plants were being grown.  I loved the willow spyglass.  The ‘prayer’ flags also seemed to work perfectly in the urban setting. There was a large vegetable bed and all raised beds for veg growing.  It all served to show what can be achieved in a relatively small space of ground

Turf Maze
Fizzy bottle roof building

Two features, the turf maze and the fizzy bottle roof building were just a delight.  I have seen greenhouses made of drinks bottles, but never a squashed bottle roof.  Reading more about how it had been built on the garden’s website made me feel quite jealous that I hadn’t been involved.  It obviously had been a real community event.
This garden had clearly been designed and evolved with a great deal of care and attention. The Farm is a touch of the countryside within the city and within that there is this little oasis of a garden, well worth a visit even if you do not have children with you.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Floral Friday - Family Friendly Shrubs - Lavatera


Please note that this blog has now moved to Kidsinthegarden. We would love you to take a look.

I have always loved Lavateras with their attractive and showy pink flowers.  If you have a large garden and want a summer flowering shrub then this is the plant for you.  Its common name is Mallow.

If you do not have space for a 1.5 to 2 m shrub then there are now a number of compact varieties available so look out for them online or in your local garden centre. Compact and floriferous, Lavatera 'Barnsley Baby' is perfect for patio containers and small gardens.

Lavatera Child friendly plant

For me, its family friendly characteristics include:-

  • It is really easy to grow.
  • Lots of multiple flowers on one plant.
  • It is perennial, which means it will come back the next year.  Though it may be short-lived.
  • As a shrub it is low maintenance.
  • Will attract butterflies, bees and moths as it is a great mid-season nectar plant.
  • It is quick growing and has a very long flowering period.   
  • Produces abundant flowers.
  • It is semi-evergreen.
Lavatera family friendly plant
I think the Lavatera in these photos is  Lavater x clementii 'Rosea'.   I was given it as a  one foot cutting last year and forgot to ask the cultivar.  All these photos were taken in November, it had been flowering since June and you can see its spread.  You really can’t ask any more of a plant.

This Floral Friday post is one of a series suggesting family friendly plants you and your children could grow in your garden. Please take a look at other previous suggestions.



Saturday, 9 February 2013

Children’s Playgrounds and Outdoor Gyms

You will now find this post on our new website
empty playground

Please note that this blog has now moved to Kidsinthegarden. We would love you to take a look.

What happens?  When our children are small toddlers, pre-school and perhaps up to the age of 5/6 we spend hours with them in the local playgrounds.  They are regular venues, with picnics on summer days and winter visits when the weather is dry.  Once they start school and weekday time is pre-allocated the family trips to playground start to decrease.

We do in fact use our local playground mainly as it is conveniently right outside the school and a quick ½ hour play at pick up helps to release all that pent up energy.  There is no afternoon play time in my son’s junior school so at 3.30pm he will have been indoors for 2 ½ hours.

A recent weekend trip with my son and his 10 year old cousin got me thinking about how we utilise playground for ‘older’ kids.  Most local authorities state that their playgrounds are for children aged 3 – 13.  However I’m sure that any survey of usage would show that they are predominately used by children from 1 year to 5 years.

There are many great things about UK playgrounds.  The following bonuses come to mind:-
  • Can be found in most villages and urban settings.
  • Open all year.
  • Free.
  • Safe – regularly inspected.
  • Often with parking nearby.
  • Can be great fun.
Why then do families with older children begin to stop using them?   Based on my own experiences here are my suggestions:-

  • You just get out of the habit of going out to the playground.
  • It is difficult to find a playground that holds their attention.
  • As there begins to be more demands on a child’s spare time with clubs, activities and dare I say additional coaching, playground time slips to the bottom of the to do list.
  • Some older children may not venture outdoors as much as they did – the lure of the computer, TV and Nintendo is great.
  • Perhaps some parents think that as their children play on equipment in the school playground there is no need for family time at the playground.
  • Finally maybe playgrounds are not so cool, whereas a skate park or BMX track is.

child gripping bar in playground

Child spinning in playground

This weekend trip to the playground was actually at the children’s request, so i knew i was onto a winner.  It is one we have to drive to and therefore had not visited for almost a year.  We did use to go there quite often as it has a range of equipment, some natural play areas and for some reason it is never very busy.  Sure enough when we arrived mid- morning on a sunny Sunday it was empty.

There are 3 pieces of play equipment that they really love in this playground, 2 of which I have not seen elsewhere.  I think, for them, that is the main appeal of the playground.  The first piece of equipment needs true gripping power as you have to jump to hang from a bar from which you can then spin your whole body around.  Great for upper body strength.  I quite like to have a go as it helps to stretch out the back.  You do however have to be quite tall to reach the bar and  I have to lift my son to it.  Obviously made for older kids then.

Children in playground

The other is a novel version of a see-saw, where you have to really work with your legs and you can to some extent control the speed and intensity of the movement.   At least half their time was spent on these two pieces of equipment.  I’m sure it was more than novelty value, they seemed to have provided them with just the right level of interest and excitement.

child on stepping stones in playground

A couple of years ago the playground received some natural play items, a wooden dugout canoe, natural stage and stepping stones.  All great stuff, however for some reason children never seem to spend much time in this area.  Possibly because it is located away from the main play rather than parallel to the existing equipment.

children using green gym
We stayed quite a while that morning and eventually a couple of families with toddlers did arrive.  There was quite a contrast between the noise levels and boisterousness of my two and the instability and smallness of the little ones. 
On our journey that morning, and in fact just around the corner from the playground is an outdoor gym.  On popular demand we stopped off to have a go en route home.  I was slightly nervous at letting the children use what I considered to be adult equipment.  However I needn’t have worried on two counts.  Firstly the signage stated that it was for use from the age of seven.  Well maybe, but they did need very close supervision.  There was real potential for harm on some of those pieces of equipment.  Secondly they loved it.  The amount of pleasure they had really did equal that of the playground. It was though a very static form of exercise and there was certainly no possiblity for the run around the other playground provided. 
I can’t help thinking that there must be some potential in converting some of this equipment to meet the needs of an older child.  I am also pleading for playground manufacturers to design more exciting and interesting playground equipment for the 7+ child.  The few pieces of equipment used by the children today proves that it can be done.

Let’s get our junior children back into the playgrounds.  Where do you go and play with your family?  Is it a local Playground?

You will now find this post on our new website

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Snowdrops, Ladybirds & Grapefruit at the Chelsea Physic Garden

Chelsea physic garden
Since a recent garden visit had been cancelled due to the snowy weather I had been looking forward to visiting Chelsea Physic Garden’s Snowdrop day.  It is a garden I have not seen for about five years.  I have always considered it a real gem and it really lived up to expectation.  It is only just 4 acres in size so I knew that I would not be seeing whole swathes of snowdrops, but the charm of this beautiful walled garden lies in its originality. 
CORK OAK at Chelsea Physic Garden
The visit started, not with a stroll through snowdrops, but with a fascinating walk and talk from the Garden’s Head of Education on the wonders of winter.  He focussed on how some of the garden’s plants and animals cope in winter.  We saw a few of the garden’s bumblebees from the garden’s own hives, a couple of its resident toads living beneath their own log pile house in the wildlife area and numerous gnat larvae from the pond.  Hibernating for the winter were ladybirds.  What I had not realised that they could well be using the crevices in the really large cork oak in the garden as a choice place to spend their winter.  Ladybirds contain a type of antifreeze to help them survive the cold!
Grapefruit at Chelsea Physic Garden
Evergreen trees use different mechanisms to cope with the cold.  The shape of the leaves on the Yew tree and the shine and thickness of the leaves on a Magnolia tree with all help them to retain water and protect.  Particularly important in the ground is frozen for a long period of time.  A highlight for me was the grapefruit.  The garden has the most northerly outdoor fruiting grapefruit tree in the world.  Yes, there it was in the middle of a UK winter with large fruit on the tree.  One had fallen on the floor so it was cut open for us to see and just like us it had a large thick coat on help protect it from the cold.  The fruit is used in the garden to make marmalade.
Snowdrops at Chelsea Physic Garden

Daphne bholua - 'Jacqueline Postill'

 I learnt that the botanical name for snowdrops Galanthus is derived from the Greek meaning milk (gala) and flower (anthos).    A special snowdrop trial had been established containing 15 different varieties.  It weaved through some of the winter flowering bushes and trees.  Not only was it a visual spectacle you were continually seeking the origins of a tantalising scent.  As the garden is full of aroma from Winter Box, Sarcococca confusa and various types of Daphne.  The Daphne Bholua Jacqueline Postill photographed above was stunning.

There was so much to see, in addition to the snowdrops, in this garden in early February.  An inspiration for any gardener.  If you have easy access to central London I would highly recommend it.  I already have another visit planned for later in the year.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Opportunity to Design a Garden for Hampton Court Flower Show

Child Friendly Garden - Hampton Court Flower Show
Child Friendly Garden - Hampton Court Flower Show

My ears pricked up when I heard a competition for non-professionals to design a Family Friendly Garden announced on the BBC’s One Show this week.  The winner will have the garden built at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show in July.  Family friendly gardens and how to achieve them are matters very close to my heart.  When I manage to attend a flower show I always head to those show gardens which claim to be child or family friendly.  Sometimes there are some really good practical ideas displayed, in others the lack of practicality and imagination involved  is sometimes a disappointment.

The One Show undertook a little competition on the programme.  Three people, with some help from a professional gardener, had each designed their own family friendly garden that day.  A lady with a nine year old and teenager had divided her 8 m x 8 m site into three sections to meet the individual needs of the family.  A barbeque area for the adults, a chill out zone for the teenager and an area where her youngest could perform plays. This garden was the winner on the programme.   A guy with a two and half year old wanted a garden where his tittle one would learn not be scared of spiders.  A wildlife and insect friendly garden was top of his priorities.  The final participant included a shelter in the middle of her garden so that the garden could be used in wet weather with a pathway running to and from the structure.

The  garden divided  into three sections was the winner on the programme.   Christine Walken, the One Show’s resident gardener encouraged anyone to have a go.  She thought that those without professional training would be more likely to come up with innovative and inspiring ideas.

I was interested to learn what the RHS considered to be family friendly, given the diversity of families in the country and their needs and wants. Not unsurprisingly the judging criteria for the 8m x 8m is flat site is very broad, but provides an interestingly insight into how gardens are judged at Flower Shows.

Judging Criteria to be used for the Garden
  • How well does the design work for the family?
  • How interesting and creative is the design?
  • Are the plants used creatively and effectively?
  • Is the design wildlife/insect friendly?
  • Does the design consider sustainability issues (eg sources of materials)?
  • How realistic is the rough budget? (to be refined with mentor later)

I am pleased to see sustainability issues included.  There was also a discussion on the Show on what the garden could not include.  No gnomes apparently!  So I guess the gnome I have inherited in my garden will have to wait a little longer before he comes back into vogue in the garden design world.
Garden gnome

So as someone without a garden design qualification will I put an entry in?  I would love to have a go, but not certain that the 1 March Deadline will give me time to draw and write up a proposal.  If you have the time it’s a great opportunity to have a go at designing that garden you have always wanted. And if you were to win!
If you are not too sure where to start take a look at some books on designing family friendy gardens.

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