mini gardeners

inspiring gardening projects for children


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When it rains, it pours

grow your own stripy courgettes

I tried to convince my daughters we were having snake for dinner last night but they rolled their eyes and groaned “not courgettes AGAIN”.

Yes, it’s that time of year when the courgettes are coming in thick and fast. I’ve now exhausted my repertoire of courgette recipes, been through the  chop-them-up-very-small-and-sneak-them-in-everything phase, given away as many as possible (I think people are starting to avoid me) and yet there are still courgettes left over.

All this despite growing only a modest two plants this year.

In spring it’s always tempting to sow more seed because the summer courgette glut is a distant memory and they are so ridiculously easy to grow – provided you have a reasonable amount of space in a sunny spot and you can get the young plants to survive any slug and snail attacks. I swear by crushed eggshells, applied regularly in a circular barrier around the small plants.

There’s only one thing for it, time to search for a recipe for chocolate courgette cake. Let’s hope it calls for more than one courgette.


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Diary of a Guerrilla Gardener

guerrilla gardening in street tree pits

Inspired by all the reports of community gardening around London, we have the urge to “green up” some neglected land. After a quick street survey, we decide to start with the tree pit outside our house.

A bit of research on guerrilla gardening reveals that a key element to planting tree pits is to choose low value, tough plants as there is a reasonable probability they will get trampled, damaged or stolen. And even without all that, tree pits are not the most hospitable environments for little plants with poor, compacted soil and the competition of a mature tree for water and nutrients. We just happen to have a surplus of geraniums that have been sat around in trays for weeks so they seem like the ideal candidates.

The biggest surprise in our guerrilla gardening experiment is just how bad the soil in the tree pit is. It might have been easier to break through concrete but we persevere despite some strange looks from passers-by. It’s fortunate that we chose plants with small rootballs because I don’t think we would have been able to chisel out holes any bigger.

We add a bit of compost in a vain attempt to try and improve the soil, plant the geraniums and water copiously. We top with a bit of bark as a mulch and a sprinkle of wildflower seed balls.

It all looks quite smart and we feel pleased with ourselves.

guerrilla gardening in street tree pits

We pop out every few days to water our new plants and several neighbours comment on how lovely it looks. It’s all going really well and we decide we might expand our guerrilla gardening horizons to something altogether more ambitious.

A week later we notice a large, sloppy circle of dog poo in the middle of the geraniums (sorry to be so graphic, hope you’re not eating). Cue lots of muttering about irresponsible dog owners. My husband suggests that it might provide a source of manure for the plants, “looking on the bright side”.

guerrilla gardening in street tree pits

Then a day later, on the other side of the tree pit, the bark has been removed. Completely removed, there isn’t a trace of bark left.  And half of the plants are gone too.  Seriously, what kind of person would do something like that? Someone worse than an irresponsible dog owner, that’s for sure.  Now considering installing CCTV outside our house to catch the culprits should they decide to strike again.

guerrilla gardening in street tree pits

The seed balls have all disappeared with the bark too, so if you spot anyone around London with a small amount of bark that suddenly starts sprouting wildflowers, do let us know.


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Summer holidays and a trip down memory lane

make your own garden notebook

Day 3 of the school summer holidays and I’ve already had the urge to retreat to a darkened room and sob quietly.

But you’ll be pleased to hear that I managed to pull myself together and we spent the afternoon doing something much more constructive; making garden notebooks.

The inspiration for this came from our big summer project – decluttering the house. We’ve lived here for 19 years and we’re a family of hoarders, so a huge clear out is long overdue. Yesterday’s cupboard revealed all sorts of lovely letters written by my daughters when they were much younger, back in a time when it was completely normal for them to write me notes telling me that they loved me. No surprise that they’re hugely embarrassed by this now.

And I’d forgotten that I’d gone through a phase of buying them notebooks for various holidays and getting them to write/draw holiday diaries. We spent ages reading through those and we still haven’t quite finished clearing that cupboard out.  That sparked the idea of making some garden notebooks to record all of the gardening we’ll be doing over the coming weeks.

We made our notebooks from some white card and printer paper, bound together with garden twine and an embroidery needle. If you don’t feel like decorating your own notebook you could download this beautifully illustrated garden notebook cover instead.

And finally, my favourite letter from our trip down memory lane was from my eldest daughter and it went along the lines of: “Dear Mummy, I am very sorry for the pretend kick. It won’t happen again. I am so very sorry. PS Could I have a banana please?”.


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Chelsea – a sneaky peek

The so-called “greatest flower show on earth” opens its doors to the public tomorrow morning. On your behalf, dear readers, I have been rubbing shoulders with celebrities and enjoying a sneak preview of the Chelsea Flower Show at press day today.

The show gardens are, as ever, fabulous works of art with many exquisite planting schemes. chelsea flower show 2014 Foxgloves were very popular again this year and lupins featured in several gardens. lupins at the chelsea flower show

With many blue/white/pink herbaceous planting schemes around, Alan Titchmarsh’s first Chelsea garden in 30 years was refreshingly different and based on moorland sloping down to the coast.

chelsea alan titchmarsh garden I loved this moss in one of the smaller artisan gardens, and am wondering if it would be difficult to copy at home… detail of moss at chelsea flower show

In the floral pavillion, schoolchildren were on hand at the Miracle-Gro stand to explain their experiments in growing the same plant in different types of soil/compost. A brilliant idea that I will be copying with school gardening clubs.

chelsea compost experiment The ‘strangest item of the day’ award went to a 6ft dinosaur with rosebud tongue. chelsea dinosaur

At times it was difficult to concentrate on the gardens due to the high number of celebrities wandering around so I’ll finish with the name-the-celebrity game. (Apologies for the Hello!/OK!-style lapse, normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.)

jerry hall at the chelsea flower show rowan atkinson at the chelsea flower show monty don at the chelsea flower show chelsea celebs chelsea celebs


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A blast from the past

the ladybird book of garden flowers

When I was growing up, everybody had Ladybird books. The fairy tales were my favourites, particularly Rumplestiltskin and the Princess & the Pea, and I can still picture the distinctive illustrations all these years later.

I can’t remember whether I ever had the Ladybird Book of Garden Flowers but in a fit of nostalgia, I ordered an old copy for myself recently.

And it’s amazing how much horticultural detail is crammed into this little book; descriptions of flowering plants with their relevant plant family and the type of soil they thrive in. No gimmicky cartoon characters in sight, just dated but strangely appealing illustrations.

ladybird book of garden flowers

I love the way the book is written in a slightly formal prose as befits a book first published in 1960. I think my version must have been published around 1973, because there is a decimal price on the back cover and it refers to over 330 ladybird titles – see here for a quick guide on how to date old ladybird books.

Let me leave you with a little gem from the introduction:

I know you will enjoy growing flowers once you start, because there is no more satisfactory hobby.”


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Off with its head! (The short life of a rhubarb flower)

rhubarb flower

Our rhubarb has flowered for the first time. We spotted the huge flower bud a week or so ago and had the sharpened secateurs at the ready. Conventional wisdom dictates that it must be decapitated immediately otherwise the plant will be weakened by the energy required for seed production and hence be less productive.

But we were curious. And the huge flower bud has been pushed skywards on one of the thickest flower stalks we’ve ever seen and a flower resembling mini red cauliflowers looks set to emerge. (The photo above was taken on a phone so it’s not as clear as it might be.)

Flowering can be a response to rhubarb undergoing some sort of stress; too cold, too hot, not enough water, starved of nutrients. Anything that potentially shortens its lifespan so it sends up a flower to reproduce. I suspect that in our case the flowering is likely to be due to the plant maturing. We inherited the rhubarb when we took on the allotment so I have no idea how old it is or even what cultivar it is.

So perhaps it’s time to think about dividing the rhubarb crowns next winter to rejuvenate them. In the meantime, the flower stalk is on the compost heap.


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The Handkerchief Tree

The Handkerchief Tree (Davidia involucrata)

This is one of my favourite trees and it’s in full bloom at the moment.

Davidia involucrata is commonly known as the Handkerchief Tree (or sometimes the Dove Tree, or even the Ghost Tree) due to the white bracts that surround the flower clusters. When viewed from a distance, it looks as though the tree is draped in handkerchiefs:

Davidia involucrata (the Handkerchief Tree)

Originally from China, it grows well in the UK although it’s still a relatively rare sight. I first saw one at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, and the specimens in the photographs here are at Kew Gardens. If you’re lucky, you might find one in your local park, stately home grounds or botanical garden.

Davidia involucrata (the Handkerchief Tree)

Sadly, our garden is not quite big enough for one of these magnificent trees. But if you ever find yourself in need of a medium-sized deciduous tree that has the “wow” factor in May, this could be the one.

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