mini gardeners

inspiring gardening projects for children


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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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Easter Holidays

easter holidays

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, involving the consumption of huge amounts of chocolate. Here’s a quick round-up of the horticultural highlights.

Flower arranging. Not one of my strengths.

flower arranging tulips

But I think the tulips are colourful enough to make up for the lack of artistic arrangement.

A seed sowing extravaganza.

sowing seeds

We’re working on the spelling.

sowing spinach seeds

New plant purchases. This one is a sedum with gorgeous blue-green leaves.

sedum

Currently in a pot on the patio table so I can see it every time I walk past the window.

Preparation for our potato/tomato grafting experiment. The potato rootstock is coming along nicely:

potato plant in a pot for grafting

Although I’ve just realised I should have removed all but one shoot from the potato – a job for tomorrow.

And last but certainly not least: a gift from my daughters.

sempervivums

A collection of sempervivums from the highly recommended http://www.sempsbypost.co.uk.


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Patience is a virtue

turkey oak seedling

A quick update on the tree seeds that we planted last Autumn, left outside and then forgot about.

So far, all but one pot is showing signs of germination so the sink or swim test seemed to work.

Above is a seedling of the Turkey oak (Quercus cerris).

And the sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) has also made an appearance:

sweet chestnut tree seedling

And there is some activity in the pot labelled silver birch (Betula pendula):

tree seedlings

Although I have a strong suspicion these may be the result of weed seeds that have been carried by the wind….


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Playing with Nettles

grow your own nettle fertiliser

It’s a high risk strategy, I know. My arms are still tingling as I write, so bare arms aren’t recommended. But if you have a patch of young nettles nearby, you can make a brilliant liquid plant food for free.

Rich in nitrogen (needed for leafy growth), it’s a good spring boost for plants in general, and particularly good for:

  • leafy plants and vegetables, such as brassicas
  • container plants, which need regular feeding
  • vegetable plots where intensive cropping and hungry crops have depleted the soil of nutrients
  • anything that is looking a bit sad and yellow but should really be green and happy.

Also, given the huge amounts of rain we’ve had over the last few months and its associated nutrient leaching, plants and garden soils may be in need of a bit of TLC.

Apart from trying hard to avoid being stung, nettle fertiliser couldn’t be easier to make.

Step 1 Collect the leaves and stems of young nettles, place in a bucket or trug:

making nettle fertiliser for plants

Step 2 Cover with water. Some people suggest weighing down the nettles with a brick but this is a refinement I don’t bother with.

making nettle fertiliser for plants

Step 3 Leave outside for 2 to 3 weeks. Probably best not to leave it right by your back door as it gets VERY smelly.  It’s fine if rain tops the water level up from time to time. (If you have small children you may want to consider covering the container on safety grounds.)

Step 4 Allow a child to stir vigorously with a large stick whilst the fertiliser is maturing. This bruises the leaves and helps the process along. Most “recipes’ for nettle fertiliser suggest bruising the fresh leaves before immersing in water. But I know from bitter experience that’s a stinging disaster waiting to happen.

Step 5 Pour off the liquid into another bucket and put the discarded nettles on the compost heap. The fertiliser will be strong (as evidenced by the smell!) so it’ll need to be diluted – the rough guide is 1 part fertiliser to 10 parts water. Use the diluted fertiliser to water plants in need of a boost.

A bit later in the season we’ll switch to comfrey fertiliser. Made in exactly the same way, this has higher levels of potassium which is good for flower and fruit development.