mini gardeners

inspiring gardening projects for children


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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“Mummy, is that tree supposed to be lying down?”

heeling in an apple tree

A reasonable question and well, yes, it is supposed to be lying down actually.  Strange as it may look, it was fully intended and the technical term is “heeling in” (honest, I’m not making this up).

We picked up a bargain apple tree plus a plum tree yesterday while we were supposed to be shopping for mundane items like eggs and cheese.  Being such a bargain they were supplied bare root i.e. lifted from the field whilst dormant and not potted up in a nice container, the roots just wrapped in a bit of plastic instead.

After we’d got them home and the excitement of finding such a great bargain had subsided, the reality set in.  The space intended for the apple tree at the allotment wasn’t ready (covered in weeds), it was trying to snow and I didn’t have a tree stake or a tree tie.  Oh, and bare root trees need to be planted almost as soon as you buy them otherwise the roots can dry out and the tree can die.

Luckily I just happen to know there is a short term fix to prevent tragedy – heeling in.  This stops the roots from drying out until you’re ready to plant properly.  It’s only supposed to be short term – a week or two – although I have previously had raspberry canes heeled in for a year during one of my less organised periods.

So, with my little helper, we dug a small trench in an unused bed at the allotment and placed the trees in, lying them on their side as if they were about go to sleep.  Then we refilled the trench and firmed the soil to avoid any air pockets.

apple tree heeled in

I’ve never been totally sure why you lie trees on their side when heeling in.  I originally thought it was so you’d remember it was only temporary because they do look faintly ridiculous.  But I suspect there’s a more scientific explanation in that it stops wind rock because the tree isn’t yet staked.

So now the big challenge is to remember that we need to plant the two fruit trees in the next couple of weeks and not get distracted by other things. 🙂


October Half Term

No need for boredom to set in during half-term when there’s a different garden-related activity for each day:

window birdfeeder

This is a small bird feeder that attaches to an outside window – now positioned in view of our kitchen table so we can watch the birds feeding while we eat.  So far, visitors have included robins, squirrels and a small knitted pigeon (more of which later).

oak tree seedling

Time to wrap up warm and go on an acorn-hunting expedition.

Back at home, plant your acorns as soon as possible – they’re prone to drying out which reduces their ability to grow.  Try this simple trick to check if your acorns are likely to germinate and grow into oak trees.

Plant your acorns in a pot filled with compost (or directly into the ground) just below the surface so they are about 2 to 3cm deep.

Leave the pots outside over winter and protect from squirrels, who will think you have prepared a scrumptious winter snack just for them.

Seedlings should appear next spring, fingers crossed!

build an insect shelter

Many insects are good for the garden.  For example ladybirds and lacewings eat greenflies while solitary bees are important for pollination.  So give them a helping hand and build them a shelter for the winter.  It doesn’t have to be as elaborate as the one above and you can make it from entirely recycled materials.  The more nooks and crannies, the better.

mini indoor garden

We’re loving these beautifully made kits from postcarden.

This one is the matchcarden village church and at less than £5 a kit, it’s tempting to buy a whole village.

The kit comes with cress seeds which sprouted within 3 days.  Probably about the speediest thing you can grow and great for short attention spans.

The cress is destined for some egg and cress sandwiches and we’ll replant the church garden with some spare cress seeds we happen to have hanging around.

Must mention that wonky bird feeder to the vicar…..

carved halloween pumpkin

..and resolve to grow your own pumkin next year.  April is a good time to start sowing pumpkin seeds so make a diary note now if you’re one of those organised people who has already bought next year’s diary.

spring flowering bulbs - tulips ands daffodils

It’s probably too late for daffodils but there’s still plenty of time to plant tulips.

In fact you may be able to grab a bargain as bulbs are often reduced in price at this time of year to make way for Christmas stock.

Plant tulip bulbs at any time up to the end of December.  Plant in large pots with the pointed end facing up, deep enough so that two imaginary bulbs could sit on top, beneath the compost surface.  Multi-purpose compost is fine.

Bulbs in pots can be planted close together but try to make sure they’re not touching.

One word of caution; drainage holes at the bottom of the pot are essential, otherwise the bulbs may rot.

knitted garden birdsAnd finally, on a rainy day (there’s bound to be at least one) settle down with a hot chocolate and a learn to knit video from the internet.  I had the challenge of teaching right and left-handed daughters to knit whilst barely being able to remember the basics myself, but it all worked out in the end.  I’d recommend big knitting needles and chunky wool for beginners.

Once you’ve mastered casting-on, the knit stitch and casting-off, you’re experienced enough to knit your own garden birds.  The flock above was based on a simple pattern by Buttonbag, an ideal project for beginners.  We knitted 2 squares for each bird, sewed them together, stuffed, decorated with felt and then squished* into the correct shape.  The RSPB site is a great resource for information about garden birds.

* This is a technical knitting term although you won’t find it it many books.


Acorn “Sink or Swim” Test

acorn sink or swim test

Here’s a handy trick for determining whether acorns are likely to germinate and grow into mighty oak trees:

Throw a handful of acorns into a jar of water, discard the floaters and plant the ones that sink.

In our little experiment just 2 acorns out of 12 sank to the bottom.  In the interests of conducting a proper, controlled scientific experiment we’ll be planting 2 of the floaters as well just to check 🙂

And now for the science:  Acorns are prone to drying out which reduces their ability to grow into seedlings.  Dried acorns have more air inside them and hence are more likely to float.  It’s not a completely foolproof test but worth trying if you were a bit too enthusiastic with the acorn collecting.