Helping children to grow – get them gardening!

Grace, dressed for a little watering!!

With the school summer holidays upon us, I’m sure parents and grandparents alike are racking our collective brains on how to keep youngsters occupied and, preferably, not just glued to their tablets and phones! Getting children outside can be a bit of a challenge, but if you can get them interested in gardening that has to be a bonus – on so many levels.

Granddaughter Grace is still too young for gadgets and, thanks to Grandpa Richard’s veg growing skills, she has already shown a lot of interest in the garden. There are ways to encourage youngsters outside and, if you can drag them away from their screens, it’s a fun family activity and is good for mind and body. The rise of technology has given us many great things, but nothing beats getting outside and working with your hands, growing your own fruit and vegetables, and learning a bit about life!

A child’s eye view

To spark their interest you need to think about what appeals to a child, which might mean coming at it from a different angle. If they are interested in butterflies or beetles of other bugs (what little one doesn’t find worms and caterpillars fascinating?), that can be a good starting point.

A bit of a plot

If you have space, it is always a good idea to offer a child its own patch to work in. A sunny spot with good soil is good, then things should grow quickly. A small raised bed would be ideal but failing that, or if space is an issue, a large tub or planter can work perfectly well. I can remember growing mustard and cress in a saucer on the windowsill as a child and being fascinated!

Ideal for little hands

Small children will love having their own gardening tools. Not only are they designed specifically for small hands, but children love feeling they are joining in with an adult and doing something ‘properly’. You can find sets of children’s gardening tools online at reasonable prices. These would make a good birthday or Christmas present ready for next year if they are still a bit young. Here are a few I found on Amazon, but there are loads to choose from! 

Patience, patience…

One of the many things gardening can teach is patience! However, it’s still a good idea to start them off on seeds that will give quick results like salad leaves or rocket, or something like nasturtiums. When sowing the seeds, try shapes – a circle, or a star – rather than boring old straight rows. Or what about sowing the shape of a child’s initial? If you want even quicker results, then why not buy a few plants that are just about to flower or fruit?

You can find seed growing kits especially for children online, but I’m sure buying a few seed packets yourself will work just as well. Click on the photos to go to the link.

What about the water?

This summer has been so hot, I know water is at a premium and it seems hosepipe bans are imminent. But all is not lost! Wastewater from the kitchen, baths, basins and showers is suitable to water plants and containers. It’s also a good way of encouraging children to think about resources and not wasting precious water.

Happy gardening!

 

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The magic of butterflies…

The Peacock’s spectacular pattern of eyespots evolved to startle or confuse predators, make it one of our most easily recognised and best-known species.

As a child, the very name ‘butterfly’ sounded magical, while the beautiful insects themselves seemed too bright and too delicate to be real. I can remember standing in our garden and being mesmerised by their fluttery flight and marvelling at how many there were flitting around on a big purple bush, the colours all so vivid. With hindsight, I think I was probably looking at a buddleia, which, as we all know, is a real magnet for butterflies.

I can remember looking for Red Admirals, Peacocks and Painted Ladies, these were the three types that loomed large in my childhood repertoire… those plus the dreaded Cabbage White that my Mother was not at all keen to see near her vegetables! This year, I haven’t seen many butterflies around and I assume it’s due to the late wet Spring followed by this amazingly hot Summer. Sadly, like bees, butterflies are struggling.

Butterflies are the equivalent of the ‘canary in a coal mine’, an indicator of the health

The Painted Lady – a long-distance migrant, which causes the most spectacular butterfly migrations observed in Britain and Ireland.

of our environment. The most familiar British butterflies such as the Small Tortoiseshell are becoming increasingly uncommon. Sadly, this is as a result of habitat loss and many other species are declining at an alarming rate as well. None of this bodes well for other wildlife as butterflies are part of a complex food chain upon which we humans ultimately rely for our own survival.

But all is not lost and there’s plenty we can do to help butterflies and there are some excellent informative websites giving advice on how to garden for butterflies. The Butterfly Conservation website is particularly good. Butterflies will visit any garden, however small if they can feed on suitable nectar plants and a well thought out garden can attract many species of butterfly. Nectar provides butterflies and moths with energy to fly and find a mate. In spring, it helps butterflies refuel after winter hibernation or a gruelling journey to Britain from southern Europe or Africa. In autumn nectar helps them to build up their energy reserves so they have the best chance of surviving hibernation or the journey back to warmer climes. Another way to help butterflies is to allow them to breed in your garden – only with the right food plants can they lay the eggs of the next generation.

Tips on how to attract butterflies:

Swallowtail butterfly – today, it flies only in the major river valleys of the Norfolk Broads, where it breeds on milk parsley, a scarce wetland plant.

  • Butterflies like warmth so choose sunny, sheltered spots when planting nectar plants.
  • Choose different plants to attract a wider variety of species. Place the same types of plant together in blocks.
  • Try to provide flowers right through the butterfly season.
  • Prolong flowering by deadheading flowers and mulching with organic compost
  • Don’t use insecticides and pesticides – they kill butterflies and many pollinating insects as well as ladybirds, ground beetles and spiders.

I wrote a blog a couple of months ago extolling the virtues of butterflies in crafting – so useful for covering up any little slips – and stunning in their own right taking centre stage on a card, especially when used in 3D. Just type ‘butterfly’ into the search box on my craft website and you’ll see lots and lots of gorgeous butterfly dies and papers to inspire you!

Butterfly facts:

  • The pretty frilly edged Comma is the ‘come back kid’ of butterflies. In severe decline in the twentieth century, it is now widespread in southern Britain and its range is expanding northwards.

    Where does the name ‘butterfly come from? The Oxford English Dictionary says it is from Old English butorflēoge, butter-fly. Another possible source of the name is the bright yellow male of the Brimstone, another is that butterflies were on the wing in meadows during the spring and summer butter season while the grass was growing. I think I like the last one best!

  • Butterfly or moth? Nearly all butterflies fly during the daytime, have relatively bright colours, and hold their wings vertically above their bodies when at rest. The majority of moths fly by night, are often well camouflaged and either hold their wings flat or fold them closely over their bodies.
  • You will find butterflies right across the world – except Antarctica – and there are some 18,500 species.
  • Many butterflies migrate for long distances. It has recently been shown that the British Painted Lady undertakes a 9,000-mile round trip in a series of steps by up to six successive generations, from tropical Africa to the Arctic Circle.
  • Butterflies navigate using a time-compensated sun compass. They can see polarized light and can navigate even in cloudy conditions.
  • Butterflies in their adult stage can live from a week to nearly a year depending on the species.
  • Adult butterflies consume only liquids, ingested through the proboscis. They sip water from damp patches for hydration and feed on nectar from flowers, from which they obtain sugars for energy, and sodium and other minerals vital for reproduction. Several species of butterflies need more sodium than that provided by nectar and are attracted by sodium in salt and that’s why they sometimes land on people, attracted by the salt in human sweat.

Top image: Adonis Blue – this beautiful species of butterfly is found on southern chalk downland.

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Ways to use corner dies

Corner dies can seem rather small, insignificant little dies to add to your collection – but never underestimate the jobs they can do.

The first is a bit of a no-brainer, obviously, they can decorate a corner for you – either in a single corner of your card or several corners.

Secondly, of course, you can decorate all four corners on a suitably sized card so the points of each corner meet and voila! you have a pretty frame.

Use number three – see the card with the oval centre – they can just be really handy squiggles (technical term there!) that add a great embellishment.

Number four – line the diecuts up nose to tail so to speak and you can make a gorgeous border to go across or down your card.

Number five is illustrated in the card above left – mix some corner dies up together and create a frame for your topper.

I’m sure there’s a number six, seven and eight – but they escape me just for today – but have a look at the corners you have or treat yourself to one of the new corners we launched not long ago and see just how versatile they can be.

Here’s a link to the section of Signature Dies on our website where you’ll find all the corners.

 

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Where has the year gone?

A summer’s day on Dartmoor.

I am sure I say this every year… but where has the year gone? I am writing this on 21st June, the Summer Solstice, the longest day. As of tomorrow, the days will start getting shorter.

When I woke up this morning (it gets light so early) I almost felt like jumping out of bed and yelling: “STOP!” I am just not ready for July to arrive. I feel as if the year has only just got going and we are already at the halfway point. I know it is ridiculous but, as you get older, time does seem to fly. I can remember my school summer holidays feeling endless whereas now, Spring has passed in the blink of an eye and Summer seems over before it’s begun. Ah well… it was ever thus, and I must make the most of the good weather and find some time to appreciate my garden.

June 24th is Midsummer Day; traditionally the midpoint of the growing season – halfway between planting and harvesting – and my garden is certainly looking blousy and full. My roses are looking fabulous, so it will be no surprise to know that the rose is the birth flower for June. Actually, there are TWO flowers for June – the rose and the honeysuckle. A rose generally indicates love or desire. Specific roses may relate other messages, for example, a white rose may mean ‘new beginnings,’ while a yellow rose signifies ‘jealousy.’ The honeysuckle denotes the bonds of love or generous and devoted affection. All in all, June is a luscious and loving month and very popular for weddings!

I visited an open gardens event in a nearby village last weekend, it was inspiring to see all these different gardens so lovingly tended. You cannot fail to pick up at least one design idea or spot a plant that you absolutely must have… if only you could think of the name of it! The colour and scent of the roses in bloom in these gardens were fabulous. From climbers making beautiful arches to rambling roses draped over old sheds and barns, to a stunning standard rose, the like of which I haven’t seen since I was a child. Roses seemed to go out of fashion for a while, but they certainly seem to be back with a vengeance now.

Roses feature a lot in my cards, in artwork as well as dies, and they must surely be one of, if not THE, most popular flower in this country – we talk about a beautiful woman as being an ‘English rose’ after all. So, make the most of flaming June while you still can and let’s keep our fingers crossed that the remainder of the Summer is mild and gentle too.

 

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Perfect drying weather!

We have been enjoying some terrific weather down here in Devon, and I think most of the rest of the country has too. It has been what my Mother would have called ‘perfect drying weather’ – warm and sunny but with just enough breeze to move the washing about on the line.

There are lots of positives to working from home (although quite a few minuses too!) and being able to hang washing out – and being around to take it in if it starts raining – is most definitely a positive. I always find it an immensely uplifting chore, in fact hardly a chore at all. The smell of fresh line-dried bed linen is definitely high on my list of ‘top smells’! It is also, of course, a very great deal better than drying them in a cash-guzzling tumble drier. If it does start to rain, don’t despair, it is claimed that rainwater acts as a fabric conditioner.

I was thinking about washing lines the other weekend (yes, I know, I am a sad person…) when I was at a lovely local garden event. Alongside plant stalls and garden ornaments were lots of stalls selling upcycled, recycled and traditional products, including one that was selling the old-fashioned ‘wooden dolly’ clothes pegs. Instant nostalgia trip for me! I can remember my Mother using these pegs and having a dolly made from one of them – such a simple toy, a little headscarf, painted face and bit of cloth for a dress wrapped around the peg. I’m not sure granddaughter Grace would thank me for one of them, but hey, we enjoyed our simple pleasures back then!

Another stall at the event was run by a young lady who had very cleverly recycled some old metal garden chairs into unusual planters. She had planted Sempervivum, or house leeks, within the decorative metalwork. Sempervivums are survivors by nature and originate in mountainous and arid regions of southern Europe and North. Their succulent leaves arranged in rosettes enable them to survive for long periods without water as they store it in their thick leathery leaves. This makes them useful plants for containers that get only occasional water, to fill crevices in the rock garden and to create imaginative arrangements with very little soil. Perfect for this unusual and very pretty planting idea – very clever I thought!

What a clever and attractive idea!

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