Book review-How to get Kids Gardening with the Skinny Jean Gardener

I’ve had this book a little while now and I’ve been meaning to get around to reviewing it. Photos on the blog today are of my little girl gardening as no one likes long pages of pure text on a screen. For those of you who don’t know Lee Aka. The Skinny Jeans Gardener I first came to know him through his podcast. The podcast is a burst of energy. He’s had some great guests and it’s always a laugh. He’s appeared on TV on Blue Peter and the gadget show and appearances on Sunday Brunch. More recently he has been an ambassador for M&S little garden promotion. He has worked hard pushing gardening within schools and encouraging gardening to be taken on as part of schools curriculum. In March he toured a mass number of schools promoting gardening to kids. A hard-working chappy with fingers in many pies.

Available from Amazon currently £12.99.

Or direct from Lee with the option for signing.

The book has clearly been a labour of love for Lee who is passionate about kids gardening from his work with M&S and the school tours. The book is a record of many different gardening activities Lee has carried out with his daughter Olive, the star of the book. The ideas are tried and tested with Olive and during the school tours. As a former teacher and parent, I was interested to see what activities Lee would suggest. With children confined to their gardens, there has never been a better time to look at getting yourself and the kids into gardening.

The book has lots of great ways to get kids into gardening. It suggests easy things to sow. When growing with kids they want to see results, so it lists things where they will see results. Lee also understands the importance of using grow your own with kids. Growing fruit and veg gives the kids something solid they can enjoy in a greater way than a flower. They get to enjoy eating and helps promote a healthy diet. Win-win! There are a ton of things to make, things to promote wildlife: bird feeders, bug hotels and seed bombs. There are fun builds to give the kids more to play with, music areas, mud kitchens and more.

If my recommendation isn’t enough it comes with celebrity endorsements from Adam Frost, Sam Nixon (of CBBC fame) and GQT panellist Mathew Biggs. Most of the projects Lee details cost very little to make. They are almost all limited materials or involve upcycling something. So even on lockdown many of these projects can still be made. For the teachers out there Lee makes reference to the Early Learning Goals. For the non-teachers out there these are the standards children are meant to meet by the time they leave Foundation Stage (age 5).

Overall this is a great book for parents and teachers looking to get children involved in gardening. It’s rammed with ideas. You can dip in and out of it for ideas. It’s a book you can go back to. Well worth looking into if you are struggling for things to do right now.

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Book Review: The complete guide to garden privacy-Alexandra Campbell

Alexandra put out a call for reviews of her first book last week, so in the interest of disclaimer, I have been sent this to review. That said, I was excited to see what she had to say. Alexandra’s website, The middle-sized garden, contains blogs and videos sharing many useful gardening tips. She has written for many magazines and newspapers: the Times, The Daily Telegraph, Good Housekeeping and more. Her blog has won many awards over the last few years.

The book is available through Amazon:

Paperback priced £14.36 at time of writing.

Kindle Priced £7.83 or free with Kindle unlimited.

From the blurb:

Find out how to make your garden feel private, no matter how small it is. This book will help you choose the right trees for privacy, find out which hedges are best for privacy, how to select a new garden privacy screen and how to screen eyesores. Create a secret garden or help minimise noise in your garden. Expert tips and advice from The Middlesized Garden, a top award-winning garden blog from the UK.The Complete Guide to Garden Privacy offers practical solutions with easy-to-read diagrams and inspiring photographs of real gardens.

So, this book couldn’t really come at a more opportune moment. With many us contained within our homes and gardens, more people are looking at spending their lockdown time in their gardens. Across the country, people have been discovering gardening for the first time. This is in many ways a fabulous development, gardening brings so many benefits, both physical and mental. But, it means the volume level has gone up. In many gardens, the privacy level is low as the gardens haven’t previously been used. So people are hastily trying to renovate their gardens to make them better spaces. Prior to my work closing, we were seeing good sales in fencing equipment as people looked at upgrading and fixing their existing screens. But there are many ways to add privacy to your garden that this book explores.

Trees can block line of sight to upper store windows

The book covers some basic principles of privacy asking you to think about which key areas do you want to be private. Within a row of gardens, it is almost impossible to make your garden completely private but if you identify key areas you can work to give yourself a secluded area. You may not need the privacy all year round. It may just be that you want privacy in summer when you will be out more. This opens up more seasonal options allowing for light to still reach your house in winter.

A parasol provides privacy from windows

Many of the options discussed are pretty obvious. Hedges and fences can be used to block views. But Alexandra goes into the extra detail of discussing the legal aspects such as where planning permission is needed. Plant lists are included for evergreen and deciduous options. The book makes use of nice clear diagrams throughout to illustrate the points she is making in the text. For example, for a seating area, you don’t necessarily need a high screen. An obstacle of 1.5m will hide you to people when you are sat. This is shown clearly through the diagrams and explanations. Screens, trellis, structures are discussed. A chapter is devoted to privacy in the front garden looking a few different ways I wouldn’t have necessarily thought about to add privacy such as window boxes.

A wall can provide privacy and block some noise.

The final chapter was particularly interesting and relevant right now looking at noise and wind. The wind can carry noise a long way. Alexandra looks at the way sound is carried by the wind over obstacles and discusses ways to increase your privacy.

Euonymus blocking line of sight to the eyesore of the compost heap

 

Overall this is an informative read. I devoured it over two days back and I’m sure I will return to look up aspects again. Anyone who reads her blog will know, Alexandra writes clearly, concisely and presents a lot of information within a relatively small book. It has made me look at the privacy in my own garden differently. I am starting to think out how I can add some extra seclusion to particular areas. I would recommend this book if you have issues with neighbours overlooking your garden or if you are looking at ways you can change your boundaries. This book will show lots of options for making your garden into your own secluded paradise.

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30 Days Of Wild: Idea 1 painting stones

A simple idea to kick off my ideas for 30 days wild that only requires a little bit of preparation of finding a stone beforehand. Now taking stones from the beach is illegal and the craze for painting rocks last year drove my wife crazy as we were seeing people taking bucket loads of stones from the beach. So there have been campaigns to decorate and then return the rock to the beach. The kindness rocks project shows lots of nice ideas of people writing messages onto their rocks. The artist Jackie Morris is in the habit of decorating and returning rocks with her lovely spiral Celtic Maze designs in gold. If you plan to do this as a teacher with your class please source the stones responsibly.

For some reason, Alice doesn’t like to keep her rock painted. We’ve painted the same rock multiple times over the last month and she’s then wiped it. But never mind she’s enjoyed it.

I’ve done a simple design to sit on top of the bug hotel in the garden after a varnish. I may do an equally simple bee design next to go alongside this.

Hope you’re all getting involved with 30 days wild and have enjoyed your first day.

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Front garden update

The building work is almost at an end. The front of the house is rendered and the brick has been repainted grey. I’ve been hard at work prepping the ground ready for planting.

The ground was covered in pebbles and under this weed matting. Unfortunately, the pebbles have been covered and don’t really do a proper job of suppressing weeds. So I’ve worked taking this all up to get back to the soil under the matting to start afresh making most of this area into a planting area. The ground under is pretty solid clay so I’m working on breaking it up with the mattock. I’m improving the soil structure mixing in some Dalefoot compost in my bid to go peat free and some calcified seaweed. In theory, this should improve the plants chance of taking and growing in the clay soil as well as adding some nutrients.

The removed pebbles have been put down the passage behind the garden to create a more stable path through winter. This becomes a quagmire in wet weather so hopefully, this will improve access year round.

I’ve hammered out the stones that lined the border with the removed hebes. These have quite a bit of concrete still around them. I’m reckon I can still use them though scattered round the border. I’m planning to plant Ilex crenata along this edge creating dark evergreen domes. I’ve got the plants ready to go in. I’m just waiting on the builders to finish their last few jobs so planting can commence.

The path is getting redone with tiles. This should smarten it up from a cracked concrete path. I’ve got to weed it prior to the tiler coming.

While the builders are doing the pipes we’re having a water butt added. This might save me the odd trip round to the tap at the back.

Then the side border of the paths is going to become a bin hideaway and possibly a log store. Neither particularly interesting gardening features but necessary. We may not get a chance to do this until the Summer holiday though.

I’ve made a hanging basket ready. I’d looked into alternatives to the traditional basket of bedding plants and come up with this. The birdcage came from Amazon. It’s been lined with some spare capillary matting. I cut a circle out of a bin bag to put on top to help keep water in. The soil mix has some vermiculite in to help water retention. The plants are coleus, ophiopogon planiscapus and nepeta. The nepeta trails over the edge of the cage. The coleus and opiopogon I thought would contrast nicely in colour and leaf shape. Time will tell how it holds up through Summer but overall I’m happy with the look of it.

I’ve been building plants up for a while buying things up on the cheap. The main focus of the planting is going to be hydrangea limelight in the middle. This will have plenty of space to grow out. The long season of interest should make this a good focal point. Then I have a mixture of ferns, hostas and heucheras to fill around it. Currently it’s all sitting on the back patio.

Along the house wall, I’m planning to pave the edge so we still have access to the windows. Then I have two window boxes made up ready.

I’m itching to get going on the planting up now, but need to wait on the last few builders jobs. But hopefully won’t be too much longer. It’s going to be a slow process for the plants establishing but I’m optimistic that it will work out well.

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30 Days Wild-sign up time

It’s that time of the year again when I start preparing for a month of wildness. I originally set up this blog in support of the Wildlife Trust’s 30 day days wild initiative. Through June the WIldlife Trusts encourage you to do one wild act each day. This can be as simple as cloud gazing, finding something blue. Or you may actually get out to a reserve or go on a day out in nature. It is a great way to connect with our natural world. Connecting with nature in this way has been shown to improve happiness, reduce stress and make you more mindful of the world around you. But mainly it’s good fun. There isn’t any pressure to do something every day but there are basic enough ideas you should be able to manage something.

I signed up for the school pack. This comes with some lovely ideas on large cards. There is a pack of information, posters, stickers and a colouring wall sheet. Alice wants to steal the wild teacher badge from me so I don’t know how long I’ll manage to hold onto that.

People who have followed the blog for a while will know I’ve taken part for several years now. Earlier in the year, I was asked if one of my previous wild acts could be used in a book the Wildlife Trust was putting out for 30 days. The book is now out. 365 days wild by Lucy McRobert lists lots of ideas, as the name suggests, of things to do through the year to connect with nature. The book has been put together well. Attractively designed, it features many photos and details of the wild acts. It’s a book you can settle down to read or just flick through to get inspiration.

I’m proud to have a small entry within the book from my previous years taking part in 30 days wild. I wrote a haiku as one of my previous wild acts. There is a description of how to write a haiku and then my little effort at the bottom of the page. The family have taken the mick that it was just this small entry, but then they’re not published poets like I now am. Took me at least two minutes work.

30 Days Wild is great fun to take part in. There are great online communities through Twitter and Facebook sharing their efforts. I highly recommend signing up.  Never been a greater need to show appreciation for nature.

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Bugtopia Hornsea

Today I’ve had Alice to myself while Amy went to teach revision classes so we headed off on the bus to Freeport. I did the obligatory hour or so at soft play, also known as hell on Earth, bouncing off some of her energy before heading to Bugtopia. Bugtopia was the actual reason I wanted to go to Freeport. It’s been open a while now but I didn’t feel Alice was old enough to enjoy it that much.

Bugtopia is a heated trail room filled with animals, mini beasts and birds. The jungle trail is a heated room filled with a mini stream and jungle stream. It is currently small but I believe there are plans for expansion. Despite the size, it is rammed with life. Butterflies, moths and insects can be found resting on stones and leaves. Terrapins and turtles fill the water pools. Then there are a number of birds flying in the space and a parrot kept within a caged area. Entry is £6 for adults, £5 for children but you can come and go through the day. So you can plan for having a wander through, having lunch or doing some shopping, then go back in. A season pass would be nice for us as we live so close but didn’t see that as an option.

Through the day there are talks to go back to if you want to get your money’s worth.

  • 11am- Incredible Inverts
  • 12pm- Reptile Encounter
  • 1pm- Parrot Show
  • 2pm- Incredible inverts
  • 3pm- Reptile Encounter
  • 4pm- Parrot Show

On entry, the first sighting was a familiar one, an Atlas moth. During a previous 30 days wild a fellow teacher bought Atlas moth cocoons without realising how big these beauties are. They are probably about the size of my hand. They are short-lived as moths existing in this stage to mate.

Another familiar sight to teachers, the Giant African Land snail. My head has tried to palm some of these of on me. While Alice was excited to see these Amy doesn’t want me to have one.

Alice loves a water feature whenever we go to the garden centre and all bridges are exciting places to trip trap across looking for trolls. So she loved walking over the little streams and was delighted to spot the terrapins.

Butterflies and birds fluttered high and low.

One of her favourite discoveries was the snake. I was surprised she liked this so much but she told me it was like the one on the Gruffalo’s child and that made more sense. She returned back to this cabinet a good couple of times to say hello.

A turtle and another Atlas Moth.

We left for lunch and returned to see parrot training. It was interesting to hear about how they are building up the skills and teaching it to fly and work to earn a reward as it was born in captivity. My camera was still adjusting to the high humidity in the room so apologies for the steamed over photos.

Not the most flattering picture of the staff I’m afraid but the parrot is stunning.

Alice had a closer look around.

We went in and out a number of times over the day. She chose a rubbery crocodile as a souvenir which she lost on the way out. After a minute strop, we located it again. Disaster averted. Alice was a bit scared of the butterflies flying close to her head which prompted us to leave but she did talk happily about what she’d seen on the way back so she’d obviously enjoyed it. When we got home she wanted her animal box out and dug out the butterflies telling me the blue one was like one she’d seen.

Overall it was a good first visit. While it is small the fact that you can go in and out and return for workshops means you can get longer than it initially appears on entry. I think as her attention goes up she’d probably stand and watch a number of the animals for quite long periods. It’s filled a day of the holiday nicely and I reckon she’ll be talking about what we saw for a while to come.

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Six on Saturday: 23.3.19

Last weekend saw a good amount of rain so my gardening efforts were limited to moving a few self-seeders around the border and adding some extra foxgloves. I planted some Japanese Anemone but bare earth doesn’t make for an interesting six. I’m not feeling to well so don’t intend to do much beyond contemplating the front garden plans.

1. Daffodils

The daffodils flower in a ribbon across the garden over a few weeks with the sunnier borders flowering first and the shadier bench area flowering last. I’m not a massive fan of the daffodils but Amy likes them and they come up reliably with little to no effort on my part.

The first patch was planted in the first year and are pretty well established now.

I added a few patches of smaller varieties to the border too. Quite pretty but none of the fried egg variety I like have flowered yet.

2. Foxgloves

I have a few established patches of foxgloves, some grown from seed last year and some self-seeded in the border. However, I still don’t feel there are enough so I’ve added a few more. If I end up down near the florist/pet shop later I will probably get a few more. These two have been placed around the hollyhock with the lupins in front. Should be a good classic cottage garden combination. But again, it probably needs a third as these things work better in threes or more.

3. Forget me nots

As mentioned already, I have spent time moving some of the self-seeders around the border. Forget me nots form a carpet on one border so I moved a few to the opposite border. They were one of the first plants I added to the border when I moved in. Three small patches became a mass carpet but that’s how I like it. Every so often I rip large handfuls out and they return again to fill any spare gaps I leave.

4. Lilac

The lilac is a sold part of the background of the garden near the bench. It has leapt rapidly to life over the last few weeks with buds coming on quickly. Between the lilac and honeysuckle, this corner is one of the best for scent.

5. Muscari

Last year I planted muscari in pots and then moved into the border after flowering. I’d forgotten about these so it was a nice surprise to see one poking up. It is, however, the only one I’ve seen so we’ll see whether anymore appear.

6. Blossom

I’ve been unsure of what the red-leaved tree at the bottom of the garden is so I opened up the question on Twitter. The consensus was a prunus of some variety possibly black cherry. Either way, it has a handful of little blossom flowers that are rather stunning. Though not enough that I’m going to stop pruning it back each year as it could reach twenty feet. Though admiring the blossom all around it would be nice if we made as much fuss as the Japanese. Well worth celebrating.

Tomorrow is my birthday. So, next weeks six will hopefully be featuring new gardening gifts. Failing that if I haven’t received six gardening gifts I will have to gift myself the difference.

Check the guide to take part in six on Saturday.

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