Scampston Hall-Autumn

We have returned from a family trip out to Scampston Hall. Scampston has two great attractions. The grounds were designed by Capability Brown, the great landscape designer of the 18th century. Then the walled gardens contain the Dutch designer Piet Oudolf’s largest private commission in the UK. We had chosen to go there so we could meet up with my parents. It feels more comfortable meeting somewhere outside currently.

Scampston is free for one visit to RHS members, but only on Fridays. So far I’m not managing to get any free visits out of my membership. I visited Burnby too late in the year. Glad I’m paying student membership. I am enjoying the RHS magazine though which has been excellent.

We began with the walk around the grounds. There is a short walk through part of the grounds and woodland or a longer walk taking in more of the area. With Alice’s shorter legs we only did the shorter walk but it was a nice stretch taking in parts of the Capability Brown design. Alice was very keen to check the map each step of the way.

It took us through the rock garden which currently looks like it’s a work in progress. Several gunneras have been cut to the ground and the river was dry.

It took us down to the waterside and bridge-building.

Several swans and geese about.

Then we went through a stretch of trees with a pleasing trio of Acers.

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Wassand Hall

Today we headed out to Wassand Hall. I haven’t been to the gardens for two years and never in high summer. The whole set up is pretty much outside so Corona precautions are pretty straightforward and social distancing is easy enough. There were a few other people checking out the gardens but it was easy enough staying apart. Alice’s leg is still hurting so we didn’t want to take her for a day out which was going to strain her too much. The gardens here are not massive so we thought this would be about right.

The walled gardens are largely in three sections. One part is a run of formal box hedges with perennials growing inside. This was mainly heuchera, salvias and hostas currently.

A small fountain fills one wall.

With some stunning water lilies.

A climbing hydrangea Seemannii is spilling over one wall. This a different version to the one I grow as this one is supposedly evergreen. Either way, it has been allowed to romp away and is spectacular for it.

A formal pond fills the middle of this section.

There is a nice run of rose arches and clematis. Many of the roses had finished flowering but there were a few late-flowering clematises hanging on. This one is Doctor Ruppel.

We have continued Alice’s training. Hydrangeas are for having photos taken in front of.

Hydrangea Annabelle has been used a lot but then it is a beauty and easy to propagate.

To the side is the veg patch. Some of it looking a bit sorry for itself in the heat but some good obelisks.

And a good cutting patch of sweet peas.

Then a few flowers for cutting are arranged around the edge. The cactus dahlias proving popular with the bees.

The main walled courtyard is centred around a fountain complete with fish.

Then the borders seem to have been roughly split in four with a tropical border, a white area, a pollinator-friendly area and the shade border. I’m not sure if this is how they’d classify their planting but this is how it came across to me.

The tropical corner is thriving. Massive cannas, verbena and dahlias. Lots of Christopher Lloyd inspired schemes.

The cannas are truly enviable. A picture of health as opposed to my runt.

The shaded border is full of many of my favourites with foliage being key. Lots of hostas and ferns. It was also the nicest place to sit. When we set out it was grey and clouded but the sun came out as we wandered and the shade was appreciated.

The white border. As in Vita’s it is really a green border. It’s nicely done but it doesn’t excite me personally as much as other areas.

Though the agapanthus was spectacular.

It was good to see lots of bees and butterflies enjoying the garden. I saw both small and large white, peacocks, and gatekeepers while we were in.

We left the gardens for the cool of the woodland walk.

We told the story of the Gruffalo while we walked.

This took us round to the wilder ponds. A few moorhens looked to be hidden around the edge. A few dragonflies were flitting along the edge. I managed a few shots though none that great. Not as good as the shots I’ve been getting in my garden but nice to see a different dragonfly. I think this a common darter but if anyone knows better please feel free to comment.

They had a plant bench laid out. Mostly well priced for the size of the plants. They had a few of the hydrangea Annabelles for sale, a few interesting hardy geraniums, fuchsias and a few other bits. I picked up some cheap hakonechloa macra aureola for two-thirds of the price it is costing online. I’m not sure if I’ll use this bulking out my existing patch or possibly in a pot with one of the Acers that requires potting on. Then a small eucomis. Though I’m not sure whether it is labelled right. I like the spotty underside of the leaves. These grow a kind of pineapple-shaped flower. Quite exotic looking though supposedly quite easy to grow.

A nice afternoon out. The gardens aren’t massive. But, it was about the limit of what Alice could manage on a poorly leg and Amy’s back is aching too. Though she doesn’t know what she’s done. Always nice to see other gardens and see a few different plants in different combinations.

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30 Days Wild: Day 30-We’re going on a bear hunt

Alice has been asking about going on a bear hunt for a few days. We started our preparations with bear biscuits and carried them on today. It seems appropriate that we started this years 30 Days Wild with a Teddy Bear’s picnic and we are finishing with bears again.

Alice was concerned we might get lost so she wanted to make maps in case anyone got lost.

Her map shows her route through swishy grass, splashing through rivers, squelching through mud, stumbling through the forest, through the snowstorm, and tiptoeing to the cave.

We had a read of the wonderful Jackie Morris something about a bear book.

The book shows different bears but finishes with the best bear of all. Your teddy bear. It’s beautifully illustrated and Alice talked through what she liked about each.

At the end, it has a little bit of information about the different bears around the world.

Alice’s cousins came round and helped her bear hunt in the garden. They swished through the grass and splashed through rivers and squelched through mud.

They stumbled through forests and whirled through snowstorms and finally tiptoed through the cave where they found the bear!

And they locked the bear out. Poor bear!

Then they took turns at being a bear.

Before settling in for a snack of bear biscuits.

And so we are on the last day of 30 Days Wild. It’s always a pleasure to take part. We live our life with high engagement in nature but it’s nice to make the record of what we’ve got up to. But it is a lot of work recording it every day and blogging each day so it’s nice to ease off. Alice is at a lovely age where she is taking so much in and keen to learn about everything. I’ve had some lovely comments over the month from readers of the blog. I mainly write it as a diary to look back on but it is nice to hear other people have enjoyed our adventures in nature. High points include being a guest author for the Wildlife Trust, having schools feature the blog for their home learning, and being asked onto a podcast. If you want to read back on what we’ve been up to over the month you can check the contents page. 30 Days wild is organized by the Wildlife Trusts. One of the best ways you can carry on 30 Days wild is by supporting them by becoming a member, visiting reserves as they reopen or volunteering. And from there you can make your 30 days 365 days wild. I hope you’ve enjoyed our 30 days adventures. We will be continuing as ever but the daily blogs will be stopping for a while.

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30 Days Wild: Day 29-Bear hunt prep

I’ve been promising Alice a trip out for a bear hunt. The weather wasn’t looking too hopeful so we looked at preparing provisions with some bear biscuits. We need a supply of snacks for adventures.

Starting with the weighing.

And some muscles coming out for the mixing.

The dough had a little time in the fridge before rolling out to cut bear heads and full bears.

Alice looking for a spoon to lick.

A good batch with a good biscuit crack to them when snapped.

Set for an adventure tomorrow.

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30 Days Wild: Day 28 pirate beach

After an evening of thunder and rain, it wasn’t looking too hopeful. I got out early for a jog while there was just a light drizzle. We are looking to live in a place where we can run under trees, alongside fields and along the seafront. As the weather was pretty miserable we figured we would be safe enough to go to the beach without experiencing Bournemouth style crowds. The Floral Hall gardeners have been back at work and doing a good job. The asters and dianthus looking particularly fine.

Though Alice was most excited for the poppies.

On the beach, Alice decided it was a pirate beach and we needed to look for treasure.

And jump along the edge.

The tide was right out today and the sky filled with ominous clouds.

We walked back around and through the memorial gardens.

And we got a bit of rain so Alice got a chance to use her umbrella. She’s been desperate for chances to use it.

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30 Days Wild: Day 27-Butterflies and wild art

Yesterday was an exciting day for deliveries. First, we had the delivery of a new sunhat from my aunty for Alice. A reversible hat with bees on one side and ladybirds on the other.

The second delivery was from insect lore. I’d ordered in one of the butterfly kits. However, due to Corona, they didn’t have the one we ordered so we got an upgrade and got a few extras in our set.

We’ve got two insect feeding stations to try. These are just dishes essentially with sponges to put the butterfly food on. Sugar water will attract butterflies and other insects if you fancy trying it, just like our bee dish.

In previous years I’ve seen people criticize these kits as cruel and reducing a live animal to the level of a toy. I think this is an unfair claim. It is only reduced to the level of a toy that the children look at and then move on if you treat it as such. This was very much an exciting event the caterpillars arriving. She watched them carefully and they’ve been handled carefully. I think it’s worth keeping in mind that most of my nations favourite naturalists, people like David Attenborough and Chris Packham, will have been egg collectors or used the killing jar to collect butterflies. While these aren’t practises we would do anymore it was this hands-on experience that gave these people their knowledge of the natural world. And from there they have helped countless species. The caterpillars included are painted ladies. These migrate north and south. When I’ve bought these sets I’ve tried to time it so they will be released as the butterflies would be migrating through our country so they aren’t just released into the cold to die. Last year was a bumper year for them so we’ll see how many come through this year.

It also came with a mechanical toy butterfly. You wind it up with the elastic band and then release it to flap. Alice was fascinated by it. That was probably an hours worth of entertainment her working out the mechanism and seeing how to make it fly best.

And that was enough time inside. Thunderstorms had been predicted on the weather forecast so I wanted to get her out for a bit in case we were stuck in. The National Children’s Gardening Week Facebook account had set a competition to create wild art. I gave Alice the brief and left a few bits out and then left her to it.

Lots of grass for hair.

She made a face complete with a bow made from the red leaves, a hair clip from the petals and lipstick made with rose petals.

Then we tried the first of our long-awaited strawberries. Alice has been checking on these daily to see how they’ve been coming on. They’ve been getting redder over the week and I thought it was time to try before the birds take a fancy to them. We haven’t got many but they were very nice. All the better for having been grown by her.

A bit of a lazy day staying at home but we’ve had quite a few good walks out this week. We’re almost at the end of this years 30 days so I’ll be trying to make them exciting ones before we slow the pace down to our normal nature involvement.

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30 Days Wild: Day 26-Simple pleasures in the park

Alice got a number of different ball games for her birthday but not really used them that much in the garden as Alice likes a run-up of the whole of the length of the garden before she places it on the sticky pad. So we headed to the park to get rid of some excess energy. With the warmer weather, the beach is now rammed with the fish and chip shops doing a roaring trade. Good for the town but not to nice for taking a small child out. It’s not the level of Bournemouth beach but it still feels a bit weird after a month with the beach to ourselves. I don’t begrudge them wanting to come but it would be nice if they took their litter. If they can carry it to the beach they can carry it off. But the park is still staying pretty quiet.

Alice preparing for self for a long run-up before placing it on my pad.

Football is a winner for lazy parenting as she never passes so I get a few minutes rest while she chases the ball.

And a bit of hide and seek.

Though the squirrels are much better at this game than us.

And a good bit of fun rolling down the slope. Simple pleasures.

There were lots of small tortoiseshell butterflies on the grass today and quite a few hoverflies.

We stopped for a snack under the trees and watched some of the wildlife. Alice still insists on using her binoculars the wrong way round but I think this is because she hasn’t got the idea of the focussing.

We are starting to see dragonflies again and lots of the small blue damselflies.

Alice has found a new den spot after the other one was knocked down. As this one is largely tree it hopefully will survive.

A nice stroll out to get some of her energy out of her system. A few wildlife sightings and she came back home happier if a little hot.

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30 Days Wild: Day 25-Princess Poppy saves the bees

Today I left a surprise for Alice to find by the front door.

I’ve been meaning to get Alice this book for a while as she has a number of the Princess Poppy picture books. I’d seen Janey Louise Jones had written several Poppy stories with an environmental theme to them and 30 Days Wild seems like a perfect time to get hold of one of them for her.

The book tells the story of how Princess Poppy learns about the disappearance of the bees. It explains a few differences between honey bees and bumblebees. Then it goes into detail of a few things the girls in the story can do to help. The girls arrange to dress as bees for the Summer fair to let people know how they could help bees. It’s an ideal story for using in schools to teach a few basic facts about bees or introduce a science topic. or as a story to enjoy with a child at home. Alice sat and listened well and had lots of interesting questions and observations as we went through it.

One of the suggestions of how to help is to make a bee bath. A shallow tray of water can give thirsty insects a spot to drink without drowning. Then a few stones ensure they have places they can crawl in if they get stuck.

We set it up on the bench near the borage where lots of the bees are visiting.

Then Alice went looking for bees and trying to snap them.

Amy has borrowed one of the more high powered cameras from school to see how much of a difference it makes to the photos having something higher spec. It really did improve the quality of what we could achieve but we can’t afford a swisher camera yet, so just enjoy for a few days.

My camera is a Nikon D3100 which is a decade old. I can manage reasonable photos but nothing too impressive.

And a photo to make Princess Poppy smile.

And a few taken on the fancier camera.

A hoverfly on the lychnis.

Alice went on to tell Amy different bits she’s learnt from the book and she was telling me the bees in the park were bumblebees. And she asked for her new book at bedtime. There is another environmental-themed Poppy story on ‘no plastic‘. We normally do a beach clean as part of our 30 Days Wild. However, with lockdown, we haven’t been going to the beach as much. At the start of lockdown, there wasn’t any rubbish with few visitors whereas now there is a mass of rubbish. But we don’t Alice touching things handled by other people so we’ll have to leave this activity until it’s a bit safer. For now, we’ll concentrate on making our garden a paradise for wildlife.

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30 Days Wild: Day 24-Forest School

It is getting towards the end of the year where schools ask for feedback on your child’s year. We were asked about Alice’s experiences in Nursery over the last year and I felt compelled to write beyond the parent’s Facebook group. Alice attended Forest School as part of her nursery provision. Her nursery has a small woodland area attached to the main nursery. She spent the mornings in Forest school and then in the afternoons she accessed the more mainstream nursery setting, giving her the best of both worlds.

I was keen for Alice to attend Forest School when we found out it was an option at the nursery. Having worked as a teacher in Early Years for a decade I know how little time the children will get outside as they move up through school. Which is a great pity as the benefits of outdoor play have been discussed again and again. Here in the UK, we start formal education very early, while many other countries hold off until 7 years old and achieve better results. In Finland, the children regularly top education league tables, yet they are one of the countries that spend less time in the classroom. Forest school offers this outdoor time for our children’s education.

For Alice, Forst School has given her the time outside that clearly matters to me. Amy was worried about how hardy she’d be, whether she’d cope with the seasons changing. But this is part of the setup. They build resilience and adaptability. Some days they can’t do what they want to do, but they will still do something enjoyable. Alice is very particular about doing things outside of school as a result. She is happy playing with mud and going out in bad weather so long as we have the right kit on.

As a society, we do not let our children play out in the same way as when I was young. We had large periods of unstructured outdoor play with minimal supervision. I climbed trees, I made dens, I made a mess. We learned how to manage our own risk. You realised your limits of how far you could climb a tree. Whereas many children now don’t develop this positive attitude of being able to give things a go as they don’t have the opportunity. Through Forest School, the children get the chance to engage in potentially dangerous activities, but they are supervised and they learn about the risks involved. Alice knows the correct way to move around the outside of a campfire. She has used tools. She’s had that chance to learn how to use these things safely managed by excellent staff. I’ve seen too many children who reach KS1 and have no tool ability. If you give them a pair of scissors they look ready to cry. Whereas Alice can use tools efficiently and safely.

The forest area makes for a wonderful environment to play in. As well as the obvious benefits of learning about the natural world it is a fantastic spot for the imagination. If you think of how many fairy tale adventures take place in the forest the forest school gives a background for fairies and witches and all sorts of adventures. Alice has developed a wonderful imagination over the last few years drawing on her experiences with friends in forest school and her knowledge of stories.

She’s had the chance to engage in lots of craft activities. She’s made tie-die from natural materials in the woodland. She’s painted, chalked and created things from wood. They’ve regularly cooked on the campfire encouraging her to eat new things. She’s a fussy eater but she’ll now eat sausages, which might not seem amazing to many parents but when you’ve spent 4 years fighting every tea time any food she’ll eat is a victory.

Many parents will currently be nervous about sending their children to nurseries while Corona Virus hangs over our heads, but the outdoor setting is potentially less dangerous for the spread. Many schools are looking into alternative outdoor provision as a result. We haven’t currently put Alice back in as we don’t need to, but if you are needing to put your child back in education or childcare I would encourage you to look at places providing Forest School or alternative outdoor education.

I know many parents worry that all this time outside will stifle their education, hold them back from developing the skills they need for the rest of school. So I’m going to give you an example of what Alice did today. Alice has been waking up during the night and wanting to come in with us. We’ve discussed why she keeps wanting to as we are knackered. She keeps blaming the owls outside waking her up. There are no owls outside her window, in the garden or doing any waking up. It’s an excuse, but one we’ve gone along with as we’re concerned about how lockdown has affected her. She decided that to sort this out she needed to make a sign. She got a sheet of paper and told me she needed to draw an owl with a cross through it so the owls know not to hoot. I asked if she wanted to look at how to draw an owl first. She confidently told me she knew how. She drew her picture explaining it needed wings and a beak and she then needed to draw a baby owl so they know not to hoot too.

She then asked if I could write “no owls” for her to copy. While she did copy she could name each of the letters as she went and has very good pencil control for a child who has just turned 4. Then she found tape to put it up in her window so the owls can see it at night.

So, for any parent worried their child won’t achieve through Forest School you can see Alice is capable of achieving just fine. She shows confidence and independence in creating the sign, fine-motor in the drawing, knowledge of the world and a good vocabulary talking about the owls and reading skills naming the letters. Plus on top of all of this a wonderful imagination in coming up with this plan to help her sleep. I’m sure the wonderful education she received through the nursery and forest school have all contributed to this.

If you are interested in learning more about Forest School Stuart Jackson did a great interview on the Skinny Jeans Gardener’s podcast a few weeks back. Or have a look at the Forset School Association for a more in-depth look. Alice had a wonderful time through Forest School and her nursery and we are thankful she had these chances.

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30 Days Wild: Day 23-Bird feast

Today for 30 days wild I thought we’d help the birds. A lot of the focus this year has been led by Alice which has led to a lot of time on butterflies and ladybirds but I fancied a change today.

We set up some log cuts on the lawn as plates and then Alice pretended to make meals for them. So we’ve got a plate of ‘sausages and chips’ and a plate of ‘cakes’ for pudding.

She didn’t have the patience to wait today and see what was going to visit. So off she went to dance around.

I had saved some of the Bishop’s Children tubers I grew from seed last year and these have been the first of the larger dahlias to flower. She was happy it had come out in her favourite colour.

The seagull chick has been looking pretty sorry for itself. The parents haven’t been feeding it. Local rescue centres aren’t equipped to deal with it. As one wing looked to be broken I was advised to get it to the vets to have it put down. The RPSCA took details to ring me back. It’s been attacked by some of the gulls and has a few patchy areas now that the flies are attracted to.

While I was waiting, the seagulls came to attack it again, so armed with gauntlets I moved it to safety. The RPSCA came along to collect it to take to the vets. I don’t hold out high hopes but at least they might be able to stop it suffering for longer.

And we got a few visitors after the chick drama for Alice’s feast.

Then taking a few plants round to the front garden later we spotted another seagull chick out of the nest in our neighbours front garden. This one looks in a better state so hopefully, the parents will look after it. So, it all starts again.

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