The Christmas Chronicles, Part I – Door wreaths and horticultural projects

I’d forgotten how much full-time teaching is so all-enveloping. You find yourself spinning in a vortex of lesson preparation, marking, exams, reports, meetings, extra revision sessions for keen students and duty nights for weeks and then, at the end of term it spits you out and you land with an almighty thud, able to pick up the pieces of the rest of your life which have had scant attention since the last school holidays.

Term ended earlier for me than for my children – one bonus of teaching on Saturdays – and since then I have had time to mooch around Bath doing some Christmas shopping, watch the middlest child’s football match, clutching a thermos mug of coffee and wearing a bobble hat on a foggy Sunday afternoon, buy a Christmas Tree at vast expense (but Woodland Trust certified), decorate the house and buy a holly wreath handwoven by Joe, who has learning difficulties but has found his niche on a horticulture project. I’m so pleased to see that gardening still has the power to transform the lives of young people who don’t always fit into a rigid school system. If you want to make your own wreath then you can always visit Our Flower Patch (our educational project which seems like light years ago) where Sara will guide you through the process.

And so ends episode one of my own Christmas Chronicles, (name inspired by Nigel Slater’s new book). In addition to the above I’ve made Christmas pot pourri, written and posted most of the Christmas cards, had the annual conversation with my sister about whose turn it is for the Christmas wreath on our parents grave and reminisced about dad opening the Christmas chocolates early and the year Mum bought such a monster of a turkey that we had to saw off its legs to fit it in the oven, hunted down a mini-poinsettia, decorated the fireplace with some new red baubles, dug out the wrapping paper and ribbons and thought about the Christmas foodfest….. at a relaxing pace.

Today the whiff of just made red onion marmalade scents the kitchen and my typing is frequently interrupted by the son with a throat infection looking for hot drinks and ‘food I can eat’. Homemade soup, apple crumble and stem ginger cookies await.

Bulb ‘festival’ at The Patch

MHpatch

Half term is nearly over and most of our bulbs are in the ground – or in the case of hyacinths, under the bed Just the tulips to go but we wait several weeks until it gets cold to pop those in. My friend Sara had a few more than us to plant in her flower field on the edge of Salisbury Plain so one of our holiday trips has been over there to help out.
I can heartily recommend a family day in the open air digging trenches, popping bulbs in and checking out the wildlife interspersed with soup, homebaked bread (in industrial quantities) and cake. Between us we managed about 700 bulbs in the space of three hours, leaving plenty of time for a bit of seed sowing of hardy annuals in modules to compensate for those munched by ravenous slugs.

Peterpatch

Planting bulbs for cropping is very different from beautifying your garden in preparation for Spring. And with keen children involved it pays to prep in advance.Here’s a few tips for bulb planting with kids…

  1. Sort your bulbs and write your labels in advance.
  2. Mark out the narrow beds beforehand so that it’s clear to everyone which is the bed and which the path.
  3. Swap around the jobs regularly so that nobody gets bored or has backache.
  4. It’s easy enough for bright kids to work out spacing if you tell them how many bulbs need to go in a marked out space. It’s the most enjoyable Maths lesson some kids will ever have.
  5. Get them to check that bulbs are the right way round before back filling the trench.
  6. Build in plenty of breaks for snacks, worm watching, puddle jumping, football. Ours were so engrossed that they didn’t take many breaks but it pays to be prepared.

Sarahpatch

Who says kids spend all their time on computers?

Little Green Fingers, shepherd’s huts and William Morris.

Look what landed on my doormat recently. Now –  there is no shortage of gardening books for children in my house. We have the lot – presents  from maiden aunts; picked up at jumble sales or in charity shops. We may even have bought the odd one. But I must admit to being quite excited about Dawn Isaac’s book.

Dawn is one of my *Twitter mates*and I dip into her blog on a fairly regular basis. Over the months I’ve shared in the re-roofing of the playshed, the construction of the cold frame and the open-air cinema project. So the announcement that she’d been commissioned to write a book of garden projects for children was greeted with high expectations. The day when she drilled her thigh inadvertantly whilst working on one of the projects merely created an added buzz.

Dawn is a garden designer with three young children of her own. She has a rather lovely family garden – so lovely that my own children would be more than happy to live there. In fact, if it weren’t that I’d promised myself to a shepherd’s hut in Monty Don’s garden, I’d move in myself. This is good. What shouts out from the pages is that here is a mother who knows about designing family gardens and how to get little people growing things.

Dawn clearly subscribes to the William Morris approach  – “have nothing that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”. I fear like me she has experienced  the problems of housing huge (often ugly) craft  and soggy toilet roll growing projects. Every project here is beautiful to look at  and  helps to instil a love of gardening. I am prepared to forgive the inclusion of the eggbox cress caterpillar – every child should make one, even if they do have a nasty habit of dissolving into a soggy mess on your windowsill due to overkeen watering.

This book would work particularly well for parents , teachers or nursery staff who are fairly new to gardening. The projects themselves are perfect as workshops for nurseries or at primary school.There’s a useful introduction covering the basics of how to start and the projects themselves are helpfully organised into sections – ranging from manageable windowsill projects to larger scale and more permanent constructions. The ‘Scented Hopscotch’ idea was a particular favourite with one of my children. Even if you are an old hand there are one or two items to  get your mojo going again if you’ve run out of ideas..

Thanks Dawn. I love it. But I was bound to love a book written by a woman who scours charity shops for containers, gives gardening kit in party bags and encourages her children to spend their pocket money on seeds in Wilkinsons – wasn’t I?

A day of firsts

Last Sunday saw the first Flower and Vegetable Show in Bradford on Avon for some considerable time and many of the active growing community proudly displayed the fruits of their labours for all to see and some to pass judgement upon.

One of the apprentice gardeners decided it was time to make her first foray into the world of unusually shaped vegetables, tastiest tomatoes, longest carrots and beautiful dahlias with a minature garden.

For days last week she wandered the garden and allotment searching for suitable specimens to dig up and replant into a thing of beauty and on Saturday assembled her creation with the care of a Gertrude Jekyll. Finally rosemary, parsley, lamium, sempervivum, thyme and an unidentified foliage plant were selected as suitable.

A trip to the garden centre was necessary to buy the right kind of pot saucer to make a pond and her treasure box was raided for some polished gems (to stud the walls of the pond) and a ceramic fairy to relax beside it..

The 12 inch diameter recycled container proved a bit of a problem until I decided now was the time to buy myself a new preserving pan.

That done, the compost was shovelled and the whole creation assembled. But what to do to camouflage the handle and give it the final flourish? Rainbow ribbons worked into an arc? This was deemed ‘obvious’ so instead we settled on weaving virginia creeper and chinese lanterns around. And I have to admit I think the girl was right.

So did the judges ….much to a certain young lady’s obvious delight. A good afternoon’s work and all for less than a fiver – with the exception of a new jam pan of course. And speaking of jam I’m glad I decided not to enter my victoria sandwich for I would hve been reprimanded severely for not using raspberry jam. These shows are serious affairs!

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