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If you are looking for an ongoing activity to do with grandchildren, why not plan a kid friendly garden! Spring is here so that means it’s time to save empty yogurt containers for reuse to plant seeds, visit a garden center to choose kid friendly seeds to plant, and prepare an organic garden bed in hope that we won’t be surprised again with snowflakes from above.

 My Spring Garden

Poppy and I will soon be planning a healthy organic garden with our granddaughters to give them a special project to be involved in as the birth of their new brother approaches. They’ll plant and nurture their garden, watching it grow as they learn to help nurture their baby brother, watching him grow, too.

My Spring Garden

Here is my little garden,
Some seeds I’m going to sow.
Here is my rake to rake the ground,
Here is my handy hoe.

Here is the big, round yellow sun;
The sun warms everything.
Here are the rain clouds in the sky;
The birds will start to sing.

Little plants will wake up soon,
And lift their sleepy heads;
Little plants will grow and grow
In their little, warm earth beds.

~ Author Unknown ~

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Gardener next to robin

There’s plenty of jobs to be done in the garden before Christmas Day 

As the days lengthen, the cold strengthens” is a saying endorsed by many winters. In January, our gardens may well be frosted and frozen, but in these often beautiful and milder days that run up to Christmas, there are many windows of opportunity. Here is my Christmas gardening “Advent calendar” of 24 jobs that can make a real difference to your enjoyment of the garden next year.

December 1st Poppies will be having a field day in 2014, with the First World War centenary. Results will be far better if they’re sown before Christmas. Order quickly, as many councils are also buying vast quantities of Papaver rhoeas (field poppy, corn poppy, Flanders poppy). Try Emorsgate Seeds (Wildseed).

2nd Bulb suppliers offer big discounts now. Many bulbs are fine planted up to and even beyond Christmas. Tulips are brilliant stocking fillers (seeGee Tee). I have ordered 1,000 violet-blue Triteleia ‘Queen Fabiola’ for £25 to form strips of colour along my yew hedge base. The quickest way to plant large quantities of bulbs is to lift a flap of close-mown turf, plant seven or more per pit and push the flap back down. Protect crocus bulbs from squirrels with chicken wire on top (removed as they start to show).

3rd Planting my wallflowers. This gets later every year, but at least if you grow your own (sown in plugs in May/June and then transplanted into some spare ground and pinched out) you will be lifting big, bushy plants with mini root balls, so they cope well with a late move.

4th I’m still collecting seed, especially from my cleomes. Putting them in the fridge in a plastic bag for a couple of weeks helps germinating, then pop them into trays with a thin covering of vermiculite on the kitchen window sill.

5th A last-minute dash to clean up the greenhouse. The quickest way to remove pests and fungal spores is to use a sulphur candle (available from many garden centres), but you must take out any plants and leave it shut up for 12 hours.

6th Get all tender plants moved to snug places – porches, windowsills, garages. Invest in a roll of fleece and lots of mulch. Slightly iffy plants left outside such as agapanthus, dahlias, tulbaghias and Canna iridiflora will benefit from a big, thick duvet of mulch.

7th Move lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla) inside. Add fresh leaves and honey to a green tea. It de-stresses, aids digestion and eases colic. A potted plant would be the ideal present.

8th Get bare-root hedges, trees and shrubs in before Christmas if possible or at least order them.

9th Put spiral plastic tree guards on all young, newly planted trees to protect against rabbit damage.

10th Check that all new plants are labelled. The Touch Labelling Co (01572 574910) labels last more than 20 years.

11th Zap any lingering bindweed or ground elder with glyphosate. It will still be effective now (though slower to work) and will make life easier next spring.

12th Keep on picking and storing apples and pears.

13th Leave some apples, chopped in half, for birds; they are great for fieldfares, redwings and thrushes. Build an apple tower on a cane and watch them enjoy!

14th Put water out for birds too; add a ping-pong ball, which helps slow the freezing.

15th Make a fat ball for them too, but don’t use turkey fat as it does not set hard, and so gets smeared on beaks and, worse still, feathers.

16th Leaf sweeping using the mower set high is quick, and speeds breakdown. Avoid if frost is on its way.

17th You may not get around to cleaning your tools, but do get the mower blades sharpened and, ideally, keep a spare pair.

18th Climbing roses need pruning and tying back to stop them waving around.

19th Mulching roses helps them earn their keep; it also keeps down the spread of black spot, especially if you remove all infected leaves too.

20th Bring in the furniture if necessary, let it dry and give a good clean down with a stiff brush to remove any dirt. Then apply liberal coats of teak oil before brushing off excess after the oil has had a chance to soak in.

21st Pot up any promising-looking cuttings or young plants, as presents. Even small-rooted pelargonium cuttings are extremely welcome to gardening friends.

22nd Remove mummified fruit from fruit trees, to stop disease spreading.

23rd Start winding down. Get out a great seed catalogue, such as that from heirloomtoms.org. Order dark purple-black ‘Indigo Rose’ tomatoes (very high in anthocyanins and tasty), some ‘Dragon’s Egg’ cucumbers – which taste like melons but are far easier to grow – and/or some ‘Red Hmong’ cucumbers just 5-6in long in a dusky orange but with a bewitching and exquisite flavour. Try Rainbow Beet from Thompson and Morgan, a mix of scarlet, gold, candy-striped and white beetroot, which I found easy, delicious and attractive.

24th Set out some home-made chilli vodka and a mince pie for your favourite Father Christmas, and if you both get done in time you can knock it back together!

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BEEEEEEBEEEEEE

Keeping children safe in all aspects of life is important, but this especially applies in the garden. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the potential dangers lurking in the garden environment. From drowning in ponds and harmful plants or insects to accidents and misuse of tools, garden dangers are real and should be a cause for concern. Teach children how to prevent these hazards by educating them on garden safety.

 

Steps To Follow

Never, for any reason, leave children unattended outdoors or in the garden, especially near water. Although it’s not considered a substitute for adult supervision, fences are a good way to keep children from wandering into dangerous territory. Consider fencing in areas near ponds and pools. Also, be careful not to leave buckets of water accessible to young children, as they can fall in and drown.

 

Make sure your kids know good plants from bad ones. Teach them never to eat any plants without the explicit consent of an adult. Point out any unsafe plants that may sting or prick them in the garden and elsewhere, such as rose bushes, holly and cactus plants. In fact, it may be a good idea to avoid these plants altogether if you have young children.

Teach children about bees and other stinging insects, including caterpillars, and how to avoid them. They should be made aware of their habitats and favourite hangouts as well. Explain to children not to touch or swat at these creatures. Also, make sure children always wear shoes outdoors and in the garden. Do not let them wear bright clothing or fragrances, which can attract stinging or biting insects.

Do not use power tools or lawnmowers when children are nearby. Likewise, don’t leave garden tools unattended. While it’s ok to provide them with tools of their own, be sure they are specifically designed for children and only used with adult supervision. Teach children the proper way to use them and when, and put them up after each use, teaching your children to do the same. Always help children if sharp tools are to be used, such as pruning shears.

Although it’s better for everyone, especially the environment, not to use chemicals pesticides or fertilisers, if you must do so keep them away from children. In fact, lock them up.

Be cautious when it comes to staking up plants and using structures like trellises. Use tall stakes rather than small ones to prevent accidents or injuries. Children love to climb. Make it clear that only suitable play structures, such as monkey bars, may be used for climbing. Do not allow climbing on structures such as fences, or trellises, which can lead to falls and other accidents.

Finally, always encourage children to wash their hands after being outdoors and in the garden. Germs are the number one cause for many illnesses.

One of the easiest ways to instil garden safety in children is to start teaching them the basics at a young age and throughout their growing years. Try to be creative and keep the learning process fun. For instance, create a chart using pictures of safe and unsafe garden practices. Take them on frequent nature trips to help them become familiar with local plants and insects. Anything that you can think of that might strike up interest in your kids will help. After all, no one knows your children better than you do.

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