Tag Archives: garden

Garden Makeover – our Grand Designs?

We love our garden – it’s more than half the reason we bought our house – but it won’t win any prizes for beauty.  It’s more of a practical play space at the moment, but even for that purpose there is room for improvement.

This post is a collaborative effort, in an attempt to get all the family’s views about how we would like to transform our garden.

First up, here are Suburban Dad’s ideas.  I love this photo he took last summer of all four children helping him in the garden.

garden one1

The people at Activity Toys Direct have set us a challenge – how would we make over our garden if we had £750 to spend? Well, we can’t make it look pretty in the classic sense of the word “makeover”! Our garden is lots of things: a square patch of overgrown grass flanked by nettles, a playground and vegetable patch to our home-educated children, a source of cooking apples (thanks to the foresight of the first owners) and home to the “talking bush” – the overgrown hawthorn and holly at the bottom of the garden that mysteriously talks to the children whenever daddy is in it.

But, unless we can teach the children how to manicure the lawn (we have at least got them weeding, as you can see from the first picture), or find an extra 3 hours a day, any makeover has to be both practical, and give the children more chance to play. Choosing play equipment is easy – we’d start by getting a trampoline like this one.

We’d also look at the TP pirate swing.  Our TP swing and climbing frame is much loved, as you can see from the picture below, so in a fit of eBay enthusiasm we bought a second frame that has two single swings on it. The result? The second frame is hardly used. Our children love single swings when they find them in a park, but give them the choice and they choose two-seater swings.

garden two2

So what else would we do? Well, we’d put in a path around the edge of the lawn – not for us, mind – for the kids to cycle around it. Once they’ve left home we might turn our thoughts to ornamental borders, but for now we’re delighting in watching them run past the weeds and dig in the mud.

Now here are the children’s ideas

garden design one 1

This is how the conversation went with Tiddler.

Me You can draw a picture of how you would like your garden to be.  You can put in anything you like.

Tiddler (decisively) Blue grass.

Me Okay – and what else?

Tiddler Green sky…and a brown tree with brown leaves and brown apples.

Me Anything else?

Tiddler Nope!

garden designs two 2

The older three children had a few more ideas.  They looked at the website and all agreed that they would like a Forest Lodge and a Zip Wire.  Rabbit had trouble fitting in all her ideas, but they had to fit round a very large central pond with a miniature railway going around it!

garden designs three 3

For Monkey, the tree house was very important.  We have been talking about building one in our big apple tree for a long time, and the children want it to be a meeting place for the Silver Sword club which they have started with some of their friends.

garden designs four 4

Owl’s designs were quite complex, and covered both sides of the paper.  I’m not quite sure how it all fits together but there’s an underground passage involved!

garden designs five 5

They all want chickens, an ice rink, a skate park and plenty of swings and slides, in addition to the tree house, pond and railway.  Their plans may be a little ambitious, but maybe we can make some of them happen.  Probably not the ice rink…

As for me, this is what I love about our garden so far.

garden produce

The amazing bounty is not much down to our own efforts, though we did manage to grow the pumpkins.  We’ve managed more in previous years, and I hope we’ll do better next year.  I’d love to have a row of vegetable beds down the side of the garden, and in my fantasy plan there’s a chicken run at the bottom.  If we could have a path for the children to cycle around, it would double up as an easy access route for vegetable tending and egg collecting.

Whatever we do, there also needs to be room for plenty of this…

oats 2

…and this.

Paint 1

Play will be the main focus for what goes on in our garden for a long time to come.  Quiet play.  Noisy play.  Messy play.  Water, paint, sand, mud, oats and whatever else comes to hand.  I’d really love the children to have a sandpit that’s big enough for them all to get in together.

And somehow, amongst everything else that’s going on, we have to make sure there’s enough space for the children to play football.  I’d like them to have a goal, like this one, to focus their efforts in one direction (preferably not over the fence!)

I do love the railway idea too.  This is the one that has inspired the children, in the garden of some friends from our church.  I hope we manage to build our own eventually – I think daddy would have as much fun as the children.

train garden 1

Whatever we do with our garden in the future, it has to stand up to some heavy usage by lots of children of all ages.  As well as having friends round to play, we also have some of our home education group meetings here and the garden is a wonderful space for them to play and learn in together.  We often have art and craft activities, science experiments, messy play and sports going on outside.  We are also planning to start a Forest School group with our home educating friends.  Initially we will probably be meeting on another family’s smallholding, but if it takes off we would like to be able to extend the number of sessions, and our garden would be needed too.

As you can see, we are not short of ideas.  If we are lucky enough to be chosen for the garden makeover, the only problem we will have is trying to decide between them all!

This blogpost is an entry into the Tots 100/ Activity Toys Direct garden makeover competition.

Planting seeds in the rain

planting seeeds in the rain 1

It’s been a bit wet this week, but it hasn’t stopped us from getting out in the garden.  On Tuesday, Rabbit, Tiddler and I planted some more seeds.  They insisted on watering their pots, even though it was raining the whole time we were out there.  Perfect toddler entertainment, and I found it rather therapeutic too.

planting seeds in the rain 2


Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Mark Making and Planting Seeds

On Sunday we spent the afternoon in the garden enjoying the sunshine.  We thought we would clear some wet sand out of one of the Tuff Spots, and Rabbit and Tiddler enjoyed helping to lift spadefuls of sloppy wet sand into the wheelbarrow.  However, it soon became clear that they were having a lot of fun playing with it, so we changed our plans and let them carry on.  We experimented with making marks in the wet sand and the children also buried their hands in it.  Tiddler got right in there and stomped around in it too.

mark making 1

We then got some vehicles and Tiddler made tracks in the sand, while I drew shapes and Rabbit wrote some words.

mark making 2

This went on for a long time!

mark making 3

And I had as much fun as the children did!

mark making 4

When the little ones had finished, we removed most of the sand and then added our leftover rice and lentil mixture (I think there is a bit of flour in there as well!)  This was more appealing to Monkey, who prefers “clean” messy play, so he and I spent quite a long time making marks in it, while the others dipped in and out of the activity.

mark making 5

The vehicles were added back in and more tracks were made.

mark making 6

And then of course there was the fun of washing the toys!

mark making 7

Meanwhile, in the other Tuff Spot…

mark making 8

Rabbit, Tiddler and I planted some of the enormous stash of seeds leftover from last year.  I know it is a bit late for some of them, but it is such a fun activity and the seeds are not going to improve by being left for another year so we decided to try our luck.

mark making 9

Next we did some mark making and Tiddler drew a snake so I showed him how to write the letter “S” and we talked about how it looks like a wiggly snake.

mark making 10

After that, Owl and I did some more writing and drawing in the rice mixture, while Monkey made mud pies with the compost.

mark making 11

It was a lovely afternoon and once again it reminded me that the best play is often completely unplanned!

Edspire  Messy Play

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

This week

This week I have not written anything on the blog at all.  That is quite unusual, and it was not for lack of things to write about.  The lack of blogging has been caused by a busy weekend, a week of sleep deprivation, two sick children and technical problems (solved by the lovely Jo from Mum Friendly, The Adequate Parent and other places too numerous for me to remember.)  Now that I am back, I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the posts I would like to write, so I think I am just going to have to combine them or they are not going to get written.

Last Friday, Suburban Dad had the day off to help with preparations for the party we had planned for Saturday.  He spent a lot of the day in the garden tidying up, cutting the grass and taming the weeds and overgrown borders.  I spent most of the time inside cleaning, doing laundry and making cakes, but late in the afternoon I joined him outside and had some fun with the children.  They had been making a woodlouse house, which by this time had quite a lot of residents for me to admire, and then the big three and I had a lot of messy fun repotting the seedlings grown from the seeds they had planted at Morden Hall Park on the last Bank Holiday Monday.


On Saturday, we had a joint party for Tiddler and Owl.  It was roughly between their birthdays which are in April and June, and they both thought it was a great idea to have a sharing party, as Monkey and Rabbit had done in February.  We hired a bouncy castle, provided large quantities of food and let them get on with it.  I think there were 27 children altogether, and it was very lively but quite successful.  We attempted to do a Science experiment in the Tuff Spot, which turned out to be a rather unimpressive volcano – well I think the little ones quite liked it but it didn’t impress any 8 and 9 year olds.


In the afternoon, after most of the children had left, we had a lovely and more peaceful time with our friends from 3 Kids and a Gluestick, daddy’s cousin and two of his children, and Granny and Grandpa.  The highlight of the afternoon was making giant bubbles with Dr Zigs bubble mixture and wands.  Rabbit was particularly good at this, and very patient.  We finished the afternoon with a barbecue, and luckily the weather was perfect all day.

Party bubbles 1

Party Bubbles 2

On Sunday, the children and I had a quiet morning at home to recover from the excitement, while daddy went to church.  In the afternoon, a friend of mine came to visit.  As she arrived, Rabbit, Tiddler and I had just decided to do some painting in the garden.  We started with the easel and then moved on to the Tuff Spot.  We squirted several different colours of paint in, added some cardboard tubes, plastic balls and toy cars and experimented with different ways of making marks and patterns in the paint.

Paint 1

Paint 2

Paint 3

The children also enjoyed showing my friend the giant bubbles, and then with her help they made vegetarian kebabs for another barbecue lunch.  In the afternoon, we went for a lovely walk in Banstead Woods.  The bluebells were still out and it was beautiful.  We didn’t get very far because the children discovered a tree in which someone had built a platform of planks, and underneath a den, so of course we had to spend the rest of the afternoon on tree climbing and attempts to extend the den.

Banstead Woods 1 Banstead Woods 2

On Monday, after another quiet morning of work and play at home, we went to Morden Hall Park for the afternoon with our friends from 3 kids and a gluestick.  After an expensive visit there for the May Fayre, it was nice to visit when it was free.  The afternoon got off to an eventful start when Tiddler fell in the stream, but one we had got him out and moved away from the water we had a lovely time.  We ticked off a few more of the things on our National Trust 50 things list – making daisy chains, making a grass trumpet (not very successful but we had a good try), playing pooh sticks and holding scary beasts (worms and woodlice!) We also discovered a hollow tree which the children had fun climbing in and out of, and we want to go back to take some bark rubbings.  We finished the afternoon with a play in the natural playground, which the children really enjoyed.  I am sure we are going back soon so we will review it properly then.

Morden Hall Park 1

Morden Hall Park 2

On Tuesday, the big boys went for a Maths lesson (and Lego play session) with my friend, while I took the little ones to Toddler Group.  I really enjoyed it and had another go at crochet, which a group of us had started to learn at Toddlers last week.  In the afternoon, another friend and her daughter called round and ended up staying for an hour or so.  The children had fun playing schools (!) which led to making clocks out of paper plates, and playing with letter and word tiles and magnetic letters. After that, the big three went to Dramabuds.  It was a good day, but in the evening Tiddler was sick, and he spent the night in our bed.  He was sick several more times and none of us got much sleep.  Sadly on Wednesday we had to miss Tiddler’s swimming lesson and another outing to Morden Hall Park with our Home Education Group.  I can’t remember what we did at home (I am quite tired!) but I’m sure when I look at my photos I will be reminded.  In the evening, Rabbit went to Rainbows and Monkey went to Beavers.  Thursday was another day at home, in which the children did lots of Maths, English and Science, and worked on their Prehistory projects.  Owl went to Cubs in the evening.

We had lots of lovely plans for today (Musicbox, meeting with friends afterwards and then a visit to a PYO farm) but sadly they too had to be cancelled when Rabbit was sick this morning after breakfast.  The children spent the morning playing with playdough while I caught up on some housework.  Owl also wrote an issue of his local newspaper, in which the top story was a shark being found in the Ponds!  In the afternoon, the children played, watched television, did some of their Prehistory project, tidied their bedrooms and did some music practice.  It was sad to cancel so many fun activities, but quite good to get some down time at home.

Our Bank Holiday Weekend

Last Friday, after a morning of violin lessons and Musicbox, we had a quiet afternoon at home, mostly spent in the garden.  Rabbit wanted me to watch her doing “gymnastics” on the climbing frame, and we had a lovely time together while the boys were otherwise occupied.  Then Tiddler came and joined in and they played together for a while.  I really enjoyed spending time with them outside, making the most of the sunshine (which has since disappeared) and the garden (which is a bit of a mess but has some nice bits).  There is blossom on the pear tree.

pear blossom

There may or may not be pears.  Probably not, but for now it is doing a good job of making the garden look better.  There is also blossom on both the apple trees (much bigger and more established than the pear tree) and they look amazing, but I haven’t photographed them yet.  After climbing and hanging from monkey bars for a while, the little ones wanted me to push them on the swings so we did that for a while, and then we decided to dig and weed the vegetable patch.  This is a very small raised bed which has been abandoned since last summer, and it was completely overgrown with weeds.  I should have taken a proper “before” picture but it didn’t occur to me until about half way through.  Anyway, after about 45 minutes of really hard work by me and Rabbit (and some “help” from Tiddler) it looked like this.


We carried on for another 45 minutes, and more or less cleared it but hadn’t got all the roots out when we had to abandon the project because daddy had arrived with pizza for supper.  The children asked for angel delight for pudding, and of course it had to be in the Tuff Spot so we had an impromptu messy play session.  I made some strawberry angel delight and quickly found a few other things for them to play with/ eat: oats, rice pops, raisins and icing sugar.  They had a wonderful messy time, while we sat in the garden drinking wine and getting in the bank holiday mood.

messy pudding 2a    messy pudding 2b

Saturday was mostly spent on children’s activities (dramabuds, choir and playing at home), housework, more digging and weeding, and also sorting out some of our clutter which has been sitting in a life-laundry style tent in our garden for ages.  We decided that bank holiday weekend was a good time to deal with it properly, as we’d had enough of looking at the tent taking up space in the garden.  On Sunday, daddy took the children to church while I did yet more housework, and we did another stint of clutter sorting after lunch.  Rabbit, Tiddler and I planted some pumpkin seeds in the vegetable patch.

veg patch

So this is our “after” photo for now, though I hope to be able to add photos of pumpkins growing in due course!  We then went round to Granny’s house, where our friends from 3 kids and a gluestick joined us.  The children played, the mummies supervised, and the daddies attempted to sort out tools, clutter and cars(!) in Granny’s garage.  I think the sorting was only moderately productive, but the children had a lovely time and we had the first barbecue of the season.

On Monday, we had planned to go to Morden Hall Park, but I decided we couldn’t go until the tent was down, as I was starting to think it would become a permanent fixture in our garden.  So we had a final push and sorted out the rest of the stuff, setting aside some to give away or sell, returning a few useful items to the house, and making a satisfyingly huge pile of stuff to go to the dump.  Once we had done this, it was lunch time, so we abandoned our picnic plans and had lunch in the garden.  Three glasses of wine later (in my case as I was not driving), we did actually manage to get the children rounded up and out to Morden Hall.  I will blog this separately, as I am going to try and make the most of our National Trust membership this year, and write individual blog posts about each place that we visit.  We have signed up to the 50 things campaign which has just been relaunched, and I am determined to do more with it than we did last year.

So that was our Bank Holiday, busy and productive, but also fun, though not exactly restful.  I feel like I need a holiday to recover!

Messy play in the sunshine

On Sunday it was so sunny and warm that we spent the whole afternoon in the garden.  I was probably most excited about being able to hang the washing outside, but the children enjoyed the chance to play with all their garden toys, and to swing, climb and ride their bikes and scooters.  It was also a good opportunity to take our messy play outside, using the Tuff Spot and our empty plastic sand pit.

I started by filling the sand pit with the leftover rice and split peas which I had been saving since before we went on holiday.  I added playmobil people and some stones and shells which the children had been using to set up a miniature camp.  In the Tuff Spot I placed a tray of flour, also saved from a previous play session, and surrounded it with shaving foam.  The children had fun helping me to spray the foam, and enjoyed watching the shapes it made as it came out.  Rabbit, Monkey and I had a go at writing in the foam, which was fun, but we couldn’t do it for very long because Tiddler was impatient to get stuck in.

Soon the three of them had taken all their clothes off and were in and out of the Tuff Spot and the sand pit, and covered in an interesting mixture of shaving foam and rice.  Owl didn’t want to get right in but enjoyed playing with the rice from the edge and then standing in it.  What he really wanted to do was get into the paddling pool, but the others were so messy that I decided we needed an intermediate stage of washing first.  I got out the three flexible plastic tubs I recently bought for messy play (I wish we had four, but there were only three in the shop at the time) and filled them with warm water.  Tiddler easily got right inside his tub, and Rabbit squeezed into hers.  Not to be outdone, Monkey just about managed to get into his, but it was rather a tight fit.  Owl was quite jealous – I really must find another one – but was pleased to be able to play in the rice quietly without the others, and asked me to help him bury his feet in it.

The children then had fun pretending the three tubs were the carriages of a train, and Owl was the driver.  We soon added our train-shaped paddling pool and filled it up, and they spent the rest of the afternoon splashing in and out of it in the sunshine.  They also enjoyed mixing the rice, split peas, flour and shaving foam into one big sticky mess, though I was glad that they didn’t actually get in it as by this point it was rather late in the day.  It was a really good fun afternoon of play, and we’ll definitely be getting the shaving foam out again, especially now we can do it in the garden.