Pond action

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My 93 year old grandad had a bit of a predicament. A badger fell into his fish pond and drowned. It wasn’t something he could get out on his own. Just a few days after the unfortunate pond cleaners came in to sort it out, a fox came to drink, and not caring that it was seen, it lapped ferociously.

In this heat and drought, wildlife needs water desperately, taking risks to get it. I’m glad our tiny pond in our garden is doing its bit, and have topped it up a little in recent days.

With young children, I’ve shied away from a bigger pond in my garden because of safety concerns, but just a tiny, shallow pond can still bring massive benefits for nature. Not only that, but creating a mini pond is a quick, garden project that will bring a whole new dimension to even the smallest outdoor space. It’s one that children can help with, and will get endless pleasure from after just a week or so.

Firstly, you need a water tight container. Something that is about 40cm deep at least, and roughly half a metre squared is enough to be worthwhile. I used a cut off plastic barrel, buried below the soil level (but would work equally well above it). An old sink or tin bath would work just as well. You could also try a wooden half-barrel, lined with pond liner which will be at an ideal height for young children to look in.

Fill it with rainwater from a butt, ideally, but if that’s not possible you can use tap water. Just make sure you then leave it a week before adding in your water plants. You’ll need a few small, oxygenating plants such as the dwarf water lily or water soldiers. Many species don’t need planting – they just float on the water surface.

Finally, you can add in a wooden ramp or pile of stones to help wildlife such as frogs to access the water (and get out again) and a few rocks nearby to offer a hiding place. As that badger found out, it is important for wildlife of any size to have a way to escape.

After that, it’s pretty self-maintaining. You may need to top up the levels with a little collected rainwater when it is very hot and dry, and any out of control plants can be trimmed back, but other than that, you can sit back and enjoy. However, do remember that young children will still need supervising even if it is shallow.

If you build it, they will come. Soon, you’ll be welcoming creatures such as toads, frogs, newts, dragon flies, pond skaters, water snails as well as providing a drink for birds and hedgehogs. Just a little bit of water really is the source of life.

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Accidental wildness

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Back to school after the half term break and we’ve let wildness slip. Well, ‘formal deliberate’ wildness that is. We’ve nevertheless still achieved something wild every day, those Random Acts of Wildness, although not necessarily of the ‘photo and tweet it’ variety.

We’ve discovered a good climbing tree. If I give them a boost up to the first branch (at my head height) they can then get scarily high. The branches seem sturdy but there is definitely an element of risk (which is why they love it so much).

My daughter is obsessed with picking wild flowers at the moment, and the leaf mantises that we are babysitting necessitate the collection of lots of bramble for them to eat. They’ve gone to school today,  I felt like such a celebrity in the playground when I was holding them!

We also had a gardening session on our jungle (aka back garden), with both kids working well together to rescue snails and prune overgrown shrubs.

At the weekend, there was a gorgeous split second of wildness when a stoat crossed the road ahead of our car, followed by 6 or 7 kits. Too cute!

I’m heartened that whilst we’ve been a bit lacking in planned nature time, we’ve still managed to make space for outdoors discovery every day.

Next on the list; a picnic to celebrate Picnic Week!

Are you a real proper grown-up?

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I have a house (and manage to pay the mortgage), I am married with children. I even work! Yet a part of me is forever young. I don’t mean in a crazy, fun teenager way, forever out clubbing and getting drunk. No, my kind of ‘young’ is more gawky than that, about 12 years old I’d say: A little socially awkward, not quite learned when I should keep my mouth shut and constantly feeling that I’m worthy of praise for being so grown-up.

Surely I deserve a medal or gold star for consistently getting my children to school on time, or owning cake tins and Tupperware? Remarkable feats for a 12 year old indeed. When life gets too much, it is understandable; I should be focusing on simple things like pony riding and who my best friend is.

Many of us feel we are playing a part in life, it’s the classic imposter syndrome where we feel our luck will run out and someone will eventually work out we are a fraud.

I hope I’m not alone, so I’ve devised a quiz to work out what stage of life you are truly at. Let me know…

Question 1

What do you think when you’ve been invited to a party?

  1. I wonder how much booze there will be.
  2. Whether I will get home for bedtime.
  3. Whether my best friend is going.

Question 2

What is your writing like?

  1. It’s a bit of a scrawl because I normally use my phone.
  2. Slanted and flowing.
  3. Round and bubbly, possibly with hearts over the ‘i’s

Question 3

How many items in your house have been purloined from your parents’ home?

  1. 1 or 2, maybe just some of my old toys from childhood.
  2. None, I’ve bought everything myself.
  3. More than 5, including nail clippers, kitchen scissors, recipe books, laundry baskets and a funny egg timer thing.

Question 4

What’s your favourite sandwich?

  1. Cheese and chips.
  2. Smoked salmon and cream cheese.
  3. Nutella.

Question 5

If you broke your leg tripping over in the street, who would you want to visit you first?

  1. Your partner or best friend.
  2. Your lawyer.
  3. Your mum.

Question 6

What did you think when you watched Frozen?

  1. It was a necessary update of the ‘every princess needs a prince’ cliché.
  2. I’ve never watched it.
  3. So beautiful, made me cry.

Question 7

What time do you like to go to bed?

  1. About 1 am but sometimes later.
  2. Lights out at 11 pm after reading.
  3. Before 9.30 pm.

Question 8

How do you find quizzes like this?

  1. Just a bit of fun.
  2. Totally ridiculous, I don’t have time for them.
  3. I do loads of them, they are so insightful.

Results

Mainly a)

You are a teenager – up for having fun but streetwise and no one is going to tell you what to do.

Mainly b)

You are middle aged – sensible and practical your idea of having fun is to drink slightly more than the government’s recommended units of alcohol (by consuming good quality wine).

Mainly c)

You are twelve – just on the cusp of puberty you don’t really know who you are but that’s ok unless you have to make any big decisions in which case you may cry.

Forget the commemorative mugs, here is a lovelier way to mark the birth of a child

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So Kate and Wills are in the midst of the pukey/screamy/nappy-changing wonder all over again, but meanwhile, thousands of other people in the UK will be marking the birth of a child no less important. Whilst Princess Charlotte will get bunting, commemorative mugs and endless column inches, there is a much lovelier way to celebrate the newest addition to your family.

Planting a tree for the birth of a child, or as part of their naming day ceremony or christening, is a wonderful way of linking them to the natural world. A tree that is theirs will make them feel special and they will grow older and taller together, recorded in a photo together each birthday. It is a way of planting the child’s roots firmly in the soil.

Every tree planted has massive benefits for the environment. A tree is a mini planet; a perfect eco-system for insects, birds, mammals. A mature oak tree is home to over 280 species of insect alone. Not only that, but it is removing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and turning it into oxygen for those new lungs to breath.

Ideally, choose a native tree, such as a rowan, silver birch or fruit tree. If space is an issue, then a small bay or rose in a pot is a lovely option. For fruit, try a patio plum tree. These can even be grown on balconies but you’ll need to remember to water them regularly.

When choosing a tree, you may be interested in the symbolism and folklore behind different species. The rowan is the Celtic tree of life and is traditionally planted to celebrate the birth of a new baby. Meanwhile, the oak is linked to strength, wild pear for loyalty, hazel for creativity and cherry for love and protection. Good luck to you if you plant a hawthorn… it apparently results in contradiction.

Of course, a tree so loaded with importance is a risky proposition. What if it dies or you need to move house? You could wait until Autumn for a planting ceremony to increase its chances of survival, watering frequently if you opt for spring or summer planting, or planting two (in the hope that at least one would make it).

If you need to move house and want the young tree to come too, make sure you water it well the day before moving and keep as many of the roots intact as possible. Then, wrap the roots in damp sacking for the move, and replant it as soon as possible into a hole that is bigger than the one you took it out of. And water often, while crossing your fingers.

If every new baby had a native tree planted in its honour, then our world might just look a little greener.

A similar article published in the EDP and EADT

Activity: transform sad hippos into mini gardens

Do you have a neglected hippo languishing in your garden? This one was in mine, unloved and uncared for…. so sad 😦

It used to be cherished as a paddling pool, then a sand pit, but now it is festering. Time for a hippo rescue.

To transform an old plastic paddling pool or sand pit into a mini raised garden, read on.

You need:

  • A really sad and neglected rigid plastic pool
  • A drill or sharp stanley knife
  • A bucket full of gravel
  • One or two bags of peat free compost – depending on your pool size
  • A selection of shallow rooting plants, try courgettes, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, herbs, salad leaves.

Start by cutting or drilling drainage holes into the bottom and sides of the poor hippo (or equivalent). Just an inch up from the bottom on the sides is enough.

Next, position it where you want it, ideally with full sun – it will be too heavy to move when full. Next, fill the bottom with gravel until it is about 2 cm deep, like this:

Next, fill to the top with compost. Our little hippo only needed one bag. Finally, plant your seeds and plants and give them a good water. Be aware that there is still a possibility of frost, so protect vulnerable youngsters with a homemade cloche (a cut off large water bottle popped on at night will do the trick).

The result: One happy hippo!

We do need to paint his eyes back in though, they look a bit sinister. Happy gardening.