Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Go Wild! But not really.

Someone once told me that having two dogs is easier than one because they entertain each other. I thought that logic would transfer to children. It doesn’t. Two children just means another small person asking me to do things.

I keep putting them outside with a ball (maybe I need to stop thinking of them as dogs) with the hope they’ll amuse themselves. But they always want me to play too. I even offer them my iPad but, thanks to my scheming husband, my daughter has learnt the phrase “we need some fresh air” and so I’m forced to go outside.

I’d like to be someone who can spend long afternoons exploring with them in the garden, but I get bored. And cold. I spend 10 minutes looking for bugs (hoping we won’t actually find any – my son likes touching worms and keeps flinging them at me) then end up laying on the grass saying "Mummy needs a rest. You two go and see what you can find." Amateur move. Never tell a toddler who likes worms to find something to bring to you if you intend to have a little sleep. Unless you want a fat muddy worm dropped onto your face.

I do genuinely want them to spend more time outside, so one day when I was feeling inspired I decided we would create a wildlife garden. It sounds impressive, but in reality wildlife gardening mostly means you let everything get overgrown and claim it’s on purpose.

I bought some little bird feeders for the kids to decorate and we hung them in our trees, which has given us lots of lovely fat squirrels and the occasional bird. And thanks to my mother-in-law's gardening efforts, we seem to have lots of bumble bees and butterflies around the place.

But the best thing I’ve found if you want minimum involvement and maximum gain (for you, rather than the environment) is a garden in a box. You can get the kind that comes pre-planted called Grobox and just dig a hole and stick it in the ground, but we got the one where you plant the seeds yourself, called My First Ever Flower Garden.

My First Ever Flower Garden

It was about £15, which is probably a rip off compared to just buying a packet of seeds, but the difference is it sat on the table until I actually did something with it.

And it almost worked.

My little girl spent ages decorating it, planting the seeds, watering them and watching them grow on the windowsill (which happened in the first few days), and I felt like a wholesome outdoors-ey parent for a brief moment. Then it came time to replant them into a bigger container. I promised to do it for her and forgot, obviously. She found them sitting by the side gate, all brown and withered, a week later, and cried. I lied and told her the massive flowering shrubs in our front garden were actually her flowers and they had just grown freakishly fast because of her dedicated watering. Awesome parenting.

So if you want to do a little bit of gardening with your kids but don’t have either the space or inclination to do proper-spade-in-the-ground-get-dirty-and-see-lots-of-worms* kind, throw some money at the problem and buy a garden in a box (they are available at the UK links provided, and also on Amazon). You can also get some pretty personalised wooden Kid's Crate planting kits at PlantABox, but they're more money and not at all necessary...but I love them (and will probably buy one) just the same.

Your efforts to keep them occupied will inadvertently be doing something good for the environment too. Planting different varieties of flowers attracts insects, butterflies, bats and birds. And green spaces help wildlife move about safely and give them somewhere to shelter. So any old garden, even if it’s a pretty rubbish one, is still a big help.

PS. If you’re a bit more energetic about the whole thing, there are some better and cheaper ideas in my wildlife gardening article - published by Little Media in Baby London, Baby Surrey and Baby Hampshire magazines.

* I'm aware my inordinate dislike of worms is not normal.

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