Why Wild Gardens for Children?

In the good old days, children played outdoors for hours, only coming home when they were hungry – isn’t that the story? Well it’s not quite how I remember it but apparently, the majority of children today spend less than 60 mins outside a day, which is less than prison inmates.

Richard Louvv in his book ‘Last Child in the Woods’ coined the term ‘Nature deficit disorder’ not as a medical condition but a social one. He is part of a growing movement of awareness and change around improving the relationship that people have with nature. Statistics like those mentioned are pretty depressing with children spending more time indoors at screens, and less time outside, especially for unstructured time.

His later book ‘Vitamin N’, Louvv talks about Nature as an essential nutrient for a healthy human. Its makes sense, our bodies evolved to spend our waking ours outside; working, hunting etc. We have understood that our bodies and minds need exercise but what about the other things we gain from being outdoors rather than in? Reporting from a study on Nature Connection, head of psychology at the University of Derby, Dr Miles Richardson,  explains, “There is a need to normalise everyday nature as part of a healthy lifestyle,” in this article on BBC Earth.

Interestingly, Dr Richardson recently published a paper showing that nature based education is not necessarily what we need to feel connection to nature. Learning bird names therefore does not reap the same benefits as enjoying the birdsong.

Forest schools is one successful part of the movement, a Scandinavian concept being used within traditional education settings.

Forest school offers learners opportunities to develop self esteem through hands on learning in a woodland setting. The emphasis is on self awareness, practical learning, team working & independence. Benefits include; learning about risk taking – through opportunities to safely test out a child’s own abilities, improved emotional intelligence, and building comfort and familiarity in natural spaces.

Camo net den building
Kids love a sense of privacy, a camo net provides a quick cover on a woodland adventure.

Wherever possible I design wild play spaces into my gardens, at first I was aesthetically driven, keen to use natural materials and avoid the bright plastic toys, but soon I saw the benefits of unstructured play, of forest schools type activities and wild ‘down time’ with my own children. Now I maximise opportunities within family gardens for this.

When I take my two children to our allotment for example; they don’t do much weeding or seed sowing, when space allows they might build a den, or create a game for themselves, mostly they just dig holes, build fairy gardens or graze on the fruit. In the woods they will play with sticks for hours, clearing leaves out of the streams.

Living Willow
Living willow can provide quick, robust results in creating a wild play space for children.

Wild Child Garden Ideas;

  • The wildlife trusts run ’30 Days Wild’ each July for the month with great ideas of how to get back to nature.
  • Our year outdoors – offers tips for getting more outdoor time as a family, including advice such as ‘don’t let weather stop you’
  • The National Trust has some brilliant ideas in their outdoor play spaces, stepping stone logs etc. Check out my pin board for some ideas.
  • Within a garden I usually identify or recommend a flexible space for kids to play which can be adapted as they grow and change.
  • Utilise sturdy shrubs or trees, where the site has no existing trees – living willow can create a quick, robust result
  • Add a tree swing or some log stools for a seating area, where space allows maybe a circle for chatting and eating, creating opportunities for sharing and listening
  • The youngest children like a mud pit or sand pit
  • Open ended play objects create opportunities for imaginative play and learning. Rather than a swing ball for example, a pile of branches, can be a den or a climbing structure or markers on the ground for limitless games.
  • Use natural materials – logs, rocks, tools, space for a fire – where appropriate, a tarpualin and rope.
This is not a stick
image; WilderChild.com

Kids thrive in natural environments, they are designed to learn and grow in nature. As are adults, of course. Ask yourself what are your best childhood memories?

Time for Tulips, Daffodils and Alliums – tips for planting bulbs

‘Choose colours to compliment your early flowering alpines, spring blossom or hard landscaping.’ 

Tulips lift an emerging spring garden with a riot of colour and are well worth planting in bulk – so often I see gardens with a handful of bulbs here and there, but whenever I come across a more generous display the results are staggering. Even a small garden will benefit from drifts across several smaller borders to extend your flowering season, bring the garden together and will hopefully lure you outside to enjoy the magical fresh spring air. I often suggest to people that they plant tulips in old plastic plant pots, to plant them out into the garden, pots and all, once the shoots emerge – thus placing them perfectly without disturbing other plants and lessening the chance of disturbance.

To ensure good flowering each year – it is best to treat tulips as bedding – ie; replace each year with new stock or perhaps try species tulip which will naturalise (return each year and spread) given the right setting. Mid to late season tulips tend to be more robust and will withstand the often turbulent weather. The classic red tulips are always a wonderful sight, also pale creamy tulips with green tinges give a fresh calm feel against evergreens, but my favourites are the almost black ‘queen of the night’ and slightly curled, purple ‘blue parrot’.

Daffodils aren’t really considered fashionable by some, but honestly who can really resist that traditional seasonal lift they bring? Ever since living in Derbyshire, I have come to look forward to the early colour that daffodils bring against all the grey stone walls of a long local winter. Although they don’t technically work with my colour schemes, I find that they are early enough not to coincide with the palette that follows. Another bonus with daffodils is that they are very reliable and need very little attention. You can plant them almost anywhere in the garden and simply forget about them – they’ll keep coming back each year. I like the miniature variety ‘tete a tete’, and there are many beautiful varieties; some bold, some dainty – check out http://www.blomsbulbs.com for a wide selection.

Alliums now, are considered very fashionable, almost de rigeur for many a show garden. Typically globe shaped clusters of flowers on long stems, these ornamental onions are enjoyed for elegance and early summer colour, with the added bonus of lovely delicate seedheads for winter frosts. Some are just plain whacky like Allium ‘hair’,’purple sensation’ is the classic purple headed globe, I’m keen on ‘sphaerocephalon’ at the moment for a more natualistic scheme

Plant tulips, daffodils, alliums anytime from september to the end of december for flowering next spring. Choose colours to compliment your early flowering alpines, spring blossom or hard landscaping. The key is to be generous  – you’ll thank yourself.