Sunday, 18 May 2008

Gardens for children

Today I am not misery guts Grit. Because today we are playing in the garden. And because you people who comment have all been so lovely, today I shall give you a day off from the horrors of daily living. I'm taking you by the hand and bringing you into my garden to share with you how my garden has changed.

Only if you are nice, mind. And leave the cats and dogs outside.

But be warned. Where once there were Beth Chatto inspired pools of colour coordinated loveliness and not a plastic spade in sight, now there are children. At first I wept about that. Then, when the lilies were choked by brambles, I sang heigh ho and made bramble jam and had to be glad.

Now, eight years on, my garden is a very different place. Just like before, there is a rationale behind this garden, and an inspiration. It is a garden for learning. It is a garden for children. And this is the garden it is.

Buddha sits under the hazel tree. We didn't plant the hazel tree. It arrived one day with a squirrel and two blackbirds. Two blue tits nested last year in a box above Buddha's head and raised a cluttered family. There is a little sunken pond at Buddha's feet, which once I cleaned out and instantly regretted. Two frogs hopped out, and I killed several dragonfly larvae at a stroke, in ignorance. Now I know, so I don't touch it at all. There's a wooden garden bench just by and a tray with sand. I think the children enjoy this spot very much; we light incense here and there is a Mexican Orange Blossom and Winter Flowering Honeysuckle. Heady on perfume, then we planted Scented Narcissus. Overhead there is an overgrown Fatsia, which beats against the house in the wind and wrestles with the ivy. Oops, someone's playing here. Better not interrupt.

Two paths part here, one a straight route down to the swings. We call it the woodland path thanks to two damson trees, two holly trees and a golden elder. The ivy makes wreaths, the holly does us nicely at Christmas craft time, and with the elder, we make wooden beads. The wood's very soft and you can strip the bark and push out the middle. We're learning how to make whistles. Let's take the woodland walk.

Between the trees I've hung a swing and a hammock. The swing works very nicely for hanging about in, as you can see, although you might get heckled when you pass. Ignore it. The hammock is fine for private reading, since everyone forgets to look in there.

Against the wall you can see the story seats. Around these seats are essential storytelling items, like rocks, and chimes, and sticks, magic stones, and sunken pots. Mrs blackbird does her main foraging on this path. She runs up and down ahead of us, clucking and tutting at our approach. Sometimes we get our revenge at her curses and hide her mealy worms.

Sshh. Shark won't notice if we tip toe by.

If you look around the woodland path, you'll see many treasures hidden here. We hope you stop and wonder. Perhaps, today, at this,

Or this.

This old picture frame is a way of making sudden story happen on our woodland path. We choose some items and hang them in the frame. Now you make the story. It must include a shell, a little fishing net, and a tiny spade. We can make the spade magic if you like.

Now pass quickly by the swings, because frankly, it is a tip down here. The little girls have played with a lot of millstones recently and have been inspired to set up several rocks to crush seeds and pound squirrel's hazelnuts. Things are not looking good, especially with the mud pies. The saving graces to this vista are the Wisteria and Jasmine climbing over the swings. I planted strong perfumes of Mint here too, hoping it would brush against plump legs and send out mingling scents that would return to evoke happy memories of sunlit swings and laughter. But the little feet were too heavy and the legs too plump and not even the mint could survive underfoot. So look the other way.

You could look at this. It is Hedgehog Corner. This is where twin hedgehogs tucked themselves up last winter, pulled faded yellow wisteria leaves over their heads and snored. Here, Tiger puts out lettuce leaves to attract fat, unwary slugs.

Next stop, the vegetable area. This is where the children are nurturing courgettes, peas, sweetcorn, mint, beans, and things in pots that I forget because we run out of lolly sticks. Goodness knows where we'll put them all if they germinate. Anyway, here is a Fig tree, Clematis and Trumpet Vine. The Trumpet Vine burst into song last summer with huge and vibrant crimson but was still outdone by several early morning parties hosted by rowdy sparrows.

Foolishly, to satisfy the sparrows, next to the cloche we have put bird tables and a little pond. We're trusting our birds know the difference of seedlings and food. Anyway, we spy on them. There's a small chair that hides the viewer and gives excellent views of sparrows supping from the pond and kicking about the veg patch, looking for trouble. Which reminds me. The weather vane is a remnant of a meteorology project.

Oh yes, this is a children's garden, of course. I routinely scatter plastic lizards and snakes amongst the flowers and pots. The plastic rat on the roof was excellent fun. And I suspect Mr Pod crept up close to the parrot before hoping no-one saw.

Now, turn the corner and a choice of paths. See the golden star on the ground? That is starling's grave. I hope you left the cat outside. And ignore the pile of rocks and plastic dinosaurs at your feet. Tiger is building a scale model of the dinosaur age. She's collecting weed seeds to drop into the primeval sludge. Anyway, from here, one path leads to a ragged patch of grass that once was called a lawn, and which is now the backdrop to some tomato plants, a sundial covered in mud and a sacrifical altar. We use that for worms, obviously. At sun up we have to placate a robin.

Let's take the path picked out in white gravel and a lot of sprinkled glitter. This is much more fun. Ignore the pile of sticks on the left hand side. That's the remnants of a child sized Celtic round house under the hawthorn tree. It blew down. Anyway. Welcome to the camp of the native American Indians.

I bet that wigwam's authentic. Three bamboo poles, tied gracefully at the top with sticks and feathery twine and hanging with beads and home made dreamcatchers. The barbecue is donated. I think someone's cooking snake. Again.

Sometimes the children drape old fabric round the beanpoles and bring them crashing down. Thanks to minimal design, we can have it back up again in a trice. I leave worn out musical instruments round here in summer; shakers, whistles and tambourines, just in case anyone wants to try and create a sun dance.

There are lots of things to look at here. Climbing roses. Pansies, in pots, Jasmine. Aquilegia. And here, some of my favourite objects in the garden. They are the hanging journey sticks. And I am truly sorry about the photograph.

The journey sticks are long sticks that have been collected on our walks in local woods. They hang down from the buddleia that no-one cut and which became a tree. From the sticks we hang the natural found curiosities without which we cannot come home: feathers, odd shaped twigs, pine cones, twisted grass, daisy chains. These treasures hang here and bob up and down, swaying as we walk by, falling to the ground, decaying. I love them, because every one of them is a little memory, twirling on an embroidery thread.

Look down. Can you see snake path? The children painted stones and made them into the shape of a twisting snake. We dug the ground and the stones were hunkered in.

Oops. If you see stones like this, painted all over with chalk, you can kick them. They are called kicking stones, and if anyone becomes angry with a sister, or a mummy or a daddy, go and strike the kicking stone. You won't feel angry for very long. You may even limp a bit.

Oh look, here we are in South America and the Europeans have arrived. Tsk. We were given a wonderful clay thing - there is no other word to describe it - all the way from Peru, which, quickly dismantled and looking the better for it, now hangs in all its parts in thebuddleia tree.

Tsk. Get out the way, pesky small people.

There. that's better. I can see one now.

Off to the top of the path. We have been inspired by Gaudi.

Smashed a few pots recently? Get yourself some hardboard, grout and nails. Hours of garden play and you get a mosaic wall and a memory of a brilliant mind. We even painted some cushions to go on the chairs. And the chairs were a bargain. £1 each at the local tip!

Now follow the path and pass Squirrel's bird area. I notice the feeder's empty. Typical.

Did you catch a smell of something then? Maybe it's this. It's a scented wax block, left overs of a candle maker. When the sun shines, the smell coils up, like ripe lemons. And it makes great soft sculpting material, too.

Let's just go and have a quick look around the lawn. Ignore the table. I got that from the tip. It might be an old office table, but it's all the better for that. We use it for craft, reading the newspaper, drinking coffee, wine, or beer, and contemplating the latest offerings from the barbecue. Now mind the deer. Somewhere there is a moorhen and a badger. They are large cut out shapes painted black. Don't ask any more questions. They make excellent chalkboards.

There's Shark's herb garden. She's very pleased about this because she has designed it herself.

And here's the archeology area. Tip into this gravelly, sandy patch a few pennies, an old bracelet, plastic jewels, sparkly things. On the sly, of course. Here, in my pocket I've got some coloured glass beads. In they go.

Don't be silly. The amonites come in a slab from the garden centre. Have you seen them? Good, aren't they? Keeps the children amused too.

Over there is where we learn about frogs. Better not tip out their pond again.

Of course, because it is a children's garden, I do have to put up with this.

You're absolutely right. It's a bath towel with piles of grass on it. Don't say anything. Pretend we haven't seen it. Don't look at the sun dial in the centre of the lawn either.

Let's go back past the fir tree. This is a useful place for left over Christmas decorations, isn't it? And I say again there is nothing wrong with the fairy lights. I believe they are now quite trendy. Don't listen to Dig. He says we look like an Indonesian restaurant.

And up to the house. When the tub plants have died back, it matters not. We fill them with paper creations.

Well I think that's about all now. Did I forget anything?

We didn't look at the mirrors, did we? Or the place where the mushroom will go. Or Tiger's potatoes. Not the fairy, either. Nor the green man, ribbons to catch the wind, or the plans for the alpines, climbers and new bird bath for Mrs blackbird. Never mind, next time.

Anyway, that was a long ramble. Once I get in the garden, I lose all sense of time. The clock doesn't work either.

But thank you for coming into my garden. It might be a one-off, mind. You can pick up your cat now. Has your dog run off? Sorry about that.

And I shall probably be back to normal tomorrow.


Em said...

thank you!

One of my favourite bits to nose about people is their gardens.

Brad said...

I'll forgive you your fraud, claiming to be an inept teacher and mother. But it’s rather a big lie.

It lovely and magical and makes me want to be 8 years again and play in it. Don’t worry, I’ll sneak in the back and leave Bear & Miss Lilly firmly tied to Dig’s repaired gate.

What a wonderful post for nearly the 1st day of June.

sharon said...

What an amazing garden Grit. It's a wonderful, magical place that obviously evolves constantly. Well done all of you. I agree with Brad's comment wholeheartedly. Have the girls tried making rosewater yet. I used to do that every year when I was little and could never understand why, after a few days, it just ended up as a slimy, foul-smelling mess! I did get very good at skeleton leaves though.

Do think of me when you sneak out for the prawn cocktail crisps Grit (very jealous here), I think the M&S ones were the absolute best. Just thinking about them make me drool . . . .

Brad said...

Grit, I'm so sorry - I was just sitting here reading and it came into my mind that i'd used inept when I meant apt. 'apt teacher and mother' That was suppose to be a compliment - I feel like a fool - sorry about that.

dragon boy said...

wow, that was lovely. I have to admit, I enjoy the moaning blogs too....but this did make a refreshing change!

Kitty said...

Awww, that was lovely - thanks for sharing. That one post tells how brilliant a teacher and parent you are: such lovely things at every turn.

I admire you, I really do. x

Sam said...

What a wonderful garden you have, and you made it seem so magical. I'm hugely jealous and I may also have to do a sneak visit :-)
Off to go and dig up our patch of grass and replace it with an archeologist's pit.

Lynn said...

Ohhhhhh,I love your garden,it is magical and spiritual and so inventive.I aways knew your girls did not get to be how they are without a great free thinking artistic influence ;-))
Now I hope you don't mind but some of those wonderful ideas may just creep into my garden,which at present is rather boring by comparrison xx

Retiredandcrazy said...

The enchanted garden. You have three very lucky little girls. What a mother!

Retiredandcrazy said...

Hi, you've been tagged!

Frog in the Field said...

Wow what a cool garden!

Angela said...

I love these pictures...there is nothing better that the pictures people share of the outdoors during spring...

Grit said...

Hello lovely people! Thank you for taking my garden tour and being so kind in your comments, too!

Linda @ The Briar Patch said...

A beautiful blogpost to go with an equally beautiful garden. I should also like to steal and idea or two for my own tiny plot so my sons can enjoy just a tiny bit of what your children do.

Thank you for sharing it with us. :)

Jax said...

fabulous ideas Grit, and a wonderful garden. Hope you don't mind if I take a few to school :)

OvaGirl said...

Please publish this Grit. It's beautiful.

xxx (feel obliged to give kisses I am so moved even though I hardly know you)

Grit said...

hi linda! i am glad there was something here. i feel inspired to go on, just in case there are a few more things worth offering!

hi jax! i would love schools to share the good fortunes of home edders!

ovagirl, you are so kind, have some kisses in return! xxxx