An experiment in container gardening

Archive for the ‘Children’ category

Takeover

When The Children went back to school part-time in the summer term, one of the things The Child Who Likes Fairies did was plant basil seeds in a pot. In fact, she enjoyed it so much she did two pots, and brought them home with her. We put them on the kitchen windowsill without much optimism, and were as surprised as anyone when a number of seedlings came up. We split apart the most viable ones, and now she has four small basil plants growing on the kitchen windowsill, taking up most of it.

Given the current weather, we knew first thing in the morning yesterday that after lunchtime the garden would be too hot and sunny for us to comfortably spend much time in, but, we thought, at least we can put those basil plants outside to get some sun and some fresh air. Given we knew we wouldn’t be outside, it gave me an idea to try something I’ve thought about doing, on and off, ever since I first bought a digital SLR. I set up the camera on its tripod pointing at the basil plants and the nasturtiums, and programmed it to take time lapse photos, two per minute. We all went inside (and watched The Railway Children), shut the doors, and left the camera to do its thing.

After the film had finished I headed back outside and found that the camera’s batteries had run down after not much more than a couple of hours, and I hadn’t really thought about how the sun would move around and start shading part of the area in the frame as the afternoon progressed. Moreover, after being sat in the middle of the garden on a sunny day for that amount of time, the black rubber handgrips on the camera were now almost too hot to hold, and I had to carry it back inside rather gingerly with its strap. Maybe that had some sort of an effect on the battery life as well. In the evening, I worked out how to stitch each frame together into a video, and upload it onto YouTube.

“I, for one, welcome our new Triffid overlords” said one friend. The nasturtiums might not be changing much over the course of a couple of hours, but The Child Who Likes Fairies’ basil plants are definitely making the most of being in the sunshine.

basil, Ocimum basilicum, nasturtium, Tropaeolum, timelapse, herbs

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A bowlful of mud

We had the children planting peas yesterday. Never mind cress: in theory they are surely an ideal children’s plant? They germinate fairly quickly and easily, grow fairly fast, have interesting shapes as they climb, and produce something you can eat. Moreover, we’ve always had a reasonable amount of success with peas in the past, despite my moans of despair at them falling over rather than climbing (see the archives on here for various moans of woe).

Some would think that sitting two toddlers down at the kitchen table with a bowlful of “soil” (actually seed compost) would be a Bad Idea, but I was impressed just how well it worked. Give each child a small fibre pot and a spoon, and they quickly work out what to do. When it’s about half-full, hand them a pea, let them drop it in, and when they look away make sure it’s nicely aligned in the middle of the pot. Watch them spoon more compost in, tamping it down occasionally, and there you are.

So now we have eighteen pea seeds in pots on the windowsill, waiting to see if they come up, and waiting to see if, if and when they do, the children remember that they planted them. When they do come up, we are planning to try them in the back bed this time, which does make me worry if they will survive without being savaged by slugs also. Fingers crossed, I suppose.

pea, sowing

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Seeds

The gardening was certainly a hit with the children: the first thing they wanted to tell the child-minder the next time they went to see her. Indeed, most days since then they have asked, at some point, to help in the garden. They now have a small watering can. The watering can may have been a mistake. They like watering, maybe a bit too much. For The Child Who Likes Animals, their watering can just isn’t enough: he has to grab hold of the big watering can and take charge of that. The Child Who Likes Fairies is happy with the small one, but every time it’s empty there is a cry of “More water!”

We have acquired and re-potted another new plant from the garden centre: a lavender, Lavandula x intermedia “Vera”. A small one-litre plant at the moment, we’ve put it into a wide plastic thing in the hope that it will grow into it and never need repotting ever again.

Now, I’ve heard the theory that planting a small plant into a big pot that it doesn’t really need doesn’t do very much for the health of the plant; it just gives it chance to get a bit “pot-drunk” and doesn’t really translate into long-term healthiness. It sounds like a strange idea, though. I wouldn’t be surprised if maybe the plant doesn’t grow quite as fast above-ground, because it will put more work into extending its roots. However, even in a container, good roots are surely rather more important if you want to ensure the plant will live any length of time. I don’t mind if this plant doesn’t grow quite as fast or quite as large, straight away, as if I’d only put it into a three-litre pot initially, if that means it won’t need repotting again in a year’s time. Time will tell, I suppose.

At the same time – this was on Saturday – I planted some seeds with The Child Who Likes Fairies. Calendulas, from a packet that is three-years date expired. On the other hand they were very reliable seeds when I last tried them a few years ago. We have plenty more new ones to try in the coming weeks; I just rather like these calendulas. The interesting part is going to be seeing, if and when they germinate, if TCWLF realises they are the seeds she planted. We do have a packet of dwarf sunflowers in hand to plant, but they have a 3-week germination time. Even I have trouble remembering what I’ve planted where three weeks later.

calendula, dutch lavender, lavender, lavendula

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New Start

Spring has come around, and the brambles are slowly being hacked back. At least once a week, if the weather has been dry enough, I have been going outside, gloves on, and cutting my way into them. There aren’t many garden jobs I will wear gloves for, but demolishing brambles is one of them.

This has to be the year I get on top of the garden and get interested in it again, because the children – now aged two and a quarter – have started to take an interest in it themselves, partly because of me going out to hack the brambles down. “Daddy me help garden!” says The Child Who Likes Fairies each time I look as if I’m about to go out there. Her “help” consists mostly of moving mud from place to place, of course; we gave her an old spoon in the hope she wouldn’t use her hands, but of course she does use her hands.

Given that the garden has been abandoned for two and a half years, more or less, not much is salvageable. One thing I have learned about keeping a largely container-based garden is that it does indeed require a lot of maintenance, because you don’t really end up creating a self-seeding ecosystem other than one based around dandelions. The bay bush that stands in an IKEA dustbin is doing just fine; the last potato crop in the other IKEA dustbin seems to have turned perennial, the foliage looking steadily less healthy each year. There is a pot of lavender which looks lively; a pot of rosemary which looks OK; and another rosemary and a purple sage which look as if they might survive, if we apply the defibrillator. Apart from that, there are a lot of pots filled with weeds or bare compost, and a goodly number of wooden containers in varied states of decay.

So, what to do? Back to basics, that’s what. Back to what we did five years ago when we decided we wanted to do something with our garden: go down to the garden centre, buy some plants, and see what we can make with them. The very first pots we bought are still in great condition, probably because they’re not just plain terracotta, so into them the plants go. Let’s see what happens.

There are a couple of tenets we’re trying to stick to this time. Firstly, we have children now, so it’s their garden too. The garden has to be safe for them to play in, have room for them to play in, and they need to be able to get involved in it. Secondly, we have much less time than we used to, so it has to be simple to maintain. We might only have a tiny garden, but we no longer have time to care for it on a square-millimetre basis. The other tenets are the same as always: organic principles as far as possible, things to be ideally productive, in some broad sense, as well as attractive, and the deliberate avoidance of neat rows and unnaturally bare soil. So the plants that have gone into pots today are:

  • Lemon thyme, Thymus x citriodorus.
  • Purple sage, Salvia officinalis purpurascens. Yes, even though we have one already just hanging on, and we’ve never had much success with sage previously. I am blaming our previous failures on small pots and over-watering.
  • Green fennel, Foeniculum vulgare.
  • French marjoram, Origanum onites.
  • Creeping thyme, Thymus praecox “coccineus”. No, you can’t eat this one.

As The Child Who Likes Fairies has already shown herself highly skilled at moving soil from one place (usually pots) to another (usually the decking), we let her and her brother help repot them all. She quickly picked up the idea of moving compost from bag to pot. The Child Who Likes Animals, on the other hand, preferred to run around the garden as fast as he could, but he definitely seemed to be enjoying it too. Even when the rain started, they didn’t want to stop. “Me like rain,” TCWLF said. Next time, we might even let them plant some seeds.

back from the dead, creeping thyme, fennel, french marjoram, green fennel, herbs, lemon thyme, marjoram, purple sage, sage, summary, thyme

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