Baby, it’s cold outside

I appreciate it’s hard to muster up the enthusiasm to get outside for very long this time of year, but personally I find it’s not just my three-year-old who feels better for it if we do!

This week we finally managed to get out of the door to go for a walk in the woods (after a trying half an hour in which I tried, largely unsuccessfully, to convince my daughter that it really was too cold to just wear a short, sleeveless Frozen tutu dress outside).

I’m sure I’m not alone in my clothes battle with a pre-schooler, but for heaven’s sake, why don’t they just take our word for it that it really is cold out there? I have tried just letting her go out in inappropriate clothing to prove a point, but had to give up on that plan of attack when I realised that she’d get hypothermia long before she admitted she was wrong.

We even took a picnic with us, which might seem a bit mad in December, but we like our winter picnics and as long as you’ve got something to put down on the inevitably damp bench and a drink of something warming like a hot blackcurrant, then you’re sorted.

If you only fancy a short trip outside this month for an activity then I’ve got two suggestions for you. One is very messy though, so do remember I have warned you in advance….

Children love making suet bird feeders because it gets everywhere, so be prepared! You will need about an equal mix of vegetable suet and bird seed, although this is not an exact science. The suet can be melted on a camping gas stove outside in an old saucepan (or indoors on the hob) that ideally you can just scrape out rather than having to wash, as that’s the least fun bit of this activity.


Spread your bird feed out on trays, mix in the melted suet and, once it has cooled a little, children can either roll a pine cone with string attached in the suet and then in the seed (less messy and good for those who are queasy about getting it on their hands) or put it in a yoghurt pot.

The yoghurt pots need a small stick across inside at the bottom to act as a ‘perch’, tied on with a piece of string in the middle. The suet is then packed in on top of this. Leave it to set overnight in a cool place and then the suet ‘cake’ can be knocked out gently and hung up outside for the birds to enjoy.

And for a very quick last minute Christmas tree decoration, why not make a ribbon tree? Simply find a small stick about 15cm long (or cut to size) around 1cm thick and attach strips of old ribbon or material up the ‘trunk’ by simply knotting them onto it, one above the other.

Once you’re happy with the amount you have on (I think mine took about 13 pieces, but it will depend on the thickness of your material) then cut diagonally from the bottom up each side to make a tree-like shape. You can then screw an ‘eye’ (I used an old picture hook) into the top and hang it with some thread or thin ribbon. I made mine (pictured) in a bit of a rush, so I’m sure you can do much better!

Have a wonderful festive season and if you’re feasting on some of your homegrown produce this year – then enjoy! If not, there’s plenty of time to plan what you’ll be growing for next year’s Christmas lunch….

Let there be light

I have a love/hate relationship with autumn; loving it for its gorgeous hues and crisp, cold mornings but resenting the onset of darker nights, bringing with them far fewer hours to potter in the garden.

One of the best things about autumn though has got to be the leaves. You may already know this, but it was a revelation to me recently that the leaves actually contain most of those colours all year round, but they’re masked by the chlorophyll. As the light levels fall, the leaves stop producing chlorophyll and so the green disappears and the other colours take centre stage. A perfect antidote to shorter days if ever I saw one.

So, in the absence of things to pick or grow (although there are a few autumn raspberries and apples still around if you know where to look), this month’s blog is all about bringing a little more light into the world.

All you need is an old glass jar, some glue, a paintbrush and some autumn leaves, the more colourful the better. We cheated a little and used grape leaves from the greenhouse to make this lantern as most of the ones in our garden have become a sodden mush over the past week.

If you can’t find any leaves, torn coloured tissue paper will work just as well, but you won’t get the extra dose of fresh air from collecting them (unless you walk a long way to the shop to buy it).

How to make your lantern:

  • Thin out some PVA glue with a little water to create the kind of consistency that will leave a thin layer all over the jar (we accidentally added glitter too, but it looked lovely so it stayed!)
  • Once you’ve covered the whole jar, gently arrange the leaves onto it and then brush the glue mixture over the top of the leaves as well.
  • Don’t despair if they keep coming off – they will stick eventually! The trick is to use fairly small leaves if possible as larger ones will curl up as you try to put them on the jar.
  • If you’re using tissue paper, the same technique applies but just tear it up into little pieces beforehand so you create a collage effect. Little hands are definitely an advantage if you can get them to do it slowly and carefully enough!
  • While it dries, you can tie string around to help hold the leaves in place.
  • Then pop a tea light in (you may need a taper to light it depending on how big your jar is) and sit back and enjoy all those lovely autumn colours shining through.

I have also managed to take advantage of the sun shining last weekend and managed to get a few jobs done in the garden.

My three-year-old, who was following me around looking for something to do, looked crestfallen when I told her there weren’t many things we could sow outside at this time of year. As usual, she didn’t believe a word I said and had to find out for herself (a trait definitely inherited from her dad) and marched into the shed to find the seed box.

Now unless she’s been hiding it from me, she can’t actually read many words yet, so I was pretty amazed when she came out clutching a packet of grazing rye (a green manure and one of the few things you can sow outside this time of year) and asked ‘what about this?’ So, there you have it: gardening know-how can be acquired purely by osmosis.

It’s true though that there isn’t much you can sow now, but there’s always the living salads I mentioned in an earlier blog which will do fine on a windowsill indoors year round. You can also sow garlic bulbs this month, but if your ground is prone to water logging, then it’s best to put them into trays of compost undercover somewhere cool like an unheated greenhouse or cold frame and transplant them in Spring, otherwise they might rot.


Flower child

It’s that time of year when you really need to be out in the garden enjoying the sunshine, not reading blogs about being outside on a computer (or for that matter, writing them 😉 So, this post is short but sweet, but makes the most of the gorgeous flowers you can find in hedgerows and gardens this time of year.

Making a fresh flower headband is an activity which you can help even very young children to do, and by the age of three, many will be able to do most of this themselves.

Cut a thick strip of paper or card that is long enough to go around your child’s head (we used white but anything you have to hand will do just fine). Either put double sided sticky tape along the entire length or cheat by doubling over regular selotape, which is a bit fiddlier but will still work.

Wander around your outside space looking for flowers and leaves that catch your child’s eye, and arrange them on the sticky side of the headband, filling as much or as little as they like until it’s finished.

Make slits in the bottom of one end and the top of the other so they slot into each other when it meets at the back of the head or simply selotape it together and you’ve got a simple but effective headband that can be made within even the shortest of attention spans!
If you have a little more time and are inspired to do some more flower projects, why not try making flower prints? You will need a small rubber mallet for this, but it’s very simple to do.

Just take two pieces of old white cotton and cut it into squares of equal size (it doesn’t matter what size, but probably no bigger than A4 is a good idea). Gather some flowers and leaves and arrange in a picture on one of the pieces then lay the other piece of cotton on top. Give it a good bash with the mallet until you start to see the colours come through and then peel off the bits of flowers and leaves to reveal the masterpiece beneath.
It’s a bit of trial and error to get the right flowers and leaves – ferns work really well and any white flowers tend to end up as a brown mush, from my experience!

I still haven’t quite worked out what to do with all the fabric pictures yet, although they would probably look quite nice in a frame. I did hear of one woman who made her entire wedding dress using this technique, but I don’t think my skills are up to that standard quite yet!