Tag Archives: children

common garden snail on little girl's hand

Don’t step on that snail

I found myself with an unusual problem in the garden the other day…. I’d run out of snails.

In my old Victorian terrace garden with brick walls separating neighbour from neighbour and preventing freedom of movement for frogs and hedgehogs, this was never something I would have thought possible. I had quite the opposite problem. But in our new garden with hedges allowing snail predators to roam at will, and a very active thrush, numbers are low.

Which wouldn’t normally bother me too much, but my oldest daughter has taken a liking to them. She thinks of them as pets. We’ve had a few weeks together before she starts school while her baby sister is in preschool in which we go out in the garden together to work on some project or other, and it’s never long before she starts playing the same game, building a house for her “snailies”.

Is it possible for a snail to have Stockholm syndrome? I think these must. They’re so used to being picked up and put in a flower pot to be studied that the seem to be quite happy coming out of their shells and sliming away along her hands. They’re probably desperately attempting a low speed escape, but she’s very gentle with them, picking the nicest flowers she can find to make them at home. Some days she won’t come inside all day, and has her lunch as a picnic so she can sit and watch her snails in their Everton mint swirls. There’s no such thing as a common garden snail to her, each one is magical.

Snails in a flower pot

Which is why I find myself in a position where I feel like I don’t have enough snails in my garden anymore. Overnight, the snails creep out of the flower pot she tucks safely under a rose bush, saying goodnight and sometimes reading them a bedtime story. The next day when we go to see them, they’ve gone. Once or twice there have been suspiciously similar looking snail shells (I don’t dare mark them with paint) broken open and eaten by the thrush’s hammerstone in the garden, “It’s okay Mammy, that can’t be my snaily, his shell was whole.” Was.

So I find myself hunting anywhere dark and damp, in the ivy, behind pots and it’s becoming harder and harder to find them.

But I think the snail obsession is good for her. She’s learnt how to handle them gently, the foods and situations they prefer in the garden. She’s learnt that if she sits in bright sunlight they won’t come out of their shells, but if she sits outside they will browse the food she provides for them. She doesn’t seem to have learnt that they don’t share her fondness for floral aesthetics, but she will compromise and offer them a range of leaves as well as flowers.

So now I just need to learn where they prefer to breed, and make sure that I have enough likely sites in the garden to boost their populations enough to keep the thrush and the children happy.

Pruning and crafting our way into Christmas

I’m sneaking five minutes of peace and quiet while the baby sleeps and my oldest is being read a bedtime story by her father who is just back from work. Monday is my long day with both of them (I work part-time when not on maternity leave so Monday is my traditional quality day with the little people) but it’s normally very relaxed and low key. The closer we get to Christmas, the wilder it seems to be with nap refusals, manic giggles and tears a bit too close to the surface.

The baby wakes, I go for bedtime cuddles… an hour later I’m able to carry on what I was doing. I love our days together but everything does seem a bit fragmented at times, and my to do list is only ever half complete,

I’ve been trying to bring a bit of calm to the Christmas frenzy by making lots of our own decorations this year. Our new garden is a mass of ivy which I left to flower for late season pollen and much of this now is covered in the luscious looking purple berries which will be a nutritious treat for the birds in the lean months. I’d like to plant more holly as we only had enough for a few sprigs to sit on top of photo frames, but we had an abundance of fir and conifers to provide the materials for a festive garland for the stairs. I went a little over the top foraging this in the back garden with the eldest on the weekend, so I’ll need to make some kind of table centre piece to use it all at some point.

 

As well as our stair case garland from the garden, I made a scented garland while my oldest was painting. She was quite critical of how long it took and pointed out that she’d produced quite a prolific body of work while I was stringing dried orange slices onto garden twine (she insisted that the limes were dried kiwi fruit). I really enjoyed making this and might try drying my own oranges next year, they are slightly sticky but smell so Christmassy with the cinnamon sticks. It’s not the most polished creation ever, but fills a gap above the fireplace where I want to get just the right mirror but have yet to find one that’s on budget.

I’m planning to make some pomanders to decorate the Christmas dinner table on Christmas Eve Eve.

 

The Afterlife of A Halloween Pumpkin

Do you know what’s even scarier than zombies? The idea of the amount of food waste generated by carving pumpkins every year. Pretty much every house in the UK and America with children will have a pumpkin, but the ones sold for carving are, let’s face it, revolting and unlikely to get eaten. According to The Woodland Trust, 18 million kilograms of pumpkin gets thrown away every year.

I normally just compost our pumpkins, but I read that pumpkins are actually a good food source for wildlife, and I’ve heard that birds, squirrels, mice, hedgehogs, foxes and badgers will all give them a go so we’ve trialled putting our leftover pumpkins outside for the best part of the week to see if they do with a view to composting them when they start to look unhealthy.

While I haven’t spotted anything visiting specifically to snack on the pumpkins, when I have inspected the lids and interior it looks as though there are little tooth marks and something has definitely been having a nibble on them. My best guess is a squirrel or mouse because we have a secret visitor who leaves hazel shells when they’ve eaten the nuts inside.

The real bonus of using the pumpkins this way for me is that it’s a helpful transition for The Happy Dandelion. She got really upset at the idea of composting her pumpkin (even the gunk from inside when the seeds were removed- it was soup apparently) so seeing it looking happy under the tree has allowed me to get it out of the house, and I can compost it when she’s not looking. Like the wicked witch I am.

Four Go Wild In Suburbia, an update

I started this blog with good intentions of keeping a diary of our journey making a wildlife garden, but it’s been over six months since I posted in 2018. That’s not to say that I haven’t been productive. So productive I haven’t had a chance to blog.

The Happy Dandelion and I spent a lovely, long Monday in the garden in April making bird nests from long grass and hunting for minibeasts before I realised that I hadn’t caught the stomach bug The Groundsman had suffered on the weekend, and that Happy Dandelion’s sister was on the way. Oops. She was very overdue, and I felt a bit silly that I didn’t realise that I was in labour given that I’d done the whole childbirth thing before, but she arrived big, safe and well.

During the long, hot summer, the pieces of the house move that we’ve been talking about for the longest time finally clicked into place and we moved into our new house which has a much bigger garden. I’ve learned a lot from working as many wildlife boosting habitats as I could into my tiny wildlife garden, and I was sorry to say goodbye to it, especially as it meant saying goodbye to my apple tree, raspberry patch and flowers.

The new garden is much bigger (so I guess I’ll have to change the name of this blog, it’s not a tiny wildlife garden anymore!) and I’m looking forward to making it a friendly place for my babies and for wildlife. I’ve already started a few little things to get started on the wildlife garden (little things are about as much as I can manage most days!) and I’m looking forward to sharing these with you.

A woodlouse by any other name…

Playing in the garden earlier, the under gardener found one of the biggest woodlice that I’ve seen in a long time. Being only 20 months old, she alerted me to her find by shouting, “Mammy, mammy, a spider! A spider!” Which caused her older cousin to sprint as fast as he could in the opposite direction.

I’ve always had a soft spot for woodlice with their little grey bodies, busy legs and inquisitive feelers, and I tried keeping one as a pet when I was four or five years old. I remember keeping it in one of my little sister’s wet wipe containers, and suspecting that my older sister had killed it because she was afraid of insects when in reality it was probably the chemicals they used in baby wipes in the 1990s.

I think my favourite thing about them though is that there are so many different names for woodlice – almost everyone seems to have grown up calling a woodlouse a different name depending on where they come from. In Gwent where I grew up, we called them granny granchers or granny greys, further down the valley, my friend from Neath called them piggywigs, and my Welsh-speaking friends have called them mochyn y coed (tree pigs) or pryf y lludw (ash worms), while my Irish friend grew up calling them slaters. I was a bit disappointed that my boyfriend just called them woodlice growing up!

Where did you grow up and what names did you call the humble woodlouse?

Worm’s the Word

Last weekend, the under gardener conquered her phobia of earthworms. When I’ve held them wriggling on my hand in the past, she’s tended to whimper and back away, which is funny because she’s happy enough with spiders and flies, but I’ve kept showing them to her and explaining to her that they are my friends and help me with the garden.

Last weekend, I dug over the raised bed and veg patch, which I’ve effectively been using as a giant compost heap for years by digging through garden and vegetable waste, so it’s a worms paradise. I showed one of the bigger ones to the under gardener, and she did her usual whimper and back away so I popped it back on the border and covered it with some leaf litter before going back to digging.

The next thing I knew, I heard a shout of, “Mammy, I gots worm!” and she ran over dangling it in my face. All fear gone.

Now when we do our gardening, I keep a flower-pot on hand with a layer of soil so we can pop the worms that we find so that she can watch them (she sits giggling as they wriggle) and we can return them to their home when we’ve finished planting.

Mini-beasts for the win, it’s time to start building a bug hotel.

Nectar of the Gods

Anyone looking into creating a wildlife garden will know how important nectar rich plants are when looking to attract bees and butterflies to the garden. In the summer, I have a pretty reasonable range of nectar rich flowers for insects but at the end of January my garden was looking bleak. I was still waiting for my snowdrops and crocuses to come up and wanted to make sure that I had a good source of food for any reckless insects who decided to brave the grey days of February.

They weren’t the worst bit of my garden by any stretch of the imagination, but these planters caught my eye because they were so close to the house. I had used them for growing blueberries, but some kind of pest or disease spread through my plants like a wild-fire in the summer… it started on the right hand leaves and within two weeks the left hand leaves were falling off and all three plants were dead. They were the perfect thing to reuse to brighten up the winter with a nectar rich container garden.

We went to the local garden centre and splashed out £15 on some primroses and bulbs that were growing in pots- daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths and the like. Then I spent a happy, drizzly afternoon in the garden with my under gardener (toddlers love to dig) emptying half of the ericaceous compost from the pot and filling them up with top soil in which we planted the bulbs.

Result? I have some early opening flowers which are benefitting from being sheltered by the house and opening way earlier than the same flowers in more exposed positions, the insects have something of a winter soup kitchen and the under gardener is oh so proud of her first foray into gardening.

For more on bee friendly gardening see some great tips from Friends of the Earth’s Bee Friendly Garden campaign.