As the days begin to shorten and a bit of a nip creeps into the air, there’s no escaping the fact that the summer’s over and the garden is starting its long slow slide into autumn and winter.
There’s always a bit of a sad feel about this time of year for any keen gardener – but kids can feel it worse than most; after all, when you’re not so very old yourself, the six month wait for spring seems like an eternity.
The good news is, the coming of colder weather doesn’t have to spell the end of fun times in the garden – there’s more than enough to do to make their time fly by.
Planting bulbs is one of the traditional autumn jobs and it’s something that the whole family can have lots of fun doing.
That said, it’s important to remember that many of our favourite kinds of bulbs are poisonous – including snowdrops, daffodils and crocuses. Fortunately with the exception of daffodils (almost all of these plants are potentially harmful) for most kinds, it’s only if bits of the bulb itself are actually eaten that problems are likely to occur – though with very young children and small bulbs, this may not be much comfort!
Generations of children have, however, enjoyed bulb-planting unscathed, but it is certainly an activity that requires careful supervision.
Bird Tables and Hibernation Houses
Autumn is also a good time to think about wildlife. If you’re planning on feeding the birds through the winter or giving hedgehogs or toads a place to hibernate, it’s important to get organised before the worst of the weather, so they can find the facilities you’ve arranged for them and get used to the idea.
New tables and houses will need to be set up, while old ones probably need a clean and a good look over to make sure they don’t need to be repaired or replaced. With birds in particular, a winter bird table can give your kids a great opportunity to see their feathered visitors regularly and up-close, so it’s well worth spending the time to make sure everything’s ready for them.
Preparing for Winter
Towards the middle of autumn there are plenty of jobs to do to prepare the garden for winter and again, it’s something that kids can help with too. Now’s the time to prune as necessary, clean the tools and store them until spring and generally have a good tidy up – which means lots of leaves to rake up, prunings to collect and spent plants to add to the compost heap for those willing little hands!
Even if the wind’s howling and the snow’s falling thick and fast outside, your green-fingered kids needn’t stop growing things, if, like most, that’s the bit of gardening that they enjoy the best. There are some wonderful kits available from a number of garden suppliers which can have you growing everything from the old traditional mustard-and-cress, to a range of sproutings, such as bean-sprouts and alfalfa, or your own mushrooms. There are even a few on sale which will let you start off some varieties of tomatoes, peppers or herbs – complete with their own mini window-sill propagator and expanding peat pots.
It may be winter in the garden, but your children can still grow-their-own if they want to, without ever venturing outside their own back door!
Planning For Next Year
There’s also a lot to be done to plan for next year’s growing season – and in many ways, this can be one of the most fun parts of winter gardening. At this time of year there’s no shortage of seed and plant catalogues to look through and no end of choices to be made.
It’s a great opportunity to think back over the past year and remember what worked and what didn’t, and then decide what you’d like to do in the months to come. Are you planning a new garden feature? Will you pick some different varieties of plants, or go with something that’s proven itself successful? These are the sorts of questions that any avid young gardener will want to talk about – and, of course, nothing will make a child feel more part of the whole thing than being able to have his or her say.
Although the arrival of autumn and winter inevitably curtails much of the activity in the garden itself, it really doesn’t have to stop your youngsters from enjoying their gardening completely.