Make Your Garden a Safe Haven for Toddlers

Make Your Garden a Safe Haven for Toddlers

If your baby has just started walking, garden safety has probably been the last thing on your mind. A long winter, albeit milder than previous years, has kept us indoors through the crawling stage but we are about ready to venture into the great unknown :).

Once a baby begins to walk however, a lot of fun can be had and it’s a wonderful time as a parent. No longer are you restricted, as a toddler can accompany you to the greenhouse(being careful of the glass itself) or play safely in the garden as you weed the vegetable patch. This is hardly possible with crawling babies as the danger of sharp rocks and stones, hard surfaces, and even pebbles can graze those little knees, and it would be pretty impractical to fit knee pads on them!

After a year or more of compromising on any free time bar the two naps a day that are normally consumed by cleaning the home, it is extremely liberating to be presented with a walking mini human being that can now become involved in your favourite pastime. You will find that jobs take twice or even four times as long as they used to however it’s never too early to introduce a child to the benefits of gardening.

For your own sanity and for the toddlers safety, it is worth spending a day simply toddler proofing the entire garden. Although you will no doubt keep a strict eye on your little one, once they do begin to walk, it’s not too long before they learn how to run. Make sure that all garden tools have a sensible storage place, and especially the cutting tools such as secateurs or saws.

You will be surprised at the amount of hazards an ordinary garden can hold, a perfect place of peace for grownups can be a recipe for disaster for little ones. Compromises must be made and you may need to accept that your chic adult garden will now need to become a miniature playground. For example your gas barbecue should probably be tucked out of the way with a nice cover on it rather than the centre piece of the patio and plant pots with prickly shrubs will need more consideration.

One of the first things to look at is the hanging baskets. They are like a magnet to kids and they will pull at them. If loose and they fall, that much weight could do serious damage.

Ponds are especially dangerous, as toddlers love to play in water, like magnets to metal they will be drawn to the water, desperate to dunk their little feet. Not a year goes by when the news doesn’t broadcast tales of accidents and worse. Covering ponds with wire, such as chicken wire will ensure that if a toddler does fall, they won’t reach the water, whilst you can still enjoy the fish or the pond plants beneath. This serves a double purpose as in autumn as the leaves fall you’ll find it catches most, keeping the pond clear. This is a right result because it’s obviously way too wet for the leaf vacuum if they fell to the water and saves considerable time on raking and picking up by hand. The good news is the compost bin won’t be empty. It may help deter cats from swiping the fish too!

There are also plants that should be avoided in a child friendly garden as their pollen is quite poisonous; these include Foxgloves and the Laburnum tree and a different danger to the prickles we’ve already mentioned.

The garden also needs to be completely secure, no matter if you live in the middle of nowhere or deep within an urban area, there are hazards everywhere beyond the garden gate. Be it traffic, tractors, rivers or steps, your toddler will want to explore, and just one quick escape will leave you half grey! Make sure there are no holes in the fence, get on your knees and check if you have to.

It’s also worth investing in some secure locks for the greenhouse and shed, putting tools away and locking away all pest control products will make sure those little chubby hands don’t touch anything they’re not supposed to.

Above all though have fun, if budgets allow clear an area of lawn and invest in a swing, a slide and a sandpit, after all there will be plenty more sunny days to come as your toddler grows and flourishes along with your glorious garden.

How Gardeners Can Help Wildlife During The Drought

After experiencing two of the driest Winters and Springs on record, many parts of the country are parched which has naturally had an impact on the wildlife as well as on our gardens – but there are some simple steps gardeners can take to help the wildlife survive the drought.

Many gardeners have already found a way to beat the hosepipe ban currently placed on areas in southern and eastern England after many water companies took this decision due to low reservoir levels. It seems that gardeners in Oxfordshire are harvesting rainwater in large water butts to combat the drought and to allow them to carry on tending their gardens while they can’t use hoses to water plants and vegetables. Water butts always have a convenient tap so you can simply fill up a watering can and get a little exercise in the evening whilst it’s nice out. If you have a great deal of watering, some are resolving the issue with the use of a wheelbarrow to take the weight of the water from ‘a to b’.

And now gardeners can step in and come to the aid of wildlife during the drought, by adopting a few measures. As an avid gardener, the birdlife in your garden is probably already important to you and it may be you have adopted practices to help the animals when water is scarce. Whether you’re already taking care of the wildlife in your garden or are keen to start, we have a few ideas for you.

Keep in mind that birds will likely be thirsty at the moment because of the lack of rainfall, and also hungry because of the knock-on effect of parched soil. For example, it may be harder for birds to get hold of worms because the ground is harder when dry – if this is the case, it’s a good idea to lightly dig the soil to aid the birds who can then get to the worms more easily. Lightly digging the soil is a great tip for the aeration process too. In a drought, try water-saving techniques like mulching plants and soil too, using leaf mould or well-rotted manure for example, as this retains the moisture and encourages earthworms and insects to survive, which in turn can become bird food. This is especially effective in plant pots and troughs where there is a self watering tray placed under to catch excess water lost. Hanging baskets are a bit of a no-no in droughts. They simply ask for too much water, as beautiful as they look when they are well watered and happy!

When it comes to feeding the birds, again you want to select the right foods for them during the drought. Leaving out chunks of apple, for example, is good as this fruit has particularly high water content. You can then also make bird feeders available too, with foods high in nutritional value. Be sure to leave fresh water out too, and keep an eye on this source to prevent it getting dirty or warm in the sun. Don’t be too fussy though, the animals can survive well enough drinking moisture from pools and grass.

Another measure is to keep your lawn mower locked in the shed – by letting the grass grow long, insect life is encouraged which can then be a food source for birds. If you have any mud in your garden, keep it wet so that birds like house martins and swallows can use the damp mud for building nests. Normally, birds can find muddy water at the edges of reservoirs and randomly on the ground but when the earth is parched such findings are rare – by adding some water to mud the birds can make new nests as well as fix any that need mending.

As much as possible, water the plants in your garden. It may not be possible to use a hosepipe but you can still fill up a watering can and keep plants healthy throughout the dry weather conditions. Plus, if you do harvest rainwater you’ll have an extra supply of water to splash around your garden – either literally or by topping up bird baths.

Winter Flowering Plants

Bye Bye Summer, Helloooo Winter!

As we wave goodbye to summer, we should be optimistic about the changing of seasons and wave goodbye to droughts too. Research from the RHS proved that Gardeners are happier people in general as they appreciate the here and now whilst still looking forward to the changing of seasons and all that they bring.

Of course on the surface an approaching winter may seem like a nightmare for gardeners, they bring challenges such as snow, however the stalwart green fingered types among us love this time of year when we finally win the war with weeds, and rake up or vacuum all the fallen leaves for mulch. Perfect for the compost bin too.

There’s something quite magical as the Virginia creeper turns from a delicate green to a vibrant red, and as other flowers go to seed and we collect our bounty read for the plant tays early next year, the evergreens stand stark against a baby blue winter skyline.

November is the month for picking the rest of the harvest, with early spring and late summers some crops are still bearing fruit, making that winter warmer dish all the more juicy on a chilly evening.

The quince bush holds wonderful delights, suddenly Britain is cottoning on to the advantages of this versatile mini apple, and although eaten raw they can be poisonous, when cooked they can be used for jams, preserves, chutneys, crumbles and pies, and even make a wonderful addition to a roast dinner or as a filling for ravioli.

Leeks are still standing to attention in the veggie patch, whilst parsnips wait patiently for the first frost to hit, ready to turn their starch into sugar and producing the sweetest root vegetable for the table that will never be mirrored by any large supermarket. It’s only then, at that moment we realise all the hard work we put into our soil those months beforehand.

leeks planting
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Jerusalem artichokes should have providing a natural privacy with three metre high stems blowing in the wind, and now if picked will add a nuttiness to mash potato, potato gratin or roasted alone as an addition to the pork roast on a Sunday.

Although this may be the last time you mow the lawn until next year, there is a lovely sense of fulfilment with the last mowing knowing that the grass will stay neat and tidy, whilst any weeds pulled up will leave a lovely bare patch of soil until they try to take over again in the spring. It’s also time take take down the hanging baskets and troughs. you might find it’s the last time you use the hedge trimmer until next year too.

Talking of spring, now is the last chance to plant bulbs for spring, try to be a little daring next year, there’s such an array of fantastic tulips on offer, in all different patterns, such as candy stripe and tiger coat, these will stand out as they open just after the last of the snowdrops have vanished.

Then of course, winter wouldn’t be winter without fallen logs. It’s the perfect time for pruning trees(with nice secateurs) as winds can reach extraordinary forces making short work of old branches that are ready to fall. Investing in a log splitter will make short work of the chopping, there’s even electric and petrol versions if you don’t want to get too heavy with it, and give you clean cut wood that’s perfect for stacking in the shed or wood store, and if you do find the nights a little too mild yet for a full fire, place them in a cool hearth for a touch of winter decoration.

Top Tips For Gardeners In November

Autumn spreads colour across our countryside when it arrives, turning trees into magnificent scenes of reds, oranges and ambers that light up the crisp days. While winter may be about to swoop down and keep us from our beloved gardens with frosts and snow, fear not because in November there’s still plenty of gardening time left to enjoy – and time to tick-off a number of key tasks from your list too.

Leaf mould

Gather the fallen leaves and bag them for mulch. Now is the perfect time of year for making mulch which you can add to your soil next year – and the fallen leaves are everywhere right now. Mulch is the perfect material to prevent droughts being a problem for your garden, essentially November is about preparing for next summer and spring!

Be especially quick at collecting the leaves on your lawn as they damage the grass beneath them if left too long, the decaying leaves sets in and does the same to the grass. There’s two ways to deal with these leaves properly; one is to rake them up; the other is to vacuum them.

When you have a bagged the leaves, make a couple of holes in the bag as the bacteria that makes leaf mould need air to work their magic.

It’s advisable to keep leaf mould separate to your compost bin, and leave the bag somewhere for about a year before adding it to your soil.

Spring bulbs

It’s not too late to plant your spring bulbs at this time of year, it’s with looking into a bulb planter, it’s neat and tidy which saves plenty of time in the end, a great little gardener’s digging tool. You then await the wonderful bloom of colour in a few months. While some spring flowering bulbs should ideally be planted in September/October time, early November should be fine for daffodils and hyacinths, and is the right time for tulips.

There is still just about time to plant summer flowering bulbs like Alliums, Crocosmia and Lilies in the early part of this month too.

You can plant these bulbs in borders or troughs, depending on your preference. Some even prefer plant pots.

Bird feeders

Don’t forget to replenish your bird feeders with nuts and seeds to sustain the birds during the oncoming winter. Make sure your bird feeder is squirrel proof though, as you don’t want to encourage squirrels into your garden because they will munch on your bulbs too. The bird feeder will really help the wildlife in your garden if the next summer is a drought.

Lawn care

As a result of the mild weather we’ve been having recently, your lawn may need a final mow. Once done, it’s a good idea to put all your gardening tools and equipment into the garage or shed, to keep them protected from the elements during winter. I normally store my lawn mower and strimmers, along with chainsaw and hedge trimmer at the back of the shed as they won’t be coming out. I keep my garden hand tools and leaf blower at the front because I am likely to play in the conservatory or greenhouse.

Move plants

The sensitive plants should be moved into the shelter of your greenhouse or garage, so that the frosts and snow can’t damage them. This is why it’s always worth planting in pots if you think a plant isn’t going to be hardy enough to withstand a rough winter(even though they’ve been mild of late).

Insulate your greenhouse

Line the inside of your greenhouse with bubblewrap to help reduce heat loss through the winter months. The layer of bubblewrap will reduce the draughts and prevent the inside getting too cold as the outside temperature plummets. Choose bubblewrap with bigger bubbles as this is more effective at providing protection from the elements.

Harvest vegetables

Pick all the parsnips, carrots, cauliflowers and cabbages from your garden – and enjoy a delicious vegetable feast over the next few weeks.

Plant your garlic gloves, broad beans, peas and onions too for spring.

Christmas joy

With Nature braced for the onslaught of winter, now is the ideal time to gather items for use as Christmas decorations. Collect pinecones, seed heads and berries, ready for sprucing up your house for the festive season. We say bye bye summer, hello winter!

Garden spring-summer

Get your garden sorted now for next spring and summer

Many gardeners delight in the start of November because it feels like a fresh start – its an opportunity to creatively plot and plan next years garden. In other words, your chance to embark on a garden make-over and get things ready for spring next year!

November, of course, also coincides with the emergence of a whole wonderful array of rural wildlife seeking shelter, including native birds and those from abroad in need of winter weather a lot warmer than what they’re used to.

For insects and other garden-seeking creatures, fallen leaves and dying plants are a great source of shelter and food. So, if your surviving plants can survive being surrounded by leaves, it’s a good way of helping our furry – and not-so-furry – friends survive the winter weather blight while we’re tucked up cosy indoors. Having said that, leaves lying around for months on lawns are fatal for grass so those must be raked or sucked up with a leaf vacuum.


It’s a good idea to start hanging out fat balls for birds around now as well as adding to the summer selection of food you’d normally provide when it starts to get too dry and the wildlife in your garden suffers. But don’t just add peanuts and berries. Like us, our feathered friends have their own preferences too. For instance Robins like to munch on oats, greenfinch and blue tits are partial to black sunflower seeds and tree sparrows can’t see past millet grain. Remember to put out water and check it hasn’t frozen over.


If you’re going to go the whole hog and make-over your garden or at least divide it into new borders, then now is the perfect time to put your plan into action chiefly because the frosts in November are excellent at breaking up heavy clay soil. And this, thankfully, makes digging far less back-breaking next spring. When digging the ground make sure all the roots from weeds are removed.

Plant care

Now is also a  good time to transplant those trees and shrubs to fit in with your new design. If roses, fruit trees, tulips or hard herbaceous plants were part of your plan then plant them now – while there’s still a little warmth in the soil.

For plants you know won’t survive the winter winds and freezing temperatures, wrap them up well in bubble wrap or plastic sheeting and secure with twine. You could also move them to a more sheltered spot, or even indoors. It’s time to pull down the hanging baskets and clear them for next spring.

plant care

Other tasks to get stuck into this November include:

  • Digging over new beds before Jack Frost descends
  • Repairing and cleaning gardening tools then rubbing in linseed oil to prevent rusting
  • Planting any shrubs for the following year
  • Lifting pots above the ground to prevent them getting water-logged
  • Taking hardwood cuttings from roses and shrubs with sharp secateurs.
  • Protecting fruit trees by wrapping grease bands around the trunk
  • Spreading fresh manure on vegetable beds to allow it to sink into soil over the winter.This will also help keep your plants hydrated in the summer drought.

Make your own leaf mould

Collect leaves lying on your path and terrace and place in garden bags (make sure the bags are thin enough to let light in). Add a little water to the leaves, tie the top of the bags and, with a pair of scissors or knife, make small holes in the bag (this gives the leaves breathing space). Now put them in a sheltered corner in your garden and check from time to time to see if they need any more water. Hey presto next spring you’ll have some lovely rich hand-made plant-boosting formula. And better still, it didn’t cost a penny! It’s time to say bye to summer, and hello to winter!

Preparing the soil

4 Steps For Improving Your Soil

Mid-November means now’s the time to improve your soil, ready for planting or sowing. Digging the soil ensures it is fertile and enriched, improving the texture so plants can grow and thrive – and making it ready for planting your bulbs. Quite a few things need doing in November, take a look at this tips on November gardening resource.

Winter bulbs need good soil to give them the best conditions and the best chance of flourishing next Spring. By adding organic matter and digging the soil, the earth holds more nutrients to feed the plants and drainage is better also. Consider buying yourself a bulb planter, they really make light work of an arduous task and a decent garden fork. It’s the hardest job in the garden, why skimp?

Depending on the condition of your garden or planting area, there are around four simple steps you can take to improve your soil. You may need to weed the ground first, removing any old shrubs from the roots from the soil before you start the digging process, and it’s always advisable to warm up before you begin. Good exercise and a full compost bin, all for free from your very own back garden!

Gardening can be physically demanding, and soil improvement is an especially strenuous task. So make sure you do some stretches first, and pace yourself, aiming to dig your garden or outside space gradually to ensure you don’t injure yourself.

1. Get digging

You’re nicely warmed up and any weeding work has been completed, and it’s time to start digging! The aim is a crumbly textured soil and this requires thorough digging to break up any clods and loosen the earth. Use a rake to finish up; breaking clumps of dirt as fine as possible.

If the soil hasn’t been dug before, it’s a good idea to use a spade instead of a fork as a garden fork works best on ground that has been cultivated previously. There’s a whole host of garden digging tools for the job.

Key to this step: If you do spot any weeds, be sure to remove these.

2. Add compost

When the ground has been dug, add your organic matter to the soil. Cover the surface to a depth of at least 5cm before digging it in using your fork or spade.

The organic matter improves the structure of the soil by helping to break down any large clods or clumps and releasing tiny bursts of nutrients into the ground. It’ll leave the ground aerated and perfect for worms to further decompose nutrients.

You can use your own garden compost, made from kitchen and garden waste, or leaf mould that you bagged in November. If you collected fallen leaves from your garden and bagged it up, with a few holes for letting air in, last winter the mulch should be ripe for your soil this winter. Alternatively, you can use horse manure, but make sure it is mature manure – it needs at least six months time to rot down sufficiently. Or you could buy bags of composted bark from a garden centre. This is where a shredder really pays, assuming you have the wood available to chip up.

All these variants of compost are nutrient rich and boost the soil’s richness.

3. Dig again

Back to it: keep digging until the soil and organic matter are nicely mixed. This ensures the soil is broken up and the small amounts of released nutrients are evenly spread across the area. This time a handy tip would be to use a garden hoe. The brilliant thing about this process is the wildlife in your garden will really pickup. As the insects multiply, so it’ll bring the birds too.

4. Rake over

When you’ve mixed the organic matter into your soil, smooth the soil over and break up any remaining lumps in the soil. Then add the relevant amount of fertiliser on top and rake it in. This preparation is going to go along way toward helping with droughts next summer.

Make sure the improved soil has an even surface, perfect for adding your plants to.

How to deal with snow in your garden

Now we’re well into November, don’t be surprised if you wake up one morning to find your back garden a winter wonderland. Snow is silent and can land overnight, sometimes without warning. So it’s best to be prepared for its onset. After all, this time last year the UK was covered in a blanket of snow and there’s no reason to believe this year is going to be any different. You might consider investing in a snow shovel.

Public transport systems such as the rail service and local authorities have already issued delay warnings with timetables and alternative arrangements. They’re well set in their winter preparation plans and so should you be. It still amazes me how leaves on the line is a good excuse when we have incredibly high powered leaf blowers at home. How they can’t replicate this technology and spray leaves away from the line shocks me.

One good thing about the snow is that the pests you’re continually fighting with insect and slug control, who normally like to gnaw on your vegetables and plants, won’t be able to survive it. Snow can also act as an insulating blanket to plants, allowing them to avoid the worst of the icy killer winds.

It can also rehydrate plants as it melts. Many wild plants rely on melting snow for their continued survival.

The bad side of snow is the fact that snow can break branches from beloved trees, especially evergreens.

Plants in the snow

Plants, even the hardy variety, also hate the freezing weather that’s responsible for creating snow in the first place. However some of them can survive temperatures as severe as minus 15 centigrade. They’ll start to sprout again once the temperature picks up to around 25 degrees centigrade.

In a way our plants have already begun preparing for snow. Autumn allows them to rest, hibernate (think the herbaceous variety) and conserve energy. They are expecting the cold period. Crops which are fine to leave in the ground during snow are broccoli, cabbages, turnips, Brussels sprouts and even lettuce. In fact, kale and Brussels sprouts are said to have a better taste after being exposed to several gruelling periods of frost. you’ll need a good knife to harvest the crop and a comfortable pair of gardening gloves.

Annuals may have been killed off by the cold weather but they have left seeds and bulbs for further germination at a later stage.

Some plants, such as primroses and garlic, actually welcome the cold weather as a trigger to spring growth. There’s even a name for this – vernalisation.

Despite the wrecking capacity of snow, a bigger threat to plants and the garden in general during the winter is the icy winds (even one as light as a breeze) and the chill factor they bring. Poor plants are just as susceptible to chill winds are we are. They will become dehydrated and, combined with frozen soil, may die off. It’s amazing to think of dehydration in the winter, you would expect summer dehydration to be the only case.

A good protector against icy winds for plants and other potential perishables in your garden is hedges and other forms of windbreak such as an arbour or garden shed. These work by breaking up the wind so that its force is diminished.

Beware of grass killing Fusarium in under the snow

One thing gardeners should be keeping a careful eye on this winter is a disease called fusarium which thrives on wet grass beneath a layer of snow (turning it mouldy). The disease can be identified by means of a formation of pink patches on your lawn. In some cases, the colour is white. It can also result in muddy patches on the lawn. Two years ago gardens in Yorkshire were particularly badly hit.

Heavily fertilised lawns are more vulnerable to fusarium as the grass is soft. Waterlogged lawns are also susceptible. The good news is there is a fungicide treatment which works against the disease and allows the soil to breathe.

Good luck with your garden this winter and happy prepping!