Thursday, May 17, 2012

Topiary for five year olds

A few weeks ago I held a really fun garden workshop for Reception Class at my son's school. The ages of the children are four to five. I made the first initial of every child using some poplar branches I harvested locally. They were from trees that are pollarded so the new shoots were growing very low down the tree and were easy to reach. I lined all the letters up in the field and the children came out to find their initial. They really loved doing this.
We went over to the edge of the field where some ivy was growing under a tree. We talked about the places that ivy likes to grow then each child used the fork to dig some up. We looked at the roots and put the lengths of ivy into a bucket of water. We went back to the little garden outside the classroom leaving the bucket in a shady spot.
 The next day the children arrived in fancy dress costume as it was the last day of term. So we had Robin Hood, Superman, Minnie Mouse and a princess, to name a few, doing garden activities. The children filled pots up with compost then planted their letters. They made a hole in the compost for the ivy to go in. We spoke about which end of the ivy should be planted and I told them about the roots having an important job of taking in nutrients and water. The pots were filled up with some more compost then watered.
As the ivy grows it will wrap itself around the letters and can be trimmed to control the shape. The poplar branches will sprout leaves as well which will be a fun surprise. This was a really great activity to introduce children to propagation, plant biology, planting, plant care and topiary. Children as young as five make great horticulturists.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Signs of Early Summer's Arrival

With the unusually wet and cold weather we've been having lately it's hard to believe we are coming into early summer. The Jack in the Green Festival which happens every May bank holiday weekend in Hastings is a celebration to mark the end of the winter. Now in it's twenty-ninth year, it is based on an old festival by the local chimney sweeps who would celebrate the new season of chimney sweeping once the winter fires had been put out. It is said that Jack began as a small garland worn by a sweep. These days Jack is a crowned giant of evergreen foliage who leads a merry procession through the streets of Hastings and into the castle for an afternoon of singing, dancing and boozing. Genuine sweeps still take part in the parade as well as Morris dancers, folk musicians, giants that represent summer and winter and a green mermaid as tall as the trees. All through the old town large bunches of laurel leaves and colourful ribbons adorn houses, railings and lamp posts. All the shops have a green themed window display. It's fun to see each different interpretation of Jack in the Green as well as the incredible costumes in the parade which seem to get more elaborate every year. This year the grey clouds hanging overhead and the chilly showers all cleared once Jack had been symbolically slain and the spirit of summer was released for another year.
Another sign that the winter is over and summer is on our doorstep is the emergence of the dragonfly from it's underwater home. The alien like nymphs that have hatched from eggs live in ponds and marshes while they grow into dragonflies. This portion of the life cycle can take an incredible four years to complete. When the weather is right the nymphs start to crawl out of the water up the stems of plants. The metamorphosis is complete when the dragonfly breaks out of the nymph skin, leaving it behind as a dry empty shell called the exuvia. Perched on the leaves with their wings outstretched drying them, you can see just how intricate and stunning the design of the dragonfly is. Amazingly these beautiful creatures only live for about two months. It's enough time to find a female mate who will lay eggs and the whole cycle starts again. These photos were taken at the allotment on the punk's plot. He's delighted to discover his pond is allowed to stay because the newts are protected.

Do you celebrate the coming of summer? What signs and symbols represent this change for you?
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