Alys Fowler

Gardening with kids in August

Looking for ways to keep the kids entertained as the boredom sets in? Alys shares her favourite garden based activities for children.

The dog days of August and the boredom of summer holidays sets in. This is no time to try and get kids into gardening. All that you can sow now are oriental greens, spicy things that young palettes aren’t terribly keen on and cabbages. The flowers you can sow now you’ll have to wait until next year to see bloom and I hardly think green manures will alight the imagination of many.

There is plenty of watering to do and harvesting tomatoes, blackberries, cucumbers, lettuce, carrots and other hidden treasures such as late potatoes from beneath the ground. This can create great childhood memories, but only if you’ve got them in the first place to harvest.

So what if there’s no granddad that will to dig up potatoes or an allotment to go to? Well the garden is full of materials that are easy to work with, will inspire a love of nature and spike the imagination and at the end of the day, everything can go onto the compost to rot back down.

Here are a few of my favourites.

Mud People and Tree faces

This works best if you can find some mud with clay in it as it's easier to mould. If your soil is very sandy buy some craft clay (the cheapest will do), get a bucket, some water and prepare to get messy. Mix one part clay with three parts garden soil and you should have something pliable to work with.

Mud men are just funny faces and strange shaped head moulds on top of a stick, so you can make a small army of friends to play with. You can use leaves, seeds, pebbles and whatever else you can find to adorn features on the faces or create headdresses.  

Tree faces are the next step up. Create eyes, noses and mouths that can be pressed into the bark of old, gnarly trees to give them faces. Traditionally this is the stuff of folklore of Greenmen, spirits who haunt woodlands and bring trees to life.
Tree faces need lots of clay to stick to the bark, so up the mud recipe to three parts clay to one part garden soil. Or just use pure clay. The best faces, I think, work when the features are comically over exaggerated.

Dreamcatchers, mobiles and wands

A dreamcatcher comes from a First Nation’s tribe in America and is a symbol of unity, a mobile that is hung above a bed or somewhere you might dream to catch all the bad things that might enter your dreams. They can be very ornate or simple and are meant to resemble a spiders web between two branches.

Dream catcher

I made my very rough dreamcatcher using willow and bindweed stems, plus a few feathers I found, but clearly they can be much more elaborate. I like the fact that at the end of the day, if made with bindweed, the whole thing can go on the compost. If you don’t have any bindweed (lucky you!) then Phormium leaves are equally as good for creating strong, string like section or of course, you could just use some string.

Rose, bramble and hawthorns are very good for pinning leaves or petals together, just like you might use a thumb tack, but young children will need supervision as they can be quite tricky to pull off and painful if you do it the wrong way.

Dreamcatcher

  • Willow or something similarly supple that can be bent

  • Twigs

  • Leaves

  • Feathers

  • Petals

  • Cones

  • Seed heads

  • Cotton or Wool

Twig Boat

  • Twigs

  • String

  • Leaves or Paper for a sale

  • Water to race them down (builders trugs, paddling pools, ponds local streams or even the bath)

I made my twig boat using bindweed, again because it turns out to be very easy to work with (and I have lots of it). You need to make a basic raft and it does take a little patience to get this flat and secure. It will require a number of launches to work out whether it will float flat, and some re-adjustments, but that’s part of the fun. I used cardboard for the sail, but I think a big, fat leaf might look better.

DIY nature paint brushes and mud paint

This is a brilliant one for smaller kids because it’s messy, and part of the joy is that you can chuck everything on the compost at the end of the day. Getting the mud paint to the right thickness is not tricky, but it’s far easier to add more water than more mud so go easy initially, adding a bit a time, it does need to be fairly thick to have any effect.

  • Paint Brushes

  • Sticks

  • Pine needles, fir needles, feathers, seed heads and flowers robust enough to take paint.

  • String

Mud Paint

  • Mud

  • Food colouring (red and green seem to work best)

  • Water

  • Heavy card stock