A Green Fingered Shift

As I worked in the Autumn sunshine alongside three enthusiastic helpers in our front garden this afternoon, it struck me that I hadn’t written a column about our gardening efforts for a little while. To be honest, after the garden being flooded with sewage earlier in the year and having to dispose of our potato plants, I was feeling fairly despondent about the whole thing.  That particular happening seemed to be the latest in a string of circumstances that seemed to hinder our attempts at green fingered-ness this year. From Elijah pulling up every seedling that grew, our turf dying in patches with all attempts at reseeding failed, the previously thriving plum tree suddenly looking rather sorry for itself and generally just being so busy that the garden sank down the list of priorities, I felt that gardening was going to be off the cards for us for a while.

But then two things happened. The first was that a friend from Church invited us to go to Broadclyst Community Farm to help out. We spent a very pleasant day there in the summer, getting to grips with where things were, weeding and planting out lettuces. We were made very welcome and hope to be back there again soon to get stuck in. The second thing that happened was that Eli got older. I know that sounds ridiculous but somehow, over the last few weeks, he has got just a tad less destructive and a tad more helpful, or at least less inclined to undo everything I’m doing.

Our front garden has been looking more and more overgrown recently and so yesterday afternoon whilst the kids were happy, I took my gloves and clippers out there to start tackling the irritating ivy that continues to prosper despite my best attempts to eradicate it. Before long, I had not one but three accomplices. Sophia took it upon herself to weed our flower bed, Isaac picked up all the garden waste we created and put it in the compost and Eli…well he just pottered. But, and this is a big but, he didn’t hinder our work. He tried to help dig a little bit, he played with the dustpan and brush, he chattered away and generally was just content to be with us as we got on with the task in hand. A repeat of the situation this afternoon and all of a sudden, I’m feeling inspired again for our garden. Sophia and I are resolved to properly rid the gardens of weeds and hopefully plant some bulbs in the coming weeks for Spring. And now that I know he won’t be quite such a pest next year, I’m looking forward to growing some veggies again. You can’t beat a few hours working in the garden to rid everyone of cabin fever and feel productive and inspired. So here’s to a 2017 with gardens overflowing with bountiful produce and many happy hours spent getting there!

E+E column: Naturally Needy

An article I read this week spoke about how utterly natural it is for young children to be clingy or needy to their primary caregiver. It was a good reminder that the almost total dependence that my three (all five and under) often have on me is the biological norm and not anything to get frustrated with or to try and put a stop to before they’re ready. We visited the monkey sanctuary in Looe earlier this year and witnessed a tiny monkey taking her first nervous steps away from her Mum. Our guide explained that after she was born, she spent six months permanently attached to her Mum’s back and after this point, would still only scamper away for a few minutes at a time and all the while, in the near vicinity of her ever watching Mum. This is normal for the animal world, and actually, is normal for human children as well if we allow them (well not the clinging to our backs but you get my point!)

We are so quick to try and break our children’s instinctive need to be near us. A lot of parenting ‘experts’ and advice doled out tells us that we should be getting them in their own rooms within their first months, that we should be making sure they can play independently and that they are happy to be away from us at a young age. And if they’re not, we are presented with a wide array of solutions to fix this ‘problem’. But is it really a problem? The process of entering this world, finding their place in it and finding out how everything works and how people interact must be utterly overwhelming. No wonder young children are naturally prone to being ‘clingy’ and retreating to Mum, Dad or a loved Grandparent when it all gets too much. Society often tells us that this isn’t appropriate, that we’re making a rod for own backs, that they will never learn independence, that they’ll be spoilt. But can you spoil a child by offering unconditional love and comfort? I would argue that you can’t.

Admittedly, when you’re needed round the clock, it can all get a bit wearisome. I’m perfectly guilty of wanting to go and shut myself in a room with a book and mug of hot chocolate. I’m no saint. There is no perfect Mum (or Dad!) But I do think we shouldn’t feel guilty about offering our children that extra level of support or comfort that others might say is unnecessary at their age. The world’s a scary place at times, even for adults, so I’m happy for my kids to still need me right now. In the blink of an eye they’ll be running off without a backwards glance, perfectly confident and independent individuals without such a strong lifeline or need for me and their Dad. And a final note of reassurance, as my wise old Mum said when I bemoaned Isaac at 18 months creeping into our bed in the wee hours, he won’t be 16 and still wanting to sleep in his Mum’s bed!


E+E column: The Plight of the Bumblebee

(A little late this week – apologies!)

There is something quintessentially British I think about plump furry bumble bees meandering lazily from flower to flower in the heat of the summer sun. The kids were delighted to find a horde of them on a lavender bush in the gardens at Topsham museum (a quirky little museum well worth a visit, by the way) whilst taking part in a bug hunt organised as part of a family fun day there. Whilst encouraging to see that the local bee population is alive and well, a fact further evidenced by their regular presence in even our tiny garden, it got me thinking about their future and possible plight.

If you’re savvy on social media, you might have seen people urging you to sign petitions to ‘save the bees’ over the last few weeks. The uproar started after the government temporarily lifted a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides in certain parts of the country. Although there isn’t a complete scientific consensus on the effect of these pesticides on bees, there is a growing body of scientists and environmentalists who claim that neonicotinoid based pesticides are a threat to bee colonies and the source of a global decline in the bee population. I’m certainly not qualified enough to draw a judgement on the issue but it does seem that the figures regarding the decline in bees are fairly conclusive. Bees are absolutely essential to our food supply as they are one of the main pollinators of a lot of our fruit and vegetables. The complete extinction of bees would certainly be very bad news for us.

But I believe in staying positive and in the absence of a clear proven cause of the dwindling population, I think we should take matters into our own hands in the most obvious way possible….growing bee friendly plants in our gardens. It’s such an easy and often cheap way to be part of the solution but so very satisfying. Bees are pretty laid back and the list of plants they prefer is endless but some of my favourites are sunflowers, poppys and snowdrops. Or if you want to be incredibly efficient you can fill a herb garden with things like lavender, thyme, sage and fennel – feeding the bees and adding flavour to your meals at the same time. It seems logical that the more of us that fill our gardens will plants that the bees can visit, the more local bee populations will not only survive but hopefully thrive and grow.

We can also support British bee populations by buying local honey. It’s not hard to come by in Devon and although admittedly a fair bit pricier than your bog standard honey from the corner shop, is supporting a very worthwhile cause. I also find that it goes further, maybe because it’s got a more intense flavour or maybe just because I know how much it costs and am more sparing with it! So, if you can possibly can, I’d urge everyone out there to do their part to Save The Bees!