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  • How To Deal With Squishy Squashy Lawn Issues

    Half term has arrived. The children are pumped with energy and excitement, ready to get outside a play.

    And your back garden looks like a swamp.

    Here’s how to let the kids run free without obliterating the lawn.

    1. Give Up Decide now if you care about having any sort of lawn for the next three months. Not bothered? Great, let the kids roam free and get all muddied up. There’s nothing wrong with that. Come the summer you will have a patchy looking lawn - not pretty to look at but still perfectly fine to play on. Many of us have been brought up with a belief that well kept, vibrant green lawn means we are good homeowners. But there’s plenty more to life than green grass, so if your self-esteem can suffer the battering, give up on your dreams of a luscious lawn and let the kids have fun. Mud is great for their skin, and adds an exciting sensory element to their play experience. Plus, when they get really muddy, that’s a fab excuse for a bubbly bath then a hot chocolate, which is the perfect way to round-off a day’s playing.

    2. Zero Running Games Running across the wet grass will tear the blades up from their roots causing plenty of damage to the lawn. However, gently walking across the grass will cause much less (if any damage). There are lots of games you can play outside that don’t involve too much running.

    Skittles, hopscotch, and catch can all be played without running on the grass.

    3. High Traffic Areas If you have play equipment like a climbing frame or a trampoline, you could section off high traffic areas and simply accept these will be destroyed, while keep the rest of the garden as a child free zone. If the grass does get ruined in these walkways consider replacing it with something harder wearing like safety mats or bark chippings.

    4. Replace It If a swamp-like lawn is a persistent problem and it is impacting on the enjoyment you and your family get from your garden consider replacing it with an artificial surface, You can get something colourful and wacky, or a very life-like alternatives. Whatever you prefer, the range of artificial surfaces is now so wide, you will no doubt find something to suit your tastes.

    5. Aerate It You can encourage better drainage by repeatedly stabbing the lawn with a fork or aerator. This helps excess moisture drain through compacted soil, and helps relieve any tensions or frustration you may be experiencing during the school holidays.

    Don't Put down sheets of wood or cardboard in an effort to protect the grass underneath. The pressure and lack of light will destroy the remaining blades.

    Do Sprinkle on some lawn seed as we head towards the Spring and some food to encourage the grass to grow. You'll soon have a luscious looking lawn in need of a mow.

  • Gardening Chores For February - Fun But Productive

    Let’s start the month with a list of chores. Maybe not the most fun thing to begin with, but as this is the shortest month of the year, we thought we’d better get started.

    As always, because we love outdoor play, these tasks are designed to be family friendly and fun.

    1 - Get Muddy

    There’s probably plenty of leaves and twigs and all sorts of scrumptious organic debris scattered across your flower beds. Dig it in to help prepare the beds for Spring. This is a great job to delegate to little ones. All they need ot a trowel and a love of mud, and they will be kept busy for hours turning the soil over.

    2 - Protect From Freezing If you’ve got some plants that are a little confused by the milder weather, they may already be showing some new growth. If the weather continues to warm up then this early start will mean ad glorious spring. However, if (as is often the case) Mother Nature is luring us into a false sense of security before blasting us with yet more chilly conditions, that new growth could get damaged. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, and if cold weather is predicted, nip outside and wrap your plants up toasty warm. Dry mulch sprinkled over the flower beds will help protect the roots from frost, and garden fleece wrapped around larger plants will help keep their extremities safe. 3 - Plan Your Veggies If you are growing your own vegetables this year, now is the time to start planning what you want to plant. Use a year planner to work out the best combination of vegetables, and when each variety should be planted and harvested. Then get digging so your vegetable plot is ready for its first guests.

    4 - Keep A Bulb Diary When the first shoots appear from bulbs, start a diary with your children. Bulbs are great for getting young children into gardening because they grow so quickly. Every day measure and record the height of your shoots, and make a note of the weather. Over the next few weeks you and your children can study the records to notice any influence the weather has on growth patterns.

    5 - Safety Inspection Carry out a thorough safety inspection of your play equipment. With half term approaching your children will want to play outside, and its important to check it is safe for them to do so. Pay attention to any parts that may have been shaken loose by wintry gusts. And look out for slime caused by algae, fungus or damp mud that could be a slip hazard of ladder steps and footpaths. You should also make sure that rainwater hasn’t accumulated in any upturned toys or containers. Young children can drown in as little as two inches of water.

    6 - Have Fun Together If you’ve all been tucked up indoors away from the wintry weather, your back garden may seem like foreign terrain to your children. Get them familiar with outdoor play by going out there and joining in the fun.

  • Why Your Garden Needs New Year Resolutions Too

    It’s that time of year when we reflect back on the past 12 months, some of us happy to wave it off, others misty eyed with happy memories. Then it’s time to look forward to the year to come. When making grand plans about what you would like to achieve in 2015, how you are going to be happier, healthier, and fitter than ever, don’t neglect your garden. This outdoor space is an integral part of your family-life and including it in your New Year’s Resolution making will put you on the right path to success.

    #1 In Your Ideal World Visualize your ideal outdoor space. What does it look like? What do you use it for? In the Summer? In the Winter? Is the play equipment out of view, or have you devoted the entire area to children? How much time would you like to spend maintaining it? Is gardening a pleasure or a chore. Now compare this ideal scenario with what you have right now. Some of the things you would like to change can be implemented easily and inexpensively. Tackle these first. Then later in 2015, repeat the visualization exercise and plan your next move. When you look at the gap from where you are now to where you would like to be, the amount of work needed can feel overwhelming. Focusing on the quick wins first makes it easier to get started.

    #2 What Frustrates You Creating your dream garden is as much about eliminating the negative as focusing on the positive. Make a list of the frustrations, time-sucks, and unpleasant chores that bother you about your garden. For each of these problems research potential solutions. Hate mowing the lawn? Get a gardener. Fed up of having an unusable boggy lawn 6 months of the year? Look into grass alternatives. Then once you have lined up your potential solutions, you need to make a commitment. Either the problem bothers you so much you are prepared to invest time and money in the corresponding solution, or you are happy to put up with it and move on.

    #3 Developmental Appropriateness You know how every day your child looks the same to you, until someone points out how much they've grown, then you suddenly notice the difference? It might be time to look at your play equipment with those fresh eyes too. Sure the slide posed a real challenge to your 5 year old, but now they are 8, perhaps they are looking for something new to attack. Take a look at the equipment you currently have and consider what needs to be adapted or replaced. Your garden should contain a mixture of toys that can be used with ease, be a springboard for their imagination, and which challenges them physically. Adding monkeybars to your climbing frame or swapping a ladder for a climbing net or rock walls are quick and easy ways to adapt existing pieces for older children.

    Take a look at our range of play equipment and accessories for inspiration on how you can create the ideal play space in 2015.

  • Keep Off The Grass - What's Left Of It Anyway

    So how’s your lawn looking? The grass here is starting to look a little shabby, so I’ve been looking in to what I can do to restore it to its former glory, but also considering some permanent less muddy alternatives.

    Where’s The Grass Gone? So here’s what’s happened (well here at least anyway). It’s rained. A lot. Not torrential downpours, but a good regular sprinkling, often for a few weeks. So why has that ruined the lawn? Don’t we look at a grey day and muster the positivity to say ‘ah well, it’s good for the garden’? Well it’s not. Because the moisture has been readily available in the soil, the grass roots are shallow. They’ve had no need to reach down deep into the soil. So the grass isn’t very strong.

    Ideally in its fragile state it would be left to recover. No one would walk on it. And certainly no trucks would clip the edges of it. I think we both know that the grass here has not enjoyed that luxury. So after a little rough handling, many of the blades have abandoned ship, and what we’re left with is some muddy gloop (which at least I don’t need to mow).

    How To Fix It There’s good news. There is hope for a revival.

    And bad news. It’s likely to get worse before it gets better.

    As the cold weather sets in there will be frosts and maybe snow (Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!!!!). And then you / the children / the postman will stroll across, enjoying the satisfying crunch underfoot, totally oblivious to the fact that the fragile little grass blades are being decimated underneath.

    Then as the snow / frost melts, more water seeps into the soil.

    If your garden is lawn is looking as sorry a mine, it will seem unbelievable that it could get even more brown.

    So stay off the grass as much as possible. Even if that means having a polite word with the postman.

    Once the weather improves and spring is on the horizon, give the lawn a helping hand with some additional seed and plenty of fertilizer.

    Or Get Rid Of It For many families, simply staying off the grass is not an option. If you’ve invested in a climbing frame or other play equipment, you want your children to be able to play with it, even if it is at the expense of the grass. Even if half the lawn turns to mush, then gets tracked through the house.

    Artificial grass has improved massively in appearance in recent years, and is designed to withstand sporting activities and the British weather.

    Alternatively, if you’d rather avoid the faux appearance and commit to a non-grass-like appearance, there are a range of colourful rubberized play surfaces that can be laid instead.

    The most affordable way to make a big difference, is to install play surfaces in the areas around play equipment where the grass is currently taking the worst of the traffic. Then look after the lawn in the rest of the garden to keep the space looking green and natural.

  • Creating A Playscape In Your Own Back Garden

    The best play spaces are more than just play equipment.

    Take a moment to consider your child's favourite playgrounds. What do they have in common. Chances are they aren't just hunk of play equipment plonked on a safety surface.

    Instead, the best play spaces weave the equipment and surroundings together to create an inspirational environment for children to explore.

    In this post we take a look at how you can adapt the principles used by professional playscape engineer and use them in your own back garden to create a beautiful, creative play environment.

    #1 Add Natural Obstacles Smooth boulders, or mounds of dirt make excellent climbing apparatus, or shelters to hide behind. They are also relatively cheap, easy to install and require little (if any) maintenance. They are also low to the ground, making them especially suitable for younger children to explore.

    #2 Create Sections Use planting, grass, trees and natural materials to create sectioned areas, with a winding path leading from one to the other. This helps prompt imaginative role play games. It also makes the play experience much more interesting when the options are slightly concealed in this way rather than having everything fully visible at once.

    #3 Make Pathways Use different flooring materials like decking or cobble stones to create a variety of footpaths throughout the garden. Children love to trot over a bridge, but if you don't have a pond or stream to cross, create one out of flowers.

    #4 Sprinkle With Details Add tiny details to be discovered through play. Turn a tree stump into a fairy house, or hide some magic toadstools for perching on amongst the grass.

    #5 Make A Rubbish Corner Turn a small corner of the garden into nature's junkyard. Loose sticks, stones, pine cones, anything natural that won't rot quickly, will work wonders. This provides materials for imaginative play, and creates a sensory experience through the concentration of different sights, sounds and textures all in one place.

    #6 Choose Wooden Play Equipment A wooden climbing frame is much better suited to a natural playscape than a metal one. The wood will fade gently over time, blending beautifully with the surrounding garden.

    #7 Landscape Around Play Equipment After you've installed your play equipment, make changes to the garden around it to help to blend in. Cutting the surrounding lawn to echo the shape of the frame is a great way to incorporate the equipment into the garden, giving a professional look to the space.

    #8 Move Things About Include items such as tunnels and big boulders that can be easily moved. Children quickly lose interest when over familiar with their surroundings, and may cease to see the many play opportunities their back garden offers them. Help them stay creative by changing the look of the garden a little each season, and adding or removing smaller pieces of play equipment.

    #9 Vertical Spaces Don't forget to utilize vertical spaces. Not everything has to be a ground level. You can add a wall of music making pots and pans, or run lengths of guttering back and forth across the fence for water play.

    With a little imagination, planning and time you can create an inspirational play space that will keep your children occupied for hours.

  • Gardening With Kids: Ideas For March

    March is one of the busiest months for gardeners. Many hands make light work, so get the little ones togged out in wellies and gardening gloves and set them to work with you on this list of March must-dos.

    The daylight is lasting a little longer so some smaller jobs can be done after school rather than waiting until the weekend.

    Weed Control As the weather warms up and the Sun spends more time with his hat on (hip hip hip hooray), the first flora to take advantage will be the weeds. Stay on top of weed control before the blighters take over your flower bed. To help children identify weeds, make a chart with photographs or even actual leaves to look out for. Use a hand trowel to get down under the roots for permanent removal.

    Vegetable Patch If you already have a vegetable patch, now is the time to harvest winter salads, leeks, kale, brussel sprouts and rhubarb. If you are new to growing your own veg, you need to get the patch established this month. Consider a raised bed which will stay warmer over winter months, is easier to dig over, and is less prone to attack from weeds and pests. Carrots, parsnips, broad beans, spinach, lettuce, peas and early potatoes can all the sown now.

    Get Composting March is a good month to establish a compost bin if you don't already have one. After all your weeding and pruning you will have plenty of greenery to fill it with, and by summer you will have access to some lovely soil improver to dig into the earth. Position your composter away from any play equipment, and out of direct sunlight.

    Daffodil Trimming As lovely as they are, daffodils don't last forever, and once they've been battered by the British wind and rain they can start to look really tatty. To keep the bulbs flowering year after year, cut the dead heads off, but allow the leaves to die back naturally. Encourage Wildlife If you have been feeding the birds through the winter they will be very grateful for your kindness, but will also have become quite reliant on your as a food source. As the weather starts to heat up you may think they are ready to be self-sufficient, but they will really benefit from a steady supply of food while they are nesting and nurturing young. If you really want to give mother nature a boost install a nesting box in a quiet area of your garden.

    You can also encourage butterflies and insects by sowing wildlife friendly flower seeds such as verbena or honesty. These will flower in the summer, luring beautiful butterflies into your garden and providing the birds with fresh tasty insects.

    Check Play Equipment While you are out making your garden ship-shape, take a few moments to inspect climbing frames, swings, slides and trampolines. Look for any obvious signs of damage, or loose parts that need fixing, and make sure any safety mats are still in the correct positon. Teach your children what to look out for so they will know to bring any problems to your attention.

  • February Gardening Planting Ideas

    If one of your New Year's Resolutions was to give your garden a bit more TLC, then getting your children involved will be a step in the right direction.

    Sure your garden is a valuable play space, but if you want it to be more than a playground, your children will need to be a part of planting and caring for the flowers or vegetables you want to grow.

    Here are some gardening ideas for February that all the family can contribute to:

    1. Make A Note For The First Signs Of Life Every year when you get a new calendar, you mark out important anniversaries and birthdays. For children these dates help them mark time throughout the year, but can seem a long time apart, and are a little abstract to understand. Use your garden to fill the calender with dates of events for which they will have first hand experience. If it snows, write down when and how much. In February you can also look for the first signs of snowdrops breaking through the soil.

    2. Sow Hardy Vegetables Broad beans, spinach, shallots and early carrots can all be sown outside at this time of year, with some protection against late frosts. Children can help sow seeds, erect protective coverings, and create labels so they don't get forgotten about.

    3. Weeding And Clearing As the weather warms up, any weeds will burst into life, so now is a good time to evict them, long before they take over. Use this opportunity to explain to your children why some plants aren't good for the garden, but that they must only remove plants with your supervision.

    4. Feed The Birds If you aren't doing it already, put some food out for the birds, who will be short on reserves as we reach the end of Winter. Children can make a simple feeder by rolling an empty cardboard tube in peanut butter, then covering with bird seed. Once you start feeding birds in your garden, you need to continue to do so regularly, as they will become reliant on you for food. Take care to hang the feeder away from play equipment to avoid it getting covered in mess.

    5. Check Play Equipment Is Safe To Play On If you haven't done so already, carry out a thorough inspection of your outdoor play equipment. The worst of the winter weather should be over by now, during which your play equipment has ensured high speed gusts and low temperatures. Follow this guide for inspecting play equipment to check it's in a safe condition to be played on.

    6. Clear Debris With the worst of the storms behind us, now is a good time to clear away the sticks and leaves littering the garden. Use the larger sticks stacked in a corner of the garden to create a bug hotel. Some leaves can be incorporated into your new bug home and the rest can be used in a compost heap.

    Tempting though it may be to tackle these jobs alone, in the long run it is better to get the children involved in the garden Learning how to take care of their outdoor play spaces will help them respect the garden, and equip them with life skills they will need in later life.

  • January Planting / Gardening Ideas With Kids

    It's cold, wet and muddy outside, but don't let that stop you enjoying the garden with your children, as there's still plenty to do.

    Here are Wicken Toy's top tips for gardening with the children in January.

    1. Get Digging The ground is very wet now, so if you were planning new flower beds for this year, or wanting to dig out a vegetable patch, now ids a good time to do it.

    2. Make A Mud Pit Anything you can do with sand, can also be done with mud, so instead of trying to keep a sandpit clean and dry, simply dig out a mud bowl and let your children enjoy making mud pies, mud castles, and mud soup. The best part of the day will be coming indoors for a warm bath and a hot chocolate.

    3. Make Bird Feeders Looking after the birds is especially important at this time of year when the cold weather makes it difficult for them to feed themselves, while boosting their daily calorie requirement. There are lots of tutorials online on how to make a bird feeder. The simplest method is to take an empty toilet roll, smother it in peanut butter, and then roll in bird seed. If you have a swing set in the garden, try hanging the food from the top cross rail, where the birds can eat it, but the squirrels will struggle to reach.

    4. Make Plans This is the time of year to plan what flowers or vegetables you would like to plan in the coming year. Make a gardening calender together showing when the seeds need to be planted and the crops harvested.

    5. Plant A Willow Den If you've ever wanted a willow den for your children to play in, January is the time of year to plant it.

    6. Make Believe The view out into the garden can be a desolate one this time of year. Brighten the view by painting pictures of what the garden might look like in the Spring and Summer. Go crazy with vibrant paints and glitter, then put the picture in the window so you can imagine you are looking out on a beautiful landscape.

    7. Get Pruning Obviously don't let your children run riot with sharp tools, but they can help you identify what needs pruning, and with careful supervision, depending on their age, they may help with some cutting. Fruit trees and hardy foliage plants can be pruned in January. After snow or a heavy frost, you should inspect the garden for damage plants. Dead areas need to be removed or else they will attract disease or fungal growth.

    8. Salt Your Path It's a good idea to keep a bag of rock salt to hand, to sprinkle over the path. Be careful as you apply it though, as rock salt can scorch plants and grass. If you do notice the edges of your lawn are discoloured, don't' worry as it will soon grow out. Just be aware that there's no need to treat it for disease as the damage was caused by the salt.

    Your children are more likely to respect and enjoy your garden if they are engaged in its care, so wherever possible break down tasks into child-friendly portions and let them help you out.

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