You don’t need me to tell you that we are living in extraordinary times. We’re all adjusting to a new ‘normal’ currently, cut off from family and friends. Tough and exhausting. I’m at home on my own with three preschoolers during the day. The monotony is trying but in the last couple of months we have not only been seeking more inspiration in the kitchen but also in the garden.
It is no secret I do a lot of cooking with my boys. They were stirring and mixing before they were walking. However as I come from a farming background and a family of very good gardeners I have been encouraged to experiment a little more in our own garden, which we have had for little under a year. As we can’t venture down to my parents farm any time soon, we’ve created our kitchen garden in the south side of Glasgow.
A growing and gardening revolution is taking place throughout the country, on balconies, window sills, pots in porches and even in back lanes of terrace houses. And although we’re not going to be self sufficient the lessons it is teaching myself and my three boys are paramount. Like cooking, gardening is an important life skill that should be harnessed from a very young age. Simply sowing a seed, helps to give children an understanding as to where our food comes from and how it is cultivated. You can’t put a price on that.
This week I should have been heading down to my second home from home, London, to enjoy the 2020 Chelseas Flower Show for the very first time. However suffice to stay I am at home but like those who are lucky enough to have a garden, we are spending a lot of time in our green space. It may not be a Chelsea Gold winning design but the boys and I have have created our own unique escape and sanctuary, allowing them to grow, flourish and learn new things as well as get even more grubby and filthy than ever before. I will never ever have a clean house with three boys. Fact.
We’ve created two beds bursting with bulbs and sees to attract butterflies and bees in the coming months and our four raised beds and up cycled sheep feed containers are home to a host of vegetables including, pumpkins, peas, leeks, onions, garlic, potatoes, rhubarb, cabbage, beetroot, carrots, Swiss chard and much much more.
As cliche as it sounds, watching things grow is not only a distraction from things we can’t control but it also inspiring. Nature and the seasons are still turning and evolving. Bees and butterflies are beginning to appear. New shoots of growth are bursting through the earth. Each morning we inspect the changes over night in the vegetable beds and in that moment we are a million miles away from every other distraction and worry. It is addictive. A positive addiction. Gardening at this time of uncertainty could be compared to a fourth emergency service. Sharpening are green fingers and putting your hands in the earth is not only good for you physically but also emotionally and mentally.
We’re reconnecting with nature, stepping away from our fears and focusing on something other that the 24 hour news cycles, which is all too often overwhelming. Spending 120 minutes in nature each week has shown to have a positive impact on mental well being and I can vouch for that as someone who has suffered from post natal depression and anxiety following the birth of my first and second son and during my third pregnancy.
For children, gardening and growing things provides them with a focus and encourages their curiosity. It allows them to become increasingly independent as they care and look after plants from seedlings and beyond. I wish I could capture and bottle the excitement when Otto and Reuben first spotted the blossom on the apple and pear trees we planted at the start of the year. It was infectious.
We’ve all had to pause and slow down to some extent. However this recharge of our batteries is perhaps something we all need as we spend more time cooking and growing together. Hopefully these new habits we foster will last beyond this period of lockdown.
Beyond planting seeds, there are lots of other fun things to do with children to encourage them into the garden. I have suggested a few ideas below and if you head to the Royal Horticultural Society website, this week to coincide with their Virtual Chelsea Flower Show they will also be sharing ideas to encourage more mini green fingered crusaders. And if you are looking for more recipe ideas to get kids cooking head over to my Instagram page @MrsHelencross, where I am posting daily recipes to help inspire during lock down.
1. Make a bug hotel out of bits of wood, pine cones, leaves, old pot plants and toilet rolls, sticks and bricks. Basically anything you have lying around your garden. Let their imagination run wild and each day inspect for any new arrivals, who may have checked in.
2. Make a hedgehog den in the corner of your garden , from logs and sticks, to provide a shelter. You can leave water and dog food for them too.
3. Get creative and make your own mini garden, whether it’s for fairies, dragons, unicorns or like the one we created, dinosaurs.
4. If you’re handy with a saw and a hammer and have old pallets then a mud kitchen is a must if you have space. Add a few old pots and pans and you’ll be enjoying mud pie, dandelion soup and snail porridge in no time at all. Or make your own make believe camp fire from sticks and stones.
5. Up cycled old wellies, bread bins, and watering cans are great for children to plant things in. Just be sure to make holes in the bottom for drainage. Give them there own one to take responsibility of and they will really surprise you with their commitment. You may even catch them talking to their plants.
6. For the arty using flowers, leaves and sticks as paint brushes is a great way to encourage mark making using nature and you could also try making your own butterfly feeder. Get a glass jar fill with a water sugar solution and make a hole in the lid big enough to slide a sponge through. Decorate the jar and hang upside down. Or if you want to make your own bird feeder scoop the flesh out of an orange, fill with peanut butter and seeds and make two holes on either side so you can tie the orange up.
7. Using food in your house get children to cut pieces of fruit and veg such oranges, apples, peppers and lemons to find the seeds and plant them up in a little pots of compost to put on your windowsill and watch what grows.
8. Finally have a go at making your own watering can out of a plastic milk container. Simply fill with water and make several little holes in the lid.
Today’s recipe, making the most of the very last of the wild garlic with these Wild Garlic & Cheese Scones. These are epic and scones are a great store coupboard basic to get kids to learn to make. Super easy and super tasty. We have so much wild garlic on our doorstep but if you don’t simply add a tsp. Of mustard powder or paprika. 💚
1. Heat the oven to 220c and lighty grease a baking tray.
2.Using your fingers rub together 500g self raising flour, 4tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt & 200g softened unsalted butter, just like your making a crumble topping.
3. Stir in 150g grated cheddar cheese, 2 handfuls of chopped wild garlic and 200ml full fat milk. Mix it all together.
4. Turn the dough on to a floured surface and knead gently. Using your hands pat the dough and flatten it into a round shape about 2cm thick.
5. Using a cutter, cut out scone shapes and pop on your baking tray.
6. Prick the tops using a fork and brush the tops with a little milk and egg mixture. Bake for 12 -14 minutes. They should be well risen and golden in colour. Leave to cool.