Potager Garden: Stream watching, borrowed hats and precious food

We continue adapting to this new, quiet time in our lives. I am noticing little changes. Food, for example, is suddenly becoming very important due to the shortages. We seem to talk about it a lot more than normal. Our autistic sons have very restrictive diets, therefore we are saving all of the plain items we know they will eat just for them. I am also trying to disguise other foods creatively to tempt them into eating more protein, as we cannot buy enough vegetarian substitutes in the shops at the moment. Courgette fritters worked well – gobbled up before they knew they were not potato rosti. Hummus disguised as butter was viewed with suspicion and then handed back to me with knowing looks.

My ten year old son (on the left) is enjoying the peaceful garden and has taken a great interest in the stream lately. He can spend over an hour watching the water flow under the wooden bridge, rearranging the pebbles and floating tiny leaf boats. His autism often causes me to forget that there is only eighteen months in age between him and my next eldest son and it is when they spend companionable time together like this that their similar heights make it very apparent.

Our little daughter is completely unaware of any difference in the pace of life. This is her first spring outside of babyhood, to her this is what the season is – the tranquility of birdsong as the plants she has grown to know so well burst into new life. She is amazed at leaves emerging from shrubs she knew only as twigs, pointing them out to me, hopping up and down. Look, look! Who knew they were magic?

She has taken to wearing a flatcap that belongs to her youngest brother. He in turn picked it from an outdoor shop because it matched his dad’s walking cap. Our youngest son likes to look like other family members, feeling secure in wearing what is familiar. He prefers hand-me-downs to new clothes.

One of my long term aims with the garden is to create a miniature woodland, especially sized for children. The evergreens will be cropped and kept small, to look like old gnarled oaks. My daughter is already enjoying this little area that has “trees” her size. She is starting to play hide and seek with us, and is just about able to stay hidden now without giggling and giving herself away.

There is a slight camber in the path here, which was designed to make the track exciting for the boys’ scooters as they sail around the “roundabout” section. My daughter goes very carefully – although I can barely detect the lean as I walk around the route, it must feel much more so to her, being so small.

I have been working on raised bed number three. I’m trying my luck with beetroots for the first time, and cabbages grown from seed. I usually use plugs for the brassicas, but deliveries are in short supply. The garlic and the strawberries I feel at home with, these always seem to thrive. I’ve also planted some sunflower seeds and nasturtiums, as I love to have an orange hue to the garden as autumn approaches.

I have removed the older, damaged leaves from the strawberry plants, detached any runners and planted them in their own space.

Our neighbour’s apple trees have come into blossom, which gives a lovely screen of privacy again. Hopefully it will not be too long before the bamboo provides this all year round.

In the late evening, when the children are asleep, I spend a contented hour writing up the garden plans and making note of when everything was planted.

Next, before bed, I will go through all of the salad and fresh food, see what is coming close to being overripe and decide what to make with it for the seven of us tomorrow. I always knew that healthy meals were important – but now they feel precious.

Keep safe and well everyone. With heartfelt thanks to all those who are working to keep us safe, especially those on the frontline in the NHS and hospitals around the world.

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Potager Garden: Seedlings, hidden veggies and finding a calm, centred place

I found an old camping table in the garage that looked like the perfect size for our youngest gardener. She was delighted and immediately set up a shop and started attempting to sell my pots onto her older siblings.

Our second son has been watching his seedlings grow on the windowsill. Every morning he eagerly opens the kitchen blinds up so that they get plenty of light. The micro greens are not too far away from being ready now.

The potatoes are chitting happily in the early spring sunshine. From far away tiny bumps are becoming visible, but close-up there are leaves and nodules to marvel at. We are learning about botanical drawings as one of our homeschool projects, and next week I plan to give the children magnifying glasses and watercolour paints so that they can draw them.

Our children have very different approaches to gardening. Our fourth son has sensory autism and does not like to get compost on his hands. He is cautious with the tools and uses two together, to carefully lift the soil into the pot.

It is brilliant when I can give him a practical task that takes all of his attention because he can then hear me talking to him, without all of the thousands of thoughts that rush through his mind getting in the way. He is able to fetch me the red pot when I ask, and then, when I make another request of him, he takes it over to the table. Perfect. It shows me that he does understand the words I say, and it is about patience and helping him to find a calm centred place.

Our daughter has long given up on using my improvised potting table. The compost is far too inviting and the tiny indoor gardening trowel I have given her does take an awful lot of time. She simply climbs in and uses her hands.

I have lately been working on improving the palette of our two youngest sons, who, if given the choice, would eat a very limited selection of foods and both instinctively shun the taste of vegetables. After many years of negotiation I have convinced them that cheese on toast is “pizza” … and I have since managed to sneak chopped onions and pureed veg into my homemade tomato sauce. Today I added butter-sauteed leeks into the cheese mix and was delighted when they cleaned their plates. Another vegetable conquered!

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