Emma Bradshaw: Show & Tell Garden Tour

Emma Bradshaw
Emma Bradshaw
Today, we're going to hop across the pond to the Cotswolds to visit Emma Bradshaw's garden in the UK. Emma writes a charming blog filled with wonderful ideas for sharing nature with children. I'm sure you'll enjoy her beautiful photographs as well as her inspirational approach to gardening with children.


Me and the boys
Tell us a little about your family and your garden.

We live in the UK in a Cotswold village, with a tiny garden and two very active boys, Alfie, 6, and Ted, 4. We treat the garden like it's a room in our house, only laid to grass! It's dominated by a huge tree house, which my husband built around a leaning lilac tree in the corner. He started it when our eldest son was a 6-month-old baby and finished just before his second birthday! The garden is mainly an edible garden, planted with fruit and vegetables, with a few apple trees, a fig tree, a twisted hazel, honeysuckle, and jasmine. We chose mainly native wild flowers to add a splash of color and attract wildlife! We also have a fire pit surrounded by logs to sit on, where we read stories, cook sausages and damper bread, and toast marshmallows. Oh, and a football goal!

Pressing Flowers

What's your gardening background? Did you grow up with a garden?

I grew up with a small garden. My mum was queen of "make do and mend" as she was a single parent, so every year we'd plant vegetables, mainly potatoes, carrots, peas, and tomatoes with flowers in between. I can remember having a small area that was "my garden," which had a gnome, paths made of stones, and an old round plastic bowl for a pond!

What do you think is the best way to involve children in the garden?

I'm a strong believer in letting children play and get dirty, and have encouraged them from when they were babies to discover the garden. They have areas where they're allowed to dig, make mud pies, and look for worms -- it doesn’t matter how dirty they get as long as they strip on the doorstep before coming into the house! We encourage them to help us when we're gardening, even though it makes a task a lot longer, and we may only capture their attention for a few minutes before they find something else to play with, but the pride they get from digging up a potato is just great. They feel so important, like pirates finding treasure!

A watering can is one of the best toys you can buy
Over the years we've bought our children small wheelbarrows, watering cans, gardening gloves, and gardening tools, which we gave them for birthdays. Seeds or small plants make great birthday gifts or party bag alternatives too. I can’t think of a better present for a toddler than a small watering can! We planted a couple of apple trees for each of the boys when they were born. They make great gifts and grow with the child. I urge anyone to plant a native one, even if you think you may move. Whoever lives in your house next will enjoy them, and you'll be leaving a lasting legacy.

The boys with Uncle George, the almost finished scarecrow

Share with us a DIY garden project you've taken on with your children recently and love.

We've just planted seeds for our summer/early autumn vegetables, peas, potatoes, carrots, beans, courgette (zucchini), and pumpkins. We use fresh compost from the bottom of our compost bin and all take turns choosing seed packets of our favorite things to grow. Then we plant in small fiber pots or we make our own newspaper pots to plant our seeds in (using a small glass jar and wrapping paper around it). We keep the seeds on the windowsill until they've started to grow and it's warm enough for them to be transferred into our raised beds outside. This year we're making a scarecrow to stop the birds from eating our seeds (this is more for fun than anything). We've called him "Uncle George." He isn’t finished yet, as it takes us weeks to scour charity shops for the right hats, jacket, and trousers to stuff with straw!

Uncle George, teddy bear eyes, and a moustache

Making plant pots from newspaper

What's on your must-grow list this year?
Always vegetables! This year we're growing some rather fun-looking, round-shaped carrots (parmex variety), peas, beans, pumpkins, courgette, and potatoes. We'll also grow wildflowers, like cornflower, poppies, and oxeye daisies, to attract bees and wildlife into the garden as well as sunflowers and sweet Williams, as I do like a few flowers that I can cut!

What garden blogs or websites inspire you the most?
I love Country Living magazine -- both the magazine and website always feature pretty gardens and have great ideas. Alys Fowler from BBC TV’s Gardeners World has a great new TV series and accompanying book called The Edible Garden. I also like Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's books, blogs, and TV shows. The Guardian Newspapers gardening blog is good, but my favourite is Deb’s over at Carrots and Kids.

Fresh compost from the compost bin

Why do you garden?

We believe passionately about growing our own food to eat and have been campaigning in our village to get an allotment site where we can grow more! Under an old UK law (Small Holdings and Allotment Act 1908), if a group of six people petition their local council for suitable land, they must try to provide one! Unfortunately, due to our village being in a conservation area and quite pretty with listed buildings, where to put the site is very contentious indeed, and two years later, we're still waiting while the battle rages on!

Emma's May To-Do list

Thank you, Emma!

Emma Bradshaw is mum to Alfie age 6 and Ted age 4, and married to Pete. They live in a village in the Cotswolds, England, in a small house with a tiny garden, and large tree house through which grows a lilac tree! Emma is a photographer and marketing manager for a local wildlife conservation charity and dreams of owning an orchard, chickens, and a pond large enough to swim in!

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