Most years, July is a month of two halves. The first part is super busy with summer fetes, sports days, parties, end of school year shows and end of term Muddy Boots sessions. The second half is a wonderful pause as the summer holiday begins and we rest at home or head off on our family camping holiday. This year will be different.

My three children have not returned to school, I am still not able to run my outdoor education sessions and we have just today (June 30th) been locked down here in Leicester again for a minimum of two weeks. So who knows what the next few weeks will hold? Probably more of the same really. Lots of slow time at home, moments of joy and moments of quiet despair. We have settled into the slow rhythmn of homeschooling and homeworking now. Some days are still hard and i’m sure there are difficult decisions on the horizon. But for July and August I’m going to try to be in fully present the moment, not worry about the past or try to forsee the future.

What are your plans for this summer? How can we make sure we have an enjoyable time without the normal perks of summer? How are you feeling about life now as the rest of county emerges little by little from lockdown and us in Leicester re-enter it?

This month’s post suggests ways you can make a positive difference to your local wild spaces by picking up litter. A mindful, calming ‘tiny collections’ activity is suggested that is suitable for all the family. I’ve been busy harvesting summer treasts from my garden and making collages inspired by my houseplants. We will be investigating the permaculture principle of ‘Use edges and value the marginal’ and I’ll be suggesting some more nature inspired books to read.

Notice the details, the scents, the textures and the colours of nature all around you.

Go on a nature walk – Make a positive impact – Litter pick

Parks and fields that are usually deserted apart from a few dog walkers are current heaving with people socialising in small groups. It is lovely seeing so many people using and appreciating their local wild areas. I think we are all feeling a deeper connection with the natural environment at the moment. We have been so limited by what is available to us in terms of leisure activities, there are no gyms, pubs, clubs or restaurants open at the time of writing. Instead, everyone seems to be keeping busy with running, walking and picnicing in their local wild spaces. That is fabulous in so many ways, we will all be healthier, more relaxed and more nature-connected as a result. However, there is a shadow side too and that is all the litter that is being left behind.

It does upset me to see the mess appearing in the wild spaces near where I live. It amazes me that some people don’t pick up after themselves, the selfishness is shocking and so thoughtless. It would be easy to blame the teenagers, finally released from their Corona captivity and meeting in groups now in our parks and fields. But it’s not just them.

Rather than getting annoyed and looking for someone to blame, I suggest we try to make a positive difference. If we all picked up a few pieces of litter on our daily walks, then a huge change could be made for very little effort. Or maybe you’d prefer to head out fully prepared with gloves, a litter grabber and a bin bag and fill your bag at one particular site you visit on your walk. Nature, wildlife and other people will thank you!

Just remember to be safe and consider the corona virus risks too. Always use gloves, don’t touch tissues or drinks bottles unless you have a grabber and then dispose of your collected rubbish safely. Remember that glass bottles pose a particular risk during hot dry summer days as they can start fires due to reflected sunlight. So try to collect these safely as a priority if you can.

Keep using, valuing and protecting wild spaces near you.

Try a forest school activity – Collect tiny beautiful things.

In my experience, children love tiny things and they love to make collections, so put these two schemas together and you have a great activity! By asking children to look for tiny things, you help them to focus in on details. Finding small things in nature on a scale that they can understand, recogise and physically control is really rewarding for them.

I’ve collected ice cube trays to use for this activity. They have the ideal layout with lots of tiny square spaces giving kids a clear visual of a size of object needed. There is also something about the repetition of shape in this layout that is really pleasing to the artist in me.

Tiny collections in ice cube trays.
A tiny collection in a small wooden dish

Extension ideas

  1. Talk about what items have been collected, what they are, where were they found and why they were chosen?
  2. Focus on collecting just one colour, one shape or one type of object.
  3. Try different pots, cups, trays or containers to collect in and see what difference this makes to what your child is drawn to collect.
  4. What could you do with your tiny objects once you have collected them? Could you make a collage, a card, a piece of land art or play with them in a mud kitchen, sandpit or water tray?

Get creative – Make a collage

One art activity my children and I have enjoyed during lockdown is collage. All you need are old magazine, newspapers or colured paper, scissors, glue and your ideas!

You can make your collages as simple or complex as you like. Maybe discuss your ideas together and pick a theme to work on together. Our theme was houseplants and we had great fun trying to make images that looked like our favourite houseplants or inventing new ones.

My houseplant collage

Gardening activity- Harvest some summer treats!

This month’s gardening suggestion is a simple one, get harvesting! Strangly it is a stage of the growing cycle that can often be overlooked. I’m guilty of over sowing lettuce and leaving it to bolt or forgetting to harvest my runner beans untill they have grown so big and tough no one would want to eat them. After you’ve put in all the hard work sowing, planting out, weeding and watering, make sure you reap the rewards and harvest your goodies.

I wonder if the local fruit farms will be open this summer? I love the July tradition of visiting the ‘pick your own’ fruit farms and returning home with punnets of strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries. I’ve got a few fruit bushes in my garden, but my kids are foraging the berries faster than I even notice they have ripened.

My cherry tree is doing so well this year. We planted it about 8 years ago and it is finally providing us with fruit. It grows above our outdoor table. There is nothing quite like a sun warmed cherry picked straight from the tree for pudding!

Fresh cherries from the garden!

There is much joy to be found in a simple posy of flowers cut from your garden, so don’t neglect to bring some of your garden beauty inside this month. Sweetpeas in particular really benefit from regular picking. If you can stop seedheads from forming by regularly deadheading or picking flowers, then you will prolonge the blooming period in your garden.

Picking peas and eating them fresh from the pods
Sweetpeas will be in full bloom. The more flowers you pick, the more they will grow! Enjoy their beautiful scent.

Ideas for books to read

I have recommended two more of my favourite children’s books for you this month. Bog baby and Above and below, these are informative and beautiful books, both with strong nature-based educational messages.

Bog baby, a moving story about two little girls who find a ‘bog baby’ and care for it beautifully. Great for teaching children to be kind to all living creatures
A beautifully illustrated and informative lift the flap book about different natural environments, such as the river, woodland and clifftop and the creatures who live there. I also think this book ties in really well to the permaculture principle about edges of ecosystems detailed below.

A Permaculture principle to reflect on for July – Use edges and value the marginal.

You may remember that permaculture has 12 guiding principles, designed by David Holmgren. These principles can be useful to refer to, to help you design all kinds of aspects of your life and ensure your designs are ethical and sustainable. You can see a full list of these principles on the permaculture association website

The principle i’d like to introduce you to this month is ‘use edges and value the marginal’ I like this principle, it is about looking at the edges, in terms of the edges of an ecosystem or edges in your life. It makes you consider how to utilise the richness in the edges for its best effect. For example, The place where two ecosystems meet is a place rich in life and possibilities. Consider the seashore, the edge of a wood or the margins of a pond. In these areas, one type of environment meets another and provides a bountiful ecosystem that provides more niches for life than either of the environments do singularly. 

Edges are exciting and active places and if we can learn how to use this for our own benefits, it can have great affects, both in the garden and in our lives.

On days when I am short of time, I like to concentrate my efforts in the garden on the edges of beds next to paths that I walk along most often. I have planted a diversity of crops on these edges. I like to plant wild strawberries, calendula, lavender, mint and lemonbalm near the edges of my vegetable beds. These are plants and herbs that I like to brush past, touch and smell or admire.

I find edges very beautiful. There is something very artistic about the joining or dividing of one area and another that is pleasing to the eye. I love to notice and take photographs of edges, looking at lines of textures and colour meeting and blending with others.
A beautiful edge, where the grass and road meet. Captured and framed like this, it reminds me a little of a Mark Rothko painting.

During July I want to think about and make the best use of the edges in my life. Three aspects spring to mind;

1. The edges of my days and how to use these effectively to fulfill my personal goals. I want to find just a few minutes each morning for some yoga, meditation or exercise. I want to use the hour after my children have gone to bed to catch up on work, read, spend quality time with my OH or spend time outdoors in the garden enjoying the light summer evenings.

2. The edges of my comfort zone. I think you can learn a lot about yourself when pushed to the edge of your comfort zone. I have recently been pushed to this edge and found it a very difficult experience. I think it’s good to keep pushing but not topple over that edge! I have learnt more about myself, my future aspirations, desires and priorities by being at the edge of where I feel comfortable.

3. The edge between myself and others. Having my three kids and my husband at home 24/7, I rarely have a moment to myself. I sometimes find that difficult. So I want to try to explore a way of everyone getting what they need from these family relationships, including myself. It’s also been interesting connecting with friends in new and different ways during lockdown. So this is a new edge I’ve been exploring with screen or phonecall based friendships taking the place of face to face meet ups.

Another beautiful edge, I hope you start noticing these now too.

Best wishes Emily x