Summer has drawn to a close, and the days of picnics, day trips to the beach, and playing in the paddling pool are over. But never fear, the weather may be colder but the season also brings with it some great autumn activities for kids. The falling leaves and abundant nature provide a whole host of fun opportunities. So if you’re stuck for ideas for things to do this half term, check out our list of outdoor autumn activities for children.
Nature Colour Walk
Walks in the Great Outdoors are always a good way of connecting with nature. You can add an extra element of fun by making it a colour walk. How it works is pretty straightforward: you pick one colour, and during the walk your children have to find things that are that colour. If you have a digital camera or a smartphone even better, as you can take photos of those things and look back at them later. If you have more than one child with you perhaps you could add a competitive element and see who can find the most coloured items.
A high tech upgrade from the traditional treasure hunt, geocaching makes for a fantastic family afternoon out. You can get involved by downloading a geocaching app, then follow the instructions on the app and use your smartphone like a compass to find the “treasure”. Most caches have a logbook that you can sign when you find them, however, some of the larger ones contain trinkets- but if you take one, make sure to replace it with something of equal value.
Make the most of the harvest season by going apple picking- a fun activity that you can literally enjoy the fruits of. Never fear if you don’t have an orchard in your garden, there are plenty of pick-your-own apple farms that you can visit to pick your own harvest. These make for a fantastic fun family day out, and most places offer the opportunity to stock up on other vegetables while you’re at it! A quick Google should direct you to the apple farms in your area.
Leaf rubbing is a great way of creating beautiful seasonal artwork. This fun nature craft can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Find a fallen leaf with a good texture, place it on a hard surface, and place a white sheet of paper on top of it. Use a crayon, pastel, or coloured pencil to gently colour over the leaf, and you’ll find you end up “drawing” the leaf onto the paper. You can use a variety of leaves and colours to create a selection of beautiful drawings.
One of the best things about summer is being able to have a barbeque; however autumn doesn’t have to mean the end of outdoor dining. Having a bonfire in the evening can be a great way to get the family together, eat some good food, and have a great time. There is some great food that can be cooked on a bonfire, including the classic marshmallow toasting, but also kebabs, fruit, grilled cheese sandwiches, and hot dogs- but that is by no means an exhaustive list! You can create your own bonfire by digging a shallow pit and surrounding with bricks and stones, but an outdoor fire pit can be a hassle-free way to host a bonfire. Please note: Make sure children are supervised around the fire and it is extinguished properly after use.
There is some great wildlife to see in the autumn months, from flying geese and grey squirrels to conkers and damsons. Take a walk, out in nature, or perhaps just keep your eyes peeled in your back garden and see which wonderful creatures and plants you can spot! Sites such as Wildlife Watch provide wildlife spotting sheets that you can pin to your fridge and tick off things as you see them over the course of the season. Perhaps you could have a separate sheet for each family member and make it a contest!
When I was tiny, every year my grandparents would take us into the garden to plant sunflowers. They were (and still are) prolific gardeners, with stunning beds and borders and a huge vegetable patch at the side of the house. As soon as the signs of spring began, they would be outside, preparing the garden for that year’s flowers. Sadly, their green fingers were not genetic, and I didn’t inherit their gardening skills (proven by my garden full of weeds and flowers which, despite my best efforts, are half-dead). What I did inherit, though, was a love for the colourful and an appreciation for sunflowers.
When you’re five, no one grows better or bigger sunflowers than your grandparents. I remember the huge stalks and wide heads, almost big enough to block out the sun, towering over me as I posed for a photo in the garden. Even perched on my grandad’s shoulders, I was still shorter than the giant flowers.
Today, my love for sunflowers has only grown. Every year my mother receives a bunch of sunflowers for mother’s day and I’ve even got a miniature sunflower tattooed on my ankle. When I received a packet of sunflower seeds in the post, along with a note written in my Nana’s handwriting, I was excited to plant some of my own and terrified that I’d accidentally kill them.
It was at that point that I realised, despite planting sunflowers with my grandparents and doing it umpteen times at nursery and school, that I had no idea how to grow sunflowers. So I took to Google to figure it out. While I discovered how to grow sunflowers (included at the end of this post), I also learnt that the sunflower had a vibrant history which I’d never known before.
The History of the Sunflower
Sunflowers aren’t just beautiful, they’re also incredibly useful, which made them a prevailing feature of many ancient cultures. The sunflower was one of the earliest domesticated plants and was farmed for food extensively by Native American Indians in the USA and the Aztec people in Mexico. It wasn’t just the seeds that early people wanted – the oil that the seeds produced was used to make bread as well as nourish hair and skin. Sunflowers were also used to dye fabric, skin and objects shades of blue and purple. Some cultures used sunflowers for medicinal purposes and the even leftover stalks could be dried and used as a building material.
Sunflowers played a hugely important role in these societies and many ancient Mexican people worshiped these flowers and the large, vibrant heads were often used in ceremonies as headdresses. In some places, sunflowers made their way to temples and other places of worship and were often referred to as “shield flower” thanks to their resemblance to an Aztec shield. Sunflower seeds (or achenes) were found in an archaeological site in San Andrés, Mexico, which dated back to earlier than 2600 BC, showing just how popular and abiding these flowers are.
The sunflower made its way to Europe after being discovered by Spanish Explorers in the 1500s, where it became prevalent thanks to its use as an ornamental plant and the oil that could be squeezed from the seeds. It had an explosion in popularity when Russian Tsar Peter the Great came across sunflowers in Holland and was instantly enamoured, bringing them back to Russia. They soon became far more than ornamental when sunflower oil was not included in the lists of food that the Russian Orthodox Church had banned during Lent. This meant that the sunflower took Russian society by storm, and by the 19th Century there were over 2 million acres of sunflowers being grown in Russia alone.
This boom in sunflower demand led to an increase in breeding and research into how to create the sunflowers with the highest yields of oil and seeds. Real sunflower cultivation began, with farmers and breeders racing to create the biggest and best specimens. At this stage, the sunflower (typically the ‘Mammoth Russian’ variety) made its way back to the USA with Russian immigrants in the late 1800s. For many years, sunflowers failed to find the same popularity in the US that they had once had and were largely ornamental – or used as chicken feed. It wasn’t until the 1920s that the US market realised just how profitable growing sunflowers could be, and the market flourished.
The need for high-yield, cost effective crops led to increased experimentation and hybridisation across the globe. During The Spanish Civil War and later, World War II, European demand for sunflower oil skyrocketed due to the shortage of olive oil. In the 70s, consumption increased as people began to become concerned about the amount of cholesterol in their diet. Today, sunflower products are still a key component of modern diets around the world.
Sunflowers are used all over the world, and are one of the most popular ornamental blooms. Their large, brightly coloured heads have inspired myths, art and stories all around the globe. The ancient Greeks told a myth of the water nymph named Clytie who was so enamoured with the Sun god Helios (or Apollo, in some stories) that she gazed up at him when he passed across the sky in his chariot, neither eating or drinking, until she was transformed into a sunflower. Some tell that Clytie simply wilted away into the flower, while others say that Helios cursed her as punishment or that the rest of the gods transformed her through pity.
Folklore states that sunflowers turn to follow the path of the sun through the sky, but this isn’t strictly speaking true. While sunflower buds do follow the sun (known as heliotropism), once the plant has bloomed this stops. This idea, plus the bright yellow blooms, give the sunflower its name – Helianthus Annuus (literally, sun flower).
In floriography (the language of flowers), Sunflowers have a huge variety of meanings. In some cases, they reflect pride or even “haughtiness” but others use them as symbols of dedication. In China, sunflowers are lucky and are associated with health and vitality. During the cold war, sunflowers became a symbol of peace, and protesters known as The Missouri Peace Planters broke into ten nuclear silos and planted sunflowers to encourage nuclear disarmament.
The most famous sunflowers of all are probably found in Vincent Van Gogh’s series of paintings between 1887 and 1889. These brightly coloured pieces, often heavily featuring blue and yellow, are some of the artist’s most beloved paintings and are popular all over the world. In 1987, one of the paintings was purchased for a staggering $39,921,750 – a record breaking amount at the time. Van Gogh described his relationship with the flowers best himself – “I have the sunflower, in a way.”
So, then, how can you grow some of these famous flowers in your own garden?
How to Plant Sunflowers
Sunflower seeds can be sowed directly into the ground once the threat of sudden spring frosts has passed, between mid-April and the end of May. Alternatively, you can plant them in 3” plastic plant pots indoors and transfer them outside once the weather warms up.
Choose where you’re going to grow your sunflowers. It’s important that sunflowers have enough shelter to grow as strong winds can knock them down! Near a wall or fence is best.
Make sure the soil is ready by removing weeds, stones and garden debris using a trowel or hand fork.
Rake the soil and make drills (holes) no more than an inch deep for the seeds. Sunflowers need plenty of room to grow, so make sure you plant them around 10cm apart.
Gently place your seeds, one per drill, into the ground and cover them with soil. Give them a gentle watering.
Once seedlings have emerged, you can protect them from slugs other garden creepy crawlies by cutting the top off of a plastic bottle and placing it over them, like a homemade cloche.
As your sunflowers grow, they can become crowded. Remove the weaker flowers, leaving the strong seedlings around 45cm apart.
Once your sunflowers grow tall, you need to support them stem to stop it from toppling over. Insert a bamboo cane into the soil next to your sunflower and loosely tie the stem to the cane using string.
And that’s it! Watch in wonder as your sunflowers grow. You can race to see who can grow the tallest sunflower.
At the end of the season, the fun continues as you can harvest your own sunflower seeds! You can either wait until the seeds are fully ripened and simply rub the seeds from the head, blowing away the chaff, or harvest earlier and store the head in a paper bag in a warm place to dry. Once your seeds have dried, you can store them in a sealed, airtight container. Seeds stored in a fridge or freezer can last for a year, and those stored in a cupboard or pantry last a few months.
Growing sunflowers is, thankfully, pretty easy. These gorgeous flowers really bring colour to beds and borders and are a great way to encourage children to go outside and get messy in the garden. For the more adventurous, you can even build structures like dens and walls out of sunflowers! For me, I think I’ll be happy planting a row of sunflowers next to my fence where I can see them from my conservatory.
If you’ve planted your own sunflowers this season, send us your photos so we can see who’s managed to grow the biggest bloom!
Lotti works with the Primrose Product Loading team, creating product descriptions and newsletter headers.
When not writing, Lotti enjoys watching (and over-analyzing) indie movies with a pint from the local craft brewery or cosplaying at London Comic Con.
Lotti is learning to roller skate, with limited success.
Whether working on a small patch in your backyard or an acre of land, growing plants is an exciting and rewarding exercise. Gardening is a noble way to spend your free time and relax in nature. If you can follow the rules and do it right, you will reap a bountiful harvest of homegrown fruits and vegetables. Growing plants in your garden has numerous advantages. For the purpose of this article, we shall delve into the health benefits associated with gardening.
1. Better nutrition
Gardening calls for good farming practices such as using organic fertilisers to grow vegetables, as opposed to the genetically modified way of agriculture. With gardening, you get to consume a healthy serving of vegetables and fruits harvested at their peaks. If your kids tend to push around food on their plate, encourage them to partake in the growing exercise. Active participation right from planting through the harvesting stage is likely to change their perception of these foods for the better. Before long, your little ones will opt for a healthy vegetable sandwich to a greasy burger for Sunday lunch.
2. A moment to chill
The pressures of modern day living have led us to be accustomed to never-ending stress that threatens our overall well-being. If your job is very demanding, you often spend long hours chained to your desk with hardly a moment to breathe. You may want to squeeze in a few minutes at dusk or dawn to commune with nature. Plants have potent properties that relieve stress and even alleviate particular pains such as headaches. These soothing and healing properties qualify some plants for aromatherapy though their essential oils.
3. Vitamin D
Since tending the garden means spending a couple of hours in the sun, you get a healthy dose of vitamin D. This vitamin helps to fight certain cancers and stave off heart diseases. The result? People who do gardening on a regular basis enjoy better health and a prolonged lifespan.
4. Regular exercise
If you are not fond of signing up for expensive gym classes across town, do not fret. Gardening gives you a chance to flex those muscles while digging, lifting plants, pruning shrubs, etc. Spending a couple of hours in the week gardening is more feasible and fun than jogging for miles every other week. If you can combine gardening and other forms of exercise, perfect for you!
5. Save a pretty penny
Ardent gardeners provide fresh fruit and vegetables right at your doorstep without having to go for a grocery run. Compare the different prices of similar fruits and vegetables at your local supermarket; you will be amazed at how much you are saving. If you have a big family, consider expanding your gardening skills beyond aesthetically pleasing plants to subsistence farming of food crops.
6. Save the planet
Planting trees and vegetation is good for the environment in numerous ways. Trees hold the soil together thereby preventing soil erosion, they purify the air and keep it fresh. As countries become more and more industrialised, greed has led to massive deforestation of rainforests thus disrupting the ecosystem. We see the effects of these illegal activities in declining rainfall patterns, migration of wild animals from their natural habitat and the encroachment of modernity into natural reserves. These are costly mistakes driven by corporate and political greed, and future generations stand to pay a hefty price for them. If you choose to plant trees, you need a brush cutter to keep them well maintained. Visit your local garden store and ask for advice on how to choose the best brush cutter. Planting trees in the garden is a step in the right direction as we work towards righting a few wrongs.
7. Involve the kids
What sort of after school activities do your children follow? If your answer includes playing video games, surfing the internet or watching television, you may want to reconsider this plan. Instead of heading off to the garden alone, why not bring the kids along? Brace yourself for long faces and downright protest, but eventually, they will come around. Involving your children in gardening takes their focus away from the burden of technology and gets them playing with the dirt. A little lesson about the environment will go a long way in the classroom, and it may nurture an interest in nature from a young stage.
8. Sense of community
Gardening provides a chance to interact with fellow gardeners at community events such as the local trade fair. Spending time with people in the same field presents an excellent networking opportunity for gardeners to exchange information. These social interactions foster a sense of community which boosts our mental and emotional health.
Gardening comes with a myriad of benefits that boost our emotional, mental and physical health. Selecting the right farming equipment is a pre-requisite for great results. Gardening experts will advise on how to choose the best brush cutter and other tools that you will need.
Amelia Robinson is a lover of plants and gardens, as well as an educator on this topic. It’s her goal to make sure that you get the chance to learn what you need to about gardening to succeed with your own home garden at the blog RobinsonLovePlants.com. You’re not going to find just a collection of basic articles about gardening here. Instead, she wants to answer the difficult questions for you.
Growing up, my first exposure to gardening was planting sunflower seeds in my grandparent’s back garden and watching them grow taller than me! I used to love getting my hands dirty and playing in the muck of the garden, but it seems a lot of children today would prefer to do the opposite.
Follow these steps to get the kids back into the garden and appreciating the outdoor elements.
1) Plant exciting flowers or varieties Flowers which don’t require a lot of work or maintenance, such as sunflowers or marigolds are a great starting point for children. Sunflowers grow really tall, which I remember fascinated me. Sensory plants such as Stachys Byzantina (Lamb’s Ears) or Mentha Spicata (Spearmint) will also excite young ones. You can’t go too wrong with seed based plants due to their ease.
2) Use grown vegetables for dinner Do you have fussy eater in your household? If so, get them involved with the growing of fresh fruit and vegetables. Carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, the possibilities are endless. It will be rewarding when you sit down for tea and eat all of your hard work too.
3) Decorate plant pots You can easily get some plain pots, which are cheap enough to paint and decorate. This combines creativity with gardening, and then allows for potting and planting afterwards.
4) Build a wormery Most children are fascinated by worms, and why wouldn’t they be? Worms are wonderful little creatures so support their habitation by building a wormery. Simply fill a glass jar or box with moist soil, sand, vegetable peelings, vegetation and leaves, and some worms. You can then look at how they behave, how they move and how they look.
5) Create a treasure hunt Children love a treasure hunt, so hide some goodies (perhaps chocolate if you’re feeling generous) in your garden, ensuring they’re hidden well! Bury underneath bushes or hide up trees, and promote the idea of getting mucky and stuck in. It doesn’t matter if your garden is small (or you have no garden), you can go to the park or some wooded area and do this too.
Show us how they get on, and send in any pictures or stories, especially of worms! If your photo contains a Primrose product and we feature it on site, you will also get a £5 voucher!
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We recently had photos sent in from one customer who is helping to educate future gardeners using one of our New Leaf polytunnels!
Amie is a marketing enthusiast, having worked at Primrose since graduating from Reading University in 2014.
She enjoys all things sport. A keen football fan, Amie follows Tottenham Hotspur FC, and regularly plays for her local 5 a side football team.