I am a mature student studying Advanced Practice in working with Children and Families and work part-time in a private day nursery. As part of my portfolio I would like to create a bird feeding station with the children.
I decided to use a metal arch to hang the feeders from and create a shelf for other food. This structure makes an interesting bird table and also fills a gap in the hedge where the conifers are bare.
We would like to grow a climbing plant up the arch to attract butterflies and insect-eating birds. However, we are not sure which plants would be safe to use around very young children. Of course, ours are always supervised, but occasionally accidents do happen and small children are renowned for putting things into their mouths. I would be grateful for some advice.
Sheila Mcgregor, Doncaster, South Yorkshire
Mary Whiting replies:
This sounds delightful, but I wonder why the conifers are bare and what the soil is like in that spot. Hedges use up lots of water and nutrients. One solution is to sink a large tub into the ground, fill with compost and try something edible like runner beans or nasturtiums. They grow quickly from large seeds children can plant, and attract blackfly that ladybirds eat.
Keep well watered. A Russian vine has masses of white, insect-attracting flowers. Plant hyssop by the arch to entice butterflies. Or a rambling rose - Zephirine Drouin is thornless, scented and long-flowering. Its aphids will entice ladybirds and blue tits. Don't forget water for the birds! (See gardening supplement in Nursery World, 5 January 2006).