School holiday cabin fever? It’s a fact of life that kids need nature and we all need more outdoor time.
February is snowdrop time so why not take the children to visit a garden with a snowdrop walk or snowdrop trail this half term? There’s nothing more spring-like than walking amongst the tiny dancing lanterns of thousands of snowdrops carpeting a peaceful woodland floor.
Food for the senses, soul and spirit.
Snowdrops for the Soul
Our local garden in Northumberland, Howick Hall, has a stunning woodland snowdrop trail at this time of year and, to engage mini wildlings even more, there are secret yellow snowdrops to search for! We’re not giving any clues though!
You can also pick up seasonal family explorer challenge sheets at reception or download online, including nature trails, woodland Olympics, scavenger hunts, wildlife spotting and measuring giant trees.
A captivating new sensory garden is also open and we found some challenging tree climbing for the intrepid wild one to master – just don’t let your little monkeys loose in the arboretum trees!
The last time we visited, Caroline was still having chemo and radiotherapy for her cancer, and Wild Gump (my Dad) had severely torn a muscle and was unable to walk without a wheelchair. (The adult lesson here is to do with reaching age 74 while feeling 24 and playing tennis with far younger men without warming up…! However, inspiring outdoor activity into your 70s is pretty impressive!!)
The indomitable Caroline heroically pushed him around but for some reason I can’t find the photo.
Our visit this year, again with the Wild Grandparents, now fully mobile(!), was on a chilly, grey day (so there are no sunny, back-lit, arty snowdrop photos!) but we did have a lovely time.
The ever faithful Otto also found some friends in the woods, hidden in leaves so as not to squash any snowdrops! He’s written lots about Caroline’s cancer if you’re interested.
Coastal Gardening Challenges
Howick Hall Gardens are close to the coast in the Northumberland Coast AONB and make for a somewhat challenging garden to maintain in terms of climate, salty air and windswept location. Many volunteers as well as paid gardeners help throughout the year and the grounds offer something different throughout the seasons, with the snowdrops followed by daffodils, tulips, rhododendrons and stunning woodland scenery all round.
As well as the snowdrop swathes, I particularly liked a boggy, dead flowerbed overlooking the house where some giant plants, presumably Gunnera or something similar, had died back during the winter.
On the face of it a dismal and dreary scene but it actually had a stark, architectural beauty against the delicacy of the snowdrops. I was reminded of empty war trenches in the aftermath of a battle. Evocative, unusual but somehow pleasing to the eye!
There are also some rather well educated rabbits and hares at Howick…
Howick Hall Sensory Garden
This has opened since our last visit and we were extremely impressed with the location of the site, the beauty of the flowerbeds, plantings and sensory additions as well as the shelter and warmth provided by it’s position next to the huge walled garden.
The sensory garden was created in 2018 with the North Northumberland Branch of the National Autistic Society and funding from the National Garden Scheme. Though none of our family are autistic we spent a long, relaxing time in the tranquil space. Well worth a visit.
Walking with Children
The gardens include several miles of walks including the ‘Long Walk’ down to a private beach on the coast, an arboretum, a 12th century church, a pond and separate bog garden, picnic areas, an extensive car park, a fabulous new visitor centre with access to two beautiful rooms in the house, and a cafe.
This is us adventuring on the Long Walk in 2016! You don’t have to cross the water to get to the beach.
Full Moon Night Walk!
We love walking with children, and my favourite story about the first Earl is that he home schooled all of his 16 (I think!) children and to ensure they weren’t afraid of the dark (though this could easily have backfired) on the July full moon of their 10th birthday he made them walk at night from the house to the beach to pick a particular flower on the cliffs!
A brilliant walking adventure for all outdoor kids which we plan to emulate this summer, since Caroline is now 10!! Who’s joining us?
The Earl Grey Tea House
We finished our visit in the delightful cafe overlooking the rear garden where you can enjoy light lunches, snacks, cream teas and sample Earl Grey Tea in the location it was invented. Apparently the water in the area tasted so unpleasant in years gone by the 2nd Earl Grey invited a Chinese mandarin to improve the flavour. The recipe included added bergamot and the rest is history!
Stormy Summer sky over the Earl Grey tea room
There are lots of local goodies on sale too (puffins abound) and a fab old dolls house that supervised children can play with.
Top tip – sit by a window and watch birds galore and red squirrels (if you’re lucky) getting stuck into peanuts on the bird feeders positioned just outside the windows.
Howick Hall Gardens Visitor Information
As of 2020 the gardens are open 10.30 am to 4pm/5pm/6pm (season dependant) between early February & mid November.
No dogs are allowed in the grounds except assistance dogs.
Over 60s £7.70
Season Tickets – single £32, double £55
For more information visit Howick Hall Gardens online
More Family Garden Visits
At the other end of the country in deepest Cornwall is the enchanting Tanglewood Wild Garden, a fantastic day’s mooching in nature for families and children. Look out for the skeletons, giant spiders webs and whales though…
Inspiration for Kids Gardening & Outdoor Time
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Wild wishes, snowdrop seekers!