Gardening: DIY projects for all

by Jane Perrone

I am the least “handy” person on earth. I am rubbish with a saw: I can just about bang in a nail. My garden mission this year is to try to find outdoor craft/DIY projects that even I, with my so-so-limited skills, can manage. Here’s a trio of ideas to try: they’re all totally suitable for children to try, too.

Paint your own plant labels

I am not a fan of plastic plant labels: the writing fades, they blow away in the wind and generally look miserable and cheap. Instead, harness your artistic talents by making your own unique plant labels from stones. Track down that bucket of flat, smooth stones you brought back from your last trip to the beach, or find some in the garden.Use a permanent Sharpie marker pen or some leftover paint to write the name of the plant, along with any decorations you desire. Once dry, spray on some clear polyurethane sealant to waterproof your stones against the elements. Even I, with artistic talent of zero, managed to make a passably pretty label: kids and adults alike can have a stab at this. (And yes, I did pick a blue and white colour scheme in honour of my Luton Town-loving other half.)

Make an insect hotel

I have a big expanse of brick wall that I want to decorate this year, while providing a habitat for insects at the same time. There’s no soil below, so I can’t grow climbers up it. I could spend a fortune buying readymade insect hotels to dot about the space, but inspiration struck at a recent visit to the Garden Organic gardens at Ryton, near Coventry. Green wire hanging baskets had been repurposed by stuffing them full of pine cones, bamboo sticks and straw: the perfect habitat for any number of invertebrates, including lacewings, ladybirds and mason bees. You can buy one of these baskets for under a fiver: just remove the chains, stuff the insides with whatever you can find: pine cones, bark, corrugated cardboard, and sticks. Hold it all in by wiring some chicken wire or fruit netting to the back, then hang it on a couple of nails or a hook on an east or west facing wall or fence.

Hang a stagshorn fern

I am not much keen on the “retro” trend for stags heads – real or fake – on walls. But give me a stagshorn fern (that’s Platycerium bifurcatum, Latin fans) and I’ll bite your hand off. When you buy this plant (I got mine from Frosts in Willington) it will probably come in a pot, but it’s an epiphyte (aka tree dweller) so it doesn’t need any depth of soil: these members of the fern family will do well attached to a plaque of some kind. Back in the 70s and 80s, you’d see these plants hung from bits of cork, but mine is hung on a tile that looks like slate but is actually made of recycled coffee cups: a square of wood or a real slate would work just as well.

Take the fern out of its pot, shake away any excess soil until you are left with the root ball attached to the plant. Wrap that in sphagnum moss until the whole thing is covered, and use fishing wire or thin florists’ wire to anchor the root ball to its backplate, wrapping around the root ball several times to secure it in place. Hang it somewhere out of direct sunlight, and mist regularly if the air is moist. These plants are dead easy to care for: they just need a weekly dunking in a bucket of rainwater for about half an hour: let them drain, then rehang. Once the risk of frost is over you can hang them outside in a sheltered spot without direct sunlight, but bring them inside come mid September for the winter.

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