Garden Update: Building a Mud Kitchen

As long time followers of this blog will know, we’ve been trying to improve our garden space, which is challenging because a) we rent, b) we are broke and c) the space is tiny.

But we have finally made some progress! Ages and ages ago, I picked up a pile of miscellaneous wood that someone was offering on freecycle. It’s been sitting in our hallway for about two months, waiting for a dry day when both Mr Techno and I were home.

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Such a day finally arrived last Wednesday. So we took stock of what we had and drew up a plan.

To be honest, the materials weren’t completely ideal. But we selected a thick panel of mdf, a similarly sized one of chipboard and a scaffold plank.

Step one was cutting the chipboard to the same size as the mdf with our jig saw. I started out doing the cutting, but we swapped when we remembered that I can’t do straight lines.

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Then we cut the scaffolding plank into two pieces that were a bit shorter than the length of the panels.

We took it all out to the garden and screwed it together. The two panels form the top and bottom and the scaffolding plank pieces form the sides.

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This gave us a cuboid, with space for storage inside. The mdf had been covered with a thick layer of gloss paint, which helps with adding some waterproofing, so that panel went on top. We also kept a slight overhang to stop water dripping down inside and raised the whole thing up on bricks to keep the bottom getting too damp.

I then hammered the old nails we had prised off the scaffolding board into the mdf to act as hooks.

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Add Tom’s tea set, toy pans, some stones, and cast off bits from our kirchen and we were good to go.

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We have some wooden discs we plan to glue on as hobs, and I’d like to paint some details on to make it more realistic, but at least we’ve made a start!

And it hasn’t cost us a penny
(well ok, we did own some bits already we had to pay for, like the tea set and the tools. But the structure itself cost us nothing)

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Sticks and Stones…

…make really good toys!

There’s been a bout of conjunctivitis going round Tom’s nursery and, when I picked him up last Thursday, it was clear he had succumbed to it. Which meant he couldn’t go to nursery on Friday. Working from home with a toddler, especially one who is not really sick, is a far different thing from working at home with a baby who can’t yet reach your keyboard. Clearly, if I was to get anything done some of Ton’s energy needed to be run off first.

We’ve been working on building him a mud kitchen for the garden, so it seemed like a perfect time to gather up some natural materials to go in it. So off we headed, with an old plastic bag in tow, to gather up some stones from our local patch of woodland.

Tom though this was a great game, once I’d explained what we were doing. Although he was rather too keen to empty everything back out of the bag at various intervals throughout our walk.

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Once we had collected a fair number, we headed home to try out their potential.

They were put into boxes and emptied out. Dipped into plant pots and awkwardly stacked on top of each other. Thrown onto the paving stones to make a clunk and banged against tables. In short, stones are awesome.

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So awesome that Tom kept bringing me his shoes and coat at various points throughout the weekend so we could go back out to play with them again.

Hurray for stones! (And sticks which have provided many a diversion when out on walks)

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Inspiration for Outdoor Play Area

We are incredibly lucky to live in a London flat that actually has a garden. So I feel guilty that we rarely use it. Tom and I get out every day to the Marshes, or a park, or for a walk by the river, but I very rarely take him to play just in the garden.

One reason for this is access – we live on the first floor, which means we have to go down our very steep, narrow, dark back stairs to get out into the garden. If we want to take any toys out with us, it means taking two trips (one for toys and one for Tom) or being organised enough to pack up a bag. And if we are going to that kind of effort I would rather be getting further away from home.

The other reason is that I find the space, frankly, uninspiring. We are spoiled with so many great green places on our doorstep, so I tend to head for them when planning a trip outdoors. Our garden, on the other hand, is not exactly large. There are some plants, kindly provided by our downstairs neighbour, who is a keen gardener and has over-spilt her own patch into ours. And we have a table and chairs from our last flat. Otherwise, there’s not much to recommend it.

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Or so I thought. But after getting locked out of the flat last week (see tomorrow’s post), I realised I had been looking at the space through my eyes rather than the eyes of a toddler. What to me is a small, boring patch of paving, is to Tom a wonderland of things to explore and play with. He doesn’t think it’s boring – it’s small enough for him to feel safe, and big enough to offer plenty of opportunities for exploration.

We went down on Monday afternoon, taking some scoops and stacking cups and a small tub of water with us. I thought we might get half-an-hour before Tom got bored. Not a bit of it. We were still out over an hour later, when the light started to fade, and he was showing no signs of boredom. He’d played with the water and toys, explored the area, then spent ages putting snail shells into different stacking cups and ferrying them around the garden, into the water and out again. In the end it was me who took us back inside – it was getting dark and I needed to make his tea.

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So that is all the proof I need. It’s time to invest some effort into making the garden more of a play space for Tom, which I will then be inspired to use on a more regular basis. I’ve already spied out some spare bricks and bits of wood that should make the basis of a mud kitchen. And there must be something we can do with all the tin cans that I’ve been reluctant to throw away.

Anything we do will have to be low-effort, low-cost, and temporary, as we rent the flat rather than own it. So I’m starting a Pinterest board to give us ideas (you can find it here) and would love to hear any suggestions you might have.