Saturday, July 9, 2011

Keep the kids busy these winter holidays…

With the help of Bliss mum’s Sarah and Kylie we have compiled a list of ideas to keep the kids busy and having truckloads of fun these school holidays.

What free activities are there to do in Canberra?
(not from Canberra? no need to leave... just scroll down)

If it’s a sunny day then pack up a picnic and head out to one of Canberra’s great parks. Oh and don’t forget to throw the bikes and helmets in the boot if you’ve got room. 

Here’s our top picks... 
Kambah Adventure Playground, (Springbett St, Kambah) is a top spot for kids of all ages, from toddlers to teenagers. There’s several flying foxes, a ‘tarzan’ swing and a space net as well as a picnic area, toilets and a bbq.

Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is an easy 40min drive from Canberra and a great spot for the kids to explore, with lots of walking trails, a playground and a visitor centre. Check out for more info.

Yerrabi Pond, off Gundaroo Dr in Gungahlin is great pick for those on the northside. Again, there’s an ‘adventure’ playground complete with flying fox and a skate bowl that caters to beginners and experts alike. If your kids get a kick out of wildlife it’s also a great place to hang out with the ducks. We were going to suggest taking some bread to feed them but on further investigation this appears to be a bad idea (not good for the duckies little tummies it seems!) So, after a quick google, we found these interesting alternatives.
  • Grapes cut in half 
  • Cracked corn, barley, oats, birdseed or other grains 
  • Frozen peas that have been defrosted 
  • Duck feed pellets available from farm supply stores

There’s also the Botanical Gardens at Black Mountain, John Knight Park in Belconnen and Commonwealth Park at Lake Burley Griffin. Lake BG is a great spot for older kids to ride their bikes along the paths. 

But what if its too cold to be outside?

Let’s be honest - this is going to be the case more often than not here in the nations capital isn’t it? If you still need to get out of the house then try these options:

War Memorial - free AND educational! 

Monkey Mania at DFO, - bit pricey, particularly if you’ve got more than one but a great spot for all ages. (Older kids can even be left to run wild while parents go shopping) 

Got a dino-mad toddler? The National Dinosaur Museum at Gold Creek might take their fancy. Again, it requires a bit of $$ for adults and older kids but is free for under 4’s. Bear in mind though that they aren’t open on Fridays. 

Now here’s the cool bit. 
(Non-Canberrans start reading again here...)
Our Bliss mums' top picks for staying at home and having good old fashioned fun!

In the Kitchen...
  • Ice and decorate Arrowroot biscuits or cupcakes with lollies, fruit, nuts or sprinkles.
  • Grab a cheap packet cake mix from the supermarket and teach them the fine art of adding eggs and milk. (Cook it in the microwave and they will see it rise before there very eyes.)
  • Using a pancake batter, make letter shaped pancakes using a pouring jug. Adult supervision required obviously but Kylie says this is her tribes all-time favourite activity.
  • Use a popcorn maker or buy microwave popcorn packets and let the popping begin! There’s nothing quite like the smell of fresh cooked popcorn is there?
  • Play a beginner’s version of Ready, Steady, Cook. Grab 4-5 random ingredients from the pantry or fridge and have them come up with something yummy for lunch.
  • Make play dough - 
Craft / Make&Do
  • Every kid loves a cubby house. Grab blankets, sheets, chairs and tables and create your very own Grand Design. 
  • How about paper aeroplane races?
  • Use water-based paints to paint pictures on the windows. Washes off easily with Spray and Wipe.
  • Raid the recycling bin and make cities/towns, animals, farms, drums, maracas etc. with milk bottles and cereal boxes. Also grab some texters, tape and scissors. A hint learned from experience here is to give them masking tape instead of cello tape – easier for little fingers to find the end. If they're really serious about their recycled creations then we have some awesome little 'connector systems' at Bliss that might take their fancy -
  • Balloon juggling balls = hours of fun and the chance to learn a cool new party trick. They make up really quickly and easily too. Find a great set of instructions here - 
  • Ever made a ‘Grassy Head’ – Yet another uber cool activity. Check out 
  • Grab a bag of pipe cleaners from the craft shop and let them go crazy.  Google ‘pipe cleaner craft’ for loads of inspiration.
  • If you’ve been blessed with the talent of crochet, knitting or sewing spend an hour or so passing on the art to your cherubs... lots of patience and that aforementioned bowl of popcorn will possibly be required.
  • Or there’s always the easier and simpler form of French Knitting for the rest of us. 
  • Lastly, get them to perform a play or musical using the instruments they made from the recycling. Film it on your camera or phone and then have Movie Night and play it back on the ‘big screen’ (ie. tv or computer)

Games and puzzles etc – oldies but goodies.

  • Hide & seek
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Treasure hunt
  • Board games arvo with their homemade goodies and fresh squeezed OJ
  • Turn the music up load and have a dance party.

Oh and finally, we can’t go without mentioning possibly the most exciting thing to hit Canberra this season – ICE SKATING in Garema Place? Yes, it’s true! for more info.

Hopefully we’ve given you a few ideas to help you get through the next few weeks.  We welcome little people at Bliss too so if you're wanting to come and visit us for a browse then feel free to bring the kidlets. Tulips Cafe next door has a small playground so you can recharge with coffee and cake while they play. Happy holidays. 

The Bliss team.  

Sunday, July 3, 2011

FAQs on Choosing and Caring for Potted Plants : Part 1

By Iain Eaton
Owner and Horticulturalist (ie. expert garden dude) at Bliss.


Is there any reason I should go for a tall pot or squat?
If space is a consideration then yes, go for a taller narrow pot.
If the pot and plant are going to be exposed to wind, then a shorter wider pot would be safer. You’ll need one with a wider base touching the ground and a lower center of gravity.
As far as the look, this is up to you. It can be so hard going to the shop to buy your Garden Pot and not having a clue which one will look the best. One idea is to pick a few shapes and colours you like, and then paint and cut out cardboard to emulate the shapes you like. A little effort, but much easier than lugging ceramic pots home and back again when you don’t like them! Some shops will let you buy the smallest version of a pot you like to take home and try the colour out, making it easier to bring them back when you know what you want.
Some plants, such as camellias, have a shallow root system and will be better in a shallow, wide pot.

Do darker pots get hotter in the sun?
Yes. Therefore the moisture in the potting mix will evaporate quicker. Also consider how thick the wall of the pot is. Pots with a glaze or with thicker walls won’t heat the soil as much, therefore less evaporation occurs.


Do I need to seal my garden pots?
My advice is to seal any pot you buy, be it terracotta, glazed, Fibreclay or fibreglass. This will do a few things.  
  • Reduce evaporation and keep your potting mix moist for longer.
  • It will also stop salts and lime leaching out of the pot and depositing on the exterior. Yes, I have seen this before. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does it can be quite unsightly.  
  • If you get frosts, the less water leaching into the wall of the pot the better. If it freezes, depending on the quality of the pot, it may crack.
How often should I water a plant in a Garden Pot?
Unfortunately there is no ideal watering time as there are so many variables. Size of the plant, size of the root ball, the season, direct sun or shade, type of garden pot  (ie glazed/terracotta), size of the pot, type of soil, mulch or no mulch… see what I mean?

The ideal way to know how much water to give a plant in a pot is to give it a good soak and then check the potting mix every day for a few weeks. Do this by digging down at least half way to the bottom of the pot and feel the mix with your hand. The potting Mix must be moist, but not wet. If you let it dry out completely it can be very hard to re-wet, even with Wetting Agent.

If you’re game you can also give your plant a good soak, then wait till it starts to droop. If it takes 3 days then water every 2 days. The problem with this method is that some plants don’t droop, they just die, like conifers.

Watering a newly potted plant
Any newly potted plant must be watered  with the same regularity as it was when it was in its original pot. Of course the roots will spread out into the fresh potting mix in time and as this happens you will not need to water as often.

Do I need pot feet/saucer?
Saucers are obviously good for catching excess water so it doesn’t run out onto your nice deck or paving. However usually they aren’t deep enough to hold excess water for the plant to use. Even if they are, the plant may not always be able to reach it, so don’t rely on this. Also bear in mind that if you expect the saucer to keep the spot under the pot dry, you may be disappointed. They are rarely perfectly water tight, so you will often have a wet patch below the saucer. If you need to keep it dry, don’t put a pot there.
Pot feet are actually better at keeping a spot dry. Yes the excess water will run onto the deck/paving but it will be allowed to dry since the pot is held off the ground.

Do I need to have stones in the base of my pot?
No… but it doesn’t hurt. Potting Mix is designed to drain well. If your pot has adequate drainage holes you don’t need stones in the bottom of the pot.

Can I use soil (dirt) in my pot instead of Potting Mix?
No you shouldn’t. There are a number of reasons, but the main one is water holding capacity/drainage. Garden soils will hold a lot of water. However, when they dry out they will shrink and it is very hard to re-wet them. The water will run straight through the dried out cracks or the down the inside edge of the pot and out the bottom.

Can I use half dirt / half Potting mix?
No, if you want to make it cheaper, use a cheap Potting Mix in the bottom of the pot with the good one at the top. Alternatively if it is a large pot and you want to save on Potting Mix, use old bricks or rocks in the bottom to take up room.

Can I use a cheap Potting Mix?
Yes…. But in my opinion a potting mix must have 2 key ingredients. Slow release fertilizer, and wetting agent. Usually cheap potting mixes won’t have these. Basically a cheap Potting Mix will be composted  bark chips only (hopefully...)

So in short
  • You need Wetting Agent, renew every 6-12 months
  • Slow release fertilizer, renew every 6-12 months
  • If you’ve got an expensive plant, don’t buy a cheap potting mix
  • If you’re planting Pansies or Petunias, it doesn’t matter so much
What potting mix should I use?
How much do you care for your plant? Is it a keeper, or just annuals? If it is a keeper, ie a lemon, or a standard camellia, choose a quality potting mix. The things to look for are

  • Australian standard ticks,
  • Good slow release fertilizer, ie osmocote, nutricote
  • Trace elements
  • Wetting agent

What fertilizer do I use?
The best fertilizer to use in a Garden Pot is a “slow release”. These release fertilizer by osmosis – were you listening in High School science class? Basically it releases as the plant needs it, not harming the plant with an excess of salts burning the roots. These fertilizers will last up to 6 months, unlike normal garden fertilizer which will virtually leach straight through.
For heavy feeding plants, ie Fruit trees, it can be beneficial to use a soluble fertilizer as well as the slow release. These are usually a powder which you mix into water in a watering can.
It doesn’t hurt to add manure, blood and bone, or seasol. But I think the best value of these are as soil conditioners. They add organic matter and nutrient to impoverished soils. 

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I'll go through some suggested plants for pots and what special requirements each may have.