Gardening: Let's get skittled

By Leigh Bramwell

When we were kids we got shoved outside at first light and brought in at dusk - a bit like the cat - and were otherwise allowed inside only if it was raining.

When I related this to a friend's 10-year-old the other day, she asked me what we did out there all day.

"Played games in the garden," I replied.

"Why would you do that outside when you can play them on the internet?" she asked.

As soon as she'd gone I scurried to the PC to find out if that were true. Sadly, it was.

You can play all manner of garden games on the internet. My introduction to this shameful pastime was to engage in restoring the virtual garden of a Victorian manor, starting by selling all the virtual antiques stored in the virtual shed to pay for the project. Fascinating.

In the time it took me to figure out how to work the game I could have restored at least some of my own garden and, unlike my effort on the PC, the results would still have been there in the morning.

The exchange did remind me, though, that gardens are not just for working on, walking in and, when everything is as close to pristine as a garden ever gets, admiring. They're also for using and having fun in.

From time to time our local radio station used to take over our garden, whether it were pristine or not, and put on an afternoon's entertainment for all its clients. It took the form of a duck race. A few dozen people would come along with their numbered rubber ducks and race them down the stream. The competition was accompanied by food, wine and music and a good time was had by all.

Adding a sporting or competitive element to what would otherwise be "just a barbecue" has many upsides.

It encourages kids and adults to play nicely together and puts kids in a situation where they're very likely to win. Having said that, being kid-free is no reason to forgo doing something faintly ridiculous such as sack races or hopscotch. However, although a wine or two may make you less inhibited about climbing into a sack and hopping down the lawn, a degree of sobriety may also ensure you don't fall over and break your hip.

Incorporating some sort of tournament into your outdoor entertaining also stretches your imagination about what game to play and what implements will be required. If you prefer retro or vintage games, you may need to search auction sites, real live auctions, charity shops and garage sales to find such items as bowls and quoits. If you're lucky enough to come across a set of carpet bowls (small bowls designed for using inside) you can use them in modified outdoor marbles games.

My current obsession is skittles. In England in the 80s I entered the skittles championship in our village.

I'd never played before and certainly hadn't drunk that much cider before either. But I was declared the winner and I've had an affection for the game, if not the cider, ever since. Lately, I've been scouring the internet, charity shops and garage sales for old wooden skittles to add to my cache of vintage garden games. If I can't find any, The Landscaper will be called upon to craft some, plus draughts and dominoes.

Remember, whatever garden games you have, you don't have to play by the rules, nor do you need all the right kit. Draughts boards and hopscotch grids can be made with a few pavers. If you set them into the grass you can mow right over them.

Another advantage, I told The Landscaper, is that if you're involved in a game or challenge, it makes you drink slower.

"It also means you can start earlier," he responded with glee.

- Hamilton News

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