There have been many events this year which have left us astounded. Things that have been hard to comprehend in the wider world, and things that were totally unexpected in our Secret Garden world.
But suffice to say, that whatever life has thrown at us, we have still managed to have a fabulous, fun and fantastic year of activities. The children we have spent our time with have been a joy to be around. Whatever the age and nature, they have all come together and supported each other in their shared love of nature and the great outdoors.
This Christmas we intend to have a sparkling time, with great festive food, exciting present making and all round Christmassy fun.
We have two event days, one a 'Christmas present factory' day, and one our very own Secret Garden Christmas Day. Both days will be filled with Christmas treats and festive fare, and on the Present Factory day the children will go home with beautiful gifts which their parents will cherish over the Christmas period and beyond.
We have had a challenging year in terms of the house itself. Many of you will have seen our great long hall without a carpet. Cold concrete will be a thing of the past, with our new carpet being fitted (finally) on December 14th. With this great arrival will come new rules about shoes off! As it is Christmas we will ask children to bring a pair of slippers as well as a pair of wellies. Boots off stations will be available too. Wish us luck!
We have also had new floors, new walls, masses of plastering and painting and the cloakroom is well on its way to being redesigned. If you could have a chat with your children about the importance of looking after our beautiful newly renovated home we'd be very grateful. But we are confident that they will continue to be the kind and considerate young things that we have grown to know and love (once we prise the mud caked boots off their feet)..
So that's it peeps. Maisie, Miles, Grandma, Hattie and I look forward to welcoming you all to our 2016 Christmas extravaganza. It's going to be a very special one for all of us.
Christmassy hugs to you all
Well it's almost Summer 2016. The year seems to be racing by , and we have it on good authority that we are going to have a sun soaked fun time in July and August this year.
We have never offered so many days over the summer. We are working hard on our themes, which will be released in the next few days, and the activities will be epic!
We have the new mud kitchen to enjoy during down time, and who knows what else will have been bought or made by July 25th for your children to enjoy and have fun in.
We decided to offer a range of days right across the Summer holiday, in order to offer as much choice as possible. But in order to allow Maisie, Miles and myself a little 'us time', we will be cutting any days that don't book up in the next 4 weeks.
We felt that everyone will have booked their summer holidays by then, so it seemed a reasonable way to ensure that you all got the days you wanted, and we got a little freedom in between! And if all the days book up then that's more fantastic fun to be had by all!
We have a brand new outdoor kitchen range, and will be building on the success of our super burger making day during Whit. Take a look at the Facebook page to see all of the different combinations which were created (and scoffed) by the children.
We will definitely be having a Greek day, a Caribbean day, and a week of building - from carts to bird boxes, mini sculptures and giant fairy castles. There will be gardening days, art days and many other great activities which are still in the pipeline.
We're hoping to see so many of our old favourite children, lots of new regulars, and even total newbies! You're all welcome here if you 'get us' - if you love what we do here. I hope you've had a good look through our galleries and fallen in love with what we do here. We are a totally devoted and happy team, and we look forward to hearing the happy squeals, smelling the marshmallows melting on their sticks, and sharing our summer with your very important peeps.
See you there! Jules, and the team xx
Well folks, it's 2016 already. And we are looking forward to a fun filled happy, sparkly, splashy, yummy and bug filled year ahead!
We set up this business in 2011 - I can't believe it! This will be our 6th summer. We've watched children grow up and seen them leave us once they go to Secondary school.
Some have stayed with us beyond Secondary age, and taken on a kind of helper role. It's so lovely for the new young children who are filling up our ranks now, to have that kind of support. Some of these children weren't even born when we first opened our doors.
Last year was a turning point for us. It was full of surprises. Children drifted away as they got older, children joined us for the first time, and we saw lots of old faces returning again and again. We still managed to present our happy little clients with a different experience every day. In five years we have always tried to be original every day. Apart from of course, the old favourites - the migration game, capture the flag, and such like.
We have had a long think about things this Christmas. We had to cancel a couple of days this holiday due to lack of interest. It was a real shock, and made us a bit sad... but I know how fortunes change, plans for families are different every year, so we hope that this was just a blip.
We have , in the light of this, decided to reward the people who book early (up to 3 weeks before the next holiday) by reducing our hourly rate. People can still book up right up until the day itself (if we still have spaces available), but it will cost more. We see this as a way of rewarding people who book and pay early. It helps us to manage our time and activities better.
Once you book in you will get a swift invoice, and as long as it is paid by the 3 week timescale, your reduced rate will stand.
But we've always been flexible. Those of you who have regularly been fantastic customers will continue to have the option to experience our more flexible terms. Just ask if you wish to know more.
So there we have it peeps. The cost of living has gone up, we are all feeling the pinch, but you can send your child to the best little holiday activity centre for less than ever before, if you plan in plenty of time, and snap up an early space.
My new year has already seen a full update of our website, our terms and conditions, and our fantastic activities for February are already being planned. All I can say to you is 'Use us or lose us' - we run these activity days in our own holidays, and will continue to do so as long as you want and need us. So come along, bring your friends, shout about us all over the school playground at home time. Show us you love us! We'll return the favour tenfold, and be at your service - for as long as you need us.
Happy New Year. This is our 6th - lets make it our best ever!!
Very best wishes from Jules and the whole team!
Or is this year flying by faster than any year before?
Perhaps it's because we're so busy here at Ottery Secret Garden. We have been instigating new plans which incorporate an 'on location' experience for older children who are interested in hanging out in hammocks at our piece of land which is situated a few miles down the road.
We have been building a great tree house here, with the help of the children. It resembles a bird nest, and has proved a favourite with the visitors.
This year we joined in with the 'Food and Families Festival' buy running an event which included our traditional wild cooking experience, coupled with a brilliant storyteller, David Heathfield. We want to thank the Food and Families committee for providing us with such a lovely addition to our day. David is a brilliant innovative storyteller who we would not hesitate to recommend to anyone needing an exciting activity to add to a special event day such as ours.
We loved this day, and have videos and photographs of the perfect time we had in the sunshine listening to great stories about chickens and piggies.
Even Ruby joined in!
Summer is booking up fast - already one day full up and another eight days almost full. We are working on a plan, which will be released very soon - which will include bushcraft activities, wild building and loads of bugtastic, artistic, yummy and messy woodland fun!
We are so thrilled that we continue to have such interest in our little business. We have noticed an influx of lovely new children of all ages over the past year, and I'd just like to also say how proud we are of our loyal children who have visited us for up to 4 years, and added to our vision for a child centered setting, steeped in nature, full of bugs, excitement and yummy food experiences - where children desperately want to visit as soon as the holidays come around. We love it when they complain at being picked up at the end of their day!
I'm off now to get down to more planning for a seriously super summer.
I hope we see you there.
Well, the last time I looked, I was organizing Christmas - and now we're almost at the end of January! I am amazed at how time has flown by.
We had a stunning Christmas - both as a business and as a family. We partied, had massive trees reaching to the ceilings, (lots of trees), and we enjoyed the company of lots and lots of lovely people!!
We caroled at the Church, and all over the place the too! We made beautiful Christmas food and ate and drank to our hearts content.
The Secret Garden children were amazing as usual. The weather treated us very kindly, and much time was spent outside.
The kitchen was bursting with freshly baked and iced Christmas cookies, the smell of good food was all around, and our craft workshops were buzzing!
Now it's January - cold, icy, with early school mornings and loads of homework.
But don't despair! Here at Ottery Secret Garden we intend forget the trials and tribulations of early mornings, frozen windscreens and long cold nights.
This February will be a half term to remember. We will warm our tingly hands and fingers around the Hobbit House fire. We will heat the kitchen up to its lofty ceilings and cook up a storm. We will saw and whittle, build camps and stomp in the stream.
Welcome to 2015 - the garden is waiting for you......
It's been a while since I sat down and wrote anything for this blog - I apologise for that! No excuses! But here I am, marvelling at the proximity to Christmas, and wondering where the time has gone.
Here at Ottery Secret Garden we work on half terms in advance! So once our fantastic October half term was over, and we'd packed away our Halloween treasures, consigned the mushy pumpkins to the compost heap (much to the delight of the chickens and birds), and swept up all of the glitter and flour from the kitchen, I had my customary two week 'breather' - where I do absolutely nothing - and then we were suddenly mid way through November.
Cue the rush of panicked website work, the happy onslaught of bookings and the research for our Christmas activities. And all this has left me feeling rather prematurely Christmassy. My head is full of sparkle and magic as I hunt here and there for inspiration to make this the best Christmas ever for your lovelies!
'Christmas Day' has become fully booked already, and the other days are following suit fast. We are going all out to build on our amazing New Years Eve triumph from last year. We had more comments from parents about our 'Wish scrolls' than any other activity. We even reduced some parents to tears! This year we have an even more incredible activity up our sleeves. There are still spaces on New Years Eve. For now!
So as I sit here, all full of sparkly ideas, imagining the Christmas garden shrouded in mist or glinting with a powder of frost, thinking about the echo of children running through the winter sunshine, and warming tingling little fingers next to the glowing fire, I just want to say thanks. It is because of you and your little ones that I get to wrap myself up in this beautiful traditional Christmas full of wonderful sights, joyful sounds and the aroma of freshly baked treats.
Happy winter everyone! Bring on the Christmas fun!
Hi everyone! It's frantically busy here, taking late bookings by the dozen, preparing invoices, sorting out the garden and planning our fabulous summer!
So here's a little treat at a time I otherwise wouldn't be blogging!
In the July edition of the Gazette we had a fabulous article, which told people lots about the recent Food and Family Festival fun, and reminded people of what we do, and why we do it.
Please enjoy reading it, if you missed it before.
Happy Summer lovely people :)
"Here at Ottery Secret Garden we recently had great fun hosting two sessions for children during the weekend of the Ottery Food and Family Festival. These sessions were a first for us, and we thoroughly enjoyed the vibe of the festival going on just over our walls as we ran about enjoying the wealth of nature in our beautiful gardens. We met new families, basked in the beautiful sunshine and baked 'Hedgehog bread' in the spirit of the festival. The Hobbit house got it's first use since the roof went on, and as we wait for our new stove, the fire pit did us proud. Many marshmallows were roasted and consumed along with sausages in buns with fresh eggs on top, laid by our own friendly hens.
Ottery Secret Garden is a family run local business which offers Environmental Education based activities to children aged between 4 and 14 within our beautiful walled gardens in Ottery St Mary, during the school holidays.
As many relatively new Ottery businesses will echo, we are humbled by the support and kind words that we have experienced from our local community since opening back in 2011. We feel very loved and appreciated here. The people of Ottery St Mary are great, and in return we try to offer the best experience for all who attend. We give every day or sometimes entire holidays a different theme, among them, teepees and American Indian traditions, History, Bees, Sculptures, Birds, and even Archaeology (attempting our own small dig last year, which produced some very interesting finds). We have an 'Apple Day' every Autumn, where we visit our neighbour's orchard and pick apples. The windfalls go to Ruby our pet piggy, while the rest are drawn, printed with, painted, used for games such as Skittles and Apple Boules, and of course, the children go home with individual apple pies and crumbles made in our vast Secret Garden kitchen.
This Summer will see the official opening of the new 'Hobbit House', and will hold all sorts of exciting surprises for our regular and new children. Everyone enjoys making and taking home brilliant things such as bee houses, bird feeders, dream catchers and unique breads and cakes (to name but a few of our fabulous creations).
We want to say thanks to all of the families who continue to support us, sending their children to run through the long grass, play in the fallen leaves, wade through the stream and climb the lofty low branches of the trees. Our kitchen rings with the laughter of happy, proud children as they create culinary delicacies, and our hearts feel fit to burst watching their enthusiasm and excitement.
We are in the business of having fun. It is at the top of our list of priorities. We marvel at the beauty of the world around us, and the children learn without realising they are doing it! The camp fire has become a regular favourite, with, of course, the customary marshmallows on sticks, and our very busy toasting forks with all those tasty toppings.
Summer is almost upon us. Here at Ottery Secret Garden we are making plans for the best Summer ever. If you'd like to join in with the fun you can book, or contact Jules or Roger via the website at www.otterysecretgarden.co.uk You'll be amazed at what you'll find behind our walls."
It's been such a long time since I wrote my blog that I thought I'd better give you a beautiful picture of the door to the Secret Garden to reignite your love for our very special place.
Since we last spoke (that was New Year!!!!), lots has happened. We've had birthdays (mine, Grandma's and Grandad's), We've had two holiday clubs, welcoming lots and lots of lovely excited children, and getting outside far more than you'd expect during that time of year.
We've also been really busy in the garden, tidying, planting and building!
The Hobbit House, is coming along really well, with the roof almost finished, and we have just bought a new fire pit, and canopy. Plus a bio-ethanol fire (oudorless, interesting but not that practical if you're thinking of getting one!) - so we can be extra cosy and smoke free while we sit around the camp fire eating hot buttered toast!
We've had drama - with Gracey (the cat) eating pond weed and needing a life saving operation to remove it from her stomach.... very costly and extremely worrying I have to say. She's recovered totally now, but still has a big area of short hair where they shaved her for her op!!
The chicks are doing well - with the little cockerel stealing our hearts every day, and so far, making us keep him here rather than send him to his new home. He's so cute.
The white hen (mini Lulu) is about to hatch some more eggs we bought on ebay! These are frizzle Silkies (Sizzles!), and Pekings. Tomorrow is the day they should pop out of their shells to greet us - but I find they're always late! I'll update you as soon as we have chick news!
I want to thank everyone who has wished Maisie well as she prepares for her GCSE's - We haven't seen as much of her as usual, and I know a lot of the children are sad about that. Maisie is very popular with all the Secret Garden children, and I know that while we have been opening less days, and having less children booked in, she has taken the opportunity to hide away and study.
Now I will leave you with the lovely thought that once Whit half term is over, there's only one more half term (albeit a very long one), to go until our super, all new and shiny summer holiday facility is open again. We love those long sunny days chilling in the garden, learning about nature and making brilliant things with your children.
Summer is booking up quickly already, so do book early to avoid disappointment.
See you in the Summer dudes!
Well folks, this year, 2014 is going to see all our wishes granted I feel sure!
We enjoyed a very special sparkly Secret Garden Christmas, with some very fun and sometimes quite moving moments. The Crib Service is one that springs to mind - with some beautiful singing and great fun had dressing up.
New year brought laughter and tears - with some of the childrens' 'Wish Lists' moving us beyond measure. I am so proud of the young people we meet at the Secret Garden. They show immeasurable compassion and great sparks of genius too! I count myself very lucky to know them.
Now to move on to the start of this great and promising year. Dates are not released yet, but keep an eye on the Facebook page and they will be revealed soon. We are running 3 days during Feb half term, and one of the Easter weeks. Whit will also be limited to 3 days - there are a number of reasons for this. We are developing our facilities and working on perfecting the 'Hobbit House' and the barn area. There are trees which need to be worked on and it's time to give Ruby's area some attention too. We can't do these things without using some of the holiday time, when we're all around, to get on with it.
There is also the fact that Maisie is taking her GCSE's this Summer. She needs us to consider her revision in our plans, and a few days of peace and quiet are the least I can offer her. However much she intends to remain upstairs and study, Maisie hears the children and can't resist coming to say hello! So I have to keep the temptation to a minimum. A compromise seems appropriate. As some of you know, I have had problems with my ears since a car accident a year ago - and although I am assured that this will improve considerably in the near future, this is the reason that you might have seen me conspicuous by my absence lately! This is another thing which is temporary, and I'd like to thank the wonderful people who assist in the running of the Secret Garden - particularly when I'm not up to par.
I will make sure that you all know the dates for Spring holidays soon - we are quite happy for you to request places prior to this - we can only say 'yes' or 'no' - but if you are a regular Secret Garden customer, please be assured that we will do all we can to accommodate your requests within our timetable.
What all this basically means is that we preserve our quality of provision by offering a number of superb days, every holiday, while we build up our facility, our wellbeing and share our responsibilities between the community we serve, and our daughter's education.
I hope you can bear with us for the next few holidays. we will be launching into the Summer holidays with a vengeance! I predict the best, sunniest, and most fun times to be had this Summer when we will be offering approximately 4 weeks of themed activities. Details to follow!
So please accept our sincere wishes for a very happy and positive New Year, and thank you, as always. for being the fabulous families you are. We consider it a great privilege to spend time with your amazing young people.
There are great things to come.
Watch this space!!
This has to be the image of the month! I love the old fashioned feel of the scene and the brilliant Halloween costumes worn by the children.
We had a splendid time at half term, and I was really pleased to see all my hard work in the corner of the garden where this photo was taken, being appreciated by all. The comments from the children were brilliant and uplifting. There are nice low branches for even the smallest of the children to climb on, and a lovely soft bed of leaves underneath...!
Now we're looking forward to Christmas - can you believe it? We have two special 'event days' before Christmas - one fully booked and the other with only 2 spaces left as I write this.
We don't usually open our Christmas doors until after the big event, but this year, 8 lucky children per day get some Secret Garden Special Festive treatment, with our pre Christmas fun ending with an optional visit to the Crib service in our beautiful neighbouring Parish church on Christmas Eve - that part at no cost of course!
After Christmas we have 4 more days - for those who are tired of the sight of turkey, presents and wrapping paper! We will be finalizing those days' activities once we've had a look at the long range weather forecast. What fun we'd have if it snowed! I should be careful what I say because we've always been very lucky with the weather - and more often than not we get what we wish for!
We have less spaces this Christmas, so it might be an idea to book as soon as possible - we've been taking bookings from regulars since October and it always breaks our hearts to turn children we know and love away. But we've tried to squeeze a few extra in on a couple of occasions and it dilutes the experience for all. So we're sticking to our numbers and reducing them in some cases.
Sadly, we have had a few issues lately where new clients have booked in and not paid, and then cancelled a day or so before the 2 week cut off period which has been after we have turned regulars away and they have made other plans. This is, to be honest, rather unacceptable. Although we know and completely understand that our people are only human, and family plans do change, we are also noticing a few new clients (NONE of our regulars I might add), who we feel are booking in to 'hedge their bets', probably with the intention to review and have a proper think about what they're going to do at a later date. Some cancellations are absolutely genuine and unavoidable, but some are probably not. We lose hundreds of pounds in this way, and I waste hours on paperwork preparing and sending invoices - but most of all, children who wanted to come here and have grown up coming here are disappointed and have to go somewhere else.
To this end, I have new rules regarding booking. People we see as regulars will be given priority - once dates are announced, you will have two weeks when no bookings will be taken from new clients.
After this 2 week period we will open for everyone to book, but all new clients will be required to pay for their places at time of booking. This rule could also be applied to people who have cancelled late on more than 2 occasions at our discretion.
People soon become part of our Secret Garden family, and I love how, once this has happened, people 'get us' - we are here to give your children an enchanting time. Yes, we have rules (see 'rules and stuff' page!!), for parents and children (hehe) but they are just part of the ingredients for a beautiful and magical holiday experience. For the children, and for us!
How lucky I am - I know you all now as friends, and I'd like to thank you for all your efforts to keep your children coming to this magical place and helping to make it what it is.