If you have young children like me then you’ll know that they are, naturally, endlessly curious and they don’t mind getting dirty – My washing machine can attest to that!. Children are filled with wonder at the everyday stuff that most of us as adults take for granted and this means that they just love to get involved in gardening. I am keen to help Mr D and Miss E develop an interest in gardening and have grand dreams of us growing food, planting flowers, encouraging insects, recycling, composting and generally looking after our own little bit of the world; it’s a fantastic way to learn and have fun at the same time.
We have a modest sized garden but you actually don’t need lots of space. A sunny window ledge and an egg box can be just as inspiring for a small children as a full-scale vegetable patch. Last year we grew sunflowers which started on our kitchen windowsill before moving out into pots in the garden and the children loved it.
Here are some ideas I’ve been looking at to help get young children involved in gardening:
Easy indoor Herb Garden
Last year we grew some basil at our kitchen window. This is a really easy way to get children into gardening fast and it gives them new tastes to try, so it’s a sneaky way to add in new things to their diet (perfect if you have a a picky eater). You can buy small starter plants, but I found last year that seeds for simple indoor herbs like basil, thyme and chives are inexpensive and simple to germinate – giving a quick result which helped to keep Mr D and Miss E engaged!
Instead of using plastic pots we planted our seeds in soil filled eggshells and make a planting tray out of the cardboard egg box. It looks cute on the window ledge and helped to keep all our plants upright in one place, plus it was just the right size for little fingers. It’s important to give the plants as much light as possible, and remember to water them (although the children reminded me each morning last year to do this!). When they got to about 8cm tall with at least two strong leaves we transferred them into bigger pots. The children enjoyed this part the most – an opportunity to get mucky!
Make a basic Wormery
I’m tempted to try and get a basic wormery going and let Mr D and Miss E see what happen – I’m quite squeamish with bugs and I really don’t want to pass that on to the children and I think a wormery might be a good introduction.
I found a guide which makes it look pretty easy; all you need is a large, glass jar with a lid, moist soil, sand, dead leaves, vegetable peel, an A3 sheet of black paper and earthworms. It said to wash and dry the jar and place a 1cm layer of sand in the base, add a 4cm layer of moist soil, cover that with another 1cm of sand and repeat until there’s 5cm space left at the top of the jar. Collect worms from the garden (ordinary earthworms are fine are you can buy composting worms online) Put them gently on top of the final layer of soil and cover lightly with a layer of old tea leaves, peel and small bits of overripe fruit. Make a couple of holes in the lid, screw it on tight, put the black paper round the jar and place it carefully in a cool, dark cupboard.
This sounds easy enough! After a week, unwrap the jar and take a look. All being well, the worms should be right at home with the peel almost gone and lots of interesting trails and patterns to see in the sand and soil. Leave it another week and if everything looks thoroughly mixed, your vermicompost is ready to use.
Anything that holds soil and lets water drain out of it can be used for planting, so the only limit to exciting container gardening with children is their imagination. Early spring bulbs like snowdrops and crocus grow easily in smaller containers close to glazed patio doors so you can watch them even when the weather’s no good for real gardening.
Things like cherry tomatoes, lettuce and small herb plants are colourful and good fun in containers for the summer. And large, fast growing sunflowers in single pots are brilliantly satisfying achievements for even the youngest gardeners. Plus they look fantastic with very little effort. Don’t forget the secret to successful container gardening is regular watering, pulling out weeds and watching for pests. If you’re plagued by greedy slugs, making a beer trap is another garden project for kids to get into.
I think we will buy some plain terracotta pots and paint them up and let the children plant their bulbs.
Grow your first tree
Planting a young tree takes a bit of gardening know-how but growing a tree from scratch is as simple as finding the right seeds. Visit a local park or wood in autumn and look for horse chestnut trees, the ground nearby will be covered in conkers. Collect the ones still in their spiky casings, take them home, remove the green shell and plant the shiny, brown seed. You’ll need a small plant pot, moist compost mixed with garden soil and a few shards of broken plant pot. Put the terracotta pieces into the base of your pot, add the soil and plant your conker about 3cm deep with the pale patch facing up. Cover with soil, pat down and find a shady, sheltered spot outside for the winter. Remember to have a look at it every now and then to make sure the soil isn’t too dry and come spring your tree should start to sprout. You can grow a tree in a pot forever, just up-size the pot when the roots start to get cramped.
And even if you don’t have a garden, a sunny window ledge or a patio you can still get your children into the thrill of growing stuff at community gardens and city farms all over the UK. Have a look and see who’s planting what and where near you and go along to help out or just pick up some interesting ideas this spring.
I think one of our April tasks will be to decorate up some pots and pop to the local garden centre to choose some seeds and bulbs.