It’s National Children’s Gardening Week between May 23 and 31 and I’ve come up with eight fun and tasty ways to get children into the garden
Gardening is a special gift you can pass on to a child – and with many of us trying to home school during lockdown, the garden provides the perfect outdoor classroom. From a small veg patch, raised bed or a couple of pots, your child can grow an appreciation of nature, learn maths and science skills – and revel in the wonder that is fresh, homegrown food!
1. Signature salad
Short attention spans means choosing seeds that germinate quickly. Salads can be grown pretty much anywhere – think welly boots, buckets, and even old chairs! Water first, scatter seed and cover with a thin layer of soil. Once they’re a few centimeters high, trim off the top with scissors to eat there and then or throw into salads. You can also personalise plots by getting children to sow cut-and-come-again salad leaves in the shape of their name.
2. Edible train tunnel
Buy some plastic hula hoops (three or four will do) and cut them in half. Insert bamboo canes into the soil at regular intervals and slot the cut ends of the hoops over the canes, bending them to create a tunnel. Sow climbing nasturtium seeds at the bottom of each hoop (you can eat the leaves, flowers and seed heads of this plant) and let them climb over. You can build a train track through your tunnel and around the garden.
3. Post of peas and beans
The big fat seeds of peas and beans are ideal for children to handle. If you’re growing in pots, try a few dwarf varieties, which need less space and support. Give a dazzling display with Dwarf French Bean ‘Golddukat’, ‘Borlotto Supremio Nano’, or Pea ‘Avola’, which only reaches 60cm, in a container or window box that’s at least 2ft by 1ft. Layer the base with broken crocks for drainage and fill with good quality peat-free compost, mixed with homemade if possible. Plant in blocks, five or six plants per side, two inches apart, so they can support each other, or sow direct at alternate spacings, 5cm deep. Firm in and water, and allow the plants to tumble down the sides or twirl around balcony railings. Peas can also be eaten straight from the pod, making them the ultimate fast food for children.
4. Create a sunflower house
Brightly coloured, giant sunflowers are always a winner with children – and even more fun to hide in! Grow them into a den by marking out a square in the soil, leaving an opening for a ‘door’, and sowing sunflower seeds into the drill. As the plants grow they will create a little house with a roof of flowers, which you can bend over and tie together.
5. Make your own seed tape
Sowing seeds can be tricky for little fingers – and thinning seedlings can be a chore – so make seed tapes with pre-spaced seeds that can be unfurled at the allotment or garden, or onto seed trays, to make the task more fun.
- Cut paper towel or newspaper into strips, as wide and as long as you want your row. (Check the seed packet for measurements).
- In a pan, mix together a little water and flour, and warm until the flour dissolves and forms a thick paste, rather like wallpaper paste. Pour into a bowl or, better still, a squeezy bottle with a nozzle.
- Read the seed packet and work out how far apart the seeds need to be spaced. Using a ruler, mark the spacings on your newspaper strip and with a paintbrush dab your paste onto those marks and place one seed on each sticky spot.
- Set aside to dry completely, and roll up and store somewhere cool and dark for later use (they’ll last for several months). You can use more strips for different seeds – just make sue you label them.
- If you want to plant immediately, you can plant the entire biodegradable tape. Unfurl over pre-watered soil and cover with soil at the depth indicated on the seed packet.
- You could even experiment with seeds discs, circles of seed paper, which you can place in pots instead.
6. Make a cane topper
Garden canes are very useful for supporting tall plants but the ends can be pointy and sharp, and just at the wrong height for children’s eyes. Draw faces on old tennis balls with permanent markers, cutting a hole in the bottom, and slip the ball over the top of the cane. Or, create fun shapes out of modelling clay, like these elf toppers, and dry in the oven, ensuring the hole in the bottom is wider than the cane as they tend to shrink as they dry.
7. Throw a seed bomb
Turn a game of rounders into a growing exercise, by mixing one part wildflower seed mix to three parts compost, and five parts clay, and add a little water to make it feel like cookie dough. Shape into a round ball with your hands and throw them into hard-to-reach areas of your garden (but ensure they land on soil!). In a few weeks you should have an explosion of colour!
8. DIY plant markers
It can be easy to lose track of what you’ve sown and where. Get the kids to help you out with some homemade labels. You’ll have fun and save pots of cash on plastic plant labels! Find my step-by-step guide here.