Monday, 22 March 2010

Gardening with Kids #1

Like young children, gardens are hard work, time-consuming and frequently damp, but (mostly) worth all the effort. Many parents like me feel they don’t have time to smell the roses, let alone grow any. 21st Century families rarely have the time or the space to garden together. Homes with sizeable gardens are out of the question for a good deal of first time buyers. This means families with young children miss out in several ways: they don’t get the freedom of playing outside, close to home and within safe boundaries; they lack first-hand knowledge of how and why things grow; the seasons don’t matter so much; and to the question “Where does food come from?” their answer will usually be “the supermarket".

If you are desperate to get outside and start thinning your peaches or pruning your weigela, but you have children to look after, there needn’t be a conflict of interests. Why not combine the two? Just like coaxing a plant to thrive; start sowing the seeds of interest early, tread gently and read the signs that you are over-doing it! Soon you may have the benefit of a small troop of weeders or waterers following you around the garden, sometimes quite willingly!

Encouragement is key to developing green fingers. Certainly, it can be difficult to motivate children to get outdoors into the fresh air or stop playing on their Wii. Much depends on the child’s age: a toddler will quite happily follow mummy or grandpa out into the garden and enjoy messing about in the dirt, or helping to plant, but older children usually need a bit more encouragement or persuasion. It's important not to insist on perfection or undying enthusiasm; just getting them out of the back door and keeping them outdoors is an achievement!

Strangers and Pilgrims on Earth
It is a good idea to start with simple projects such as the old favourite of growing cress in eggshells on a window-sill, as this has a high success-rate and a speedy result. Or your child can adopt a houseplant, learning how to tell when it needs watering by feeling the compost, deadheading to keep it looking tidy, being encouraged to look out for insects and disease invaders (a magnifying glass, plus a book with some gory pictures of diseases and pests makes this much more interesting), and learning about the conditions preferred by most houseplants in terms of sunlight and temperature. 

Familiarity with an indoor plant may encourage an interest in what’s growing outside. A hyacinth, crocus or miniature daffodils would be ideal, as these can be planted outside later. Several suppliers have seed ranges aimed at children, but the real inspiration will come from you, the gardener.
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