How Does Your Garden Grow?

Children love growing vegetables and flowers, according to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). Discover their tips on how to entice kids to get their hands dirty.

It’s great to get kids interested in growing plants in the garden – and not just for the free labour. Children aged from toddlers to teenagers benefit in many ways from learning about how their garden grows. For example, gardening teaches them about the seasons and environment, working in a team and the natural life cycles. Research by the RHS shows that children who garden perform better at school, becoming more resilient and ready to learn.

Another benefit is that you may find your kids become more interested in healthy eating – they are more likely to try and taste new vegetables that they have grown and harvested themselves.


How to choose what to grow
When you’re gardening with children, it’s important to choose your plants carefully to maintain their interest and enthusiasm. Flowers with larger seeds, such as sunflowers and nasturtium seeds, are easier for young children to handle and sow. Sunflowers are also great to grow with children because you can see the results almost instantly and they create a real spectacle when they’re full size.

For older children, favourites such as love-in-a-mist (Nigella), cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) and marigolds (Calendula officinalis) have smaller seeds to practice dexterity, but the plants grow quickly too, so you still don’t have to wait long for results. Children also love plants which appeal to their senses. Try poppies with their rattling seedheads, the furry Stachys byzantina, the curry plant (Helichrysum italicum), the  lemon-smelling Melissa officinalis and cocoa-scented chocolate cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus).


Home-grown vegetables
Growing vegetables is a lot of fun. Not only do you get to watch the plants grow, but you can eat them once they are ready. Try taste tests with your kids to see which  home-grown vegetable is their favourite. Again opt for quick-growing and easy crops. Try radishes, lettuces and runner beans, all of which can be sown in May and munched during the summer months. Radishes are especially quick growing – they should be ready to harvest two to eight weeks after planting. Add some surprise as well as colour to your lettuce salads by growing the flower nasturtium too – the peppery blooms can be eaten.

For show-stopping results, plant out pumpkin. Sow it in May and it will be ready when the skin toughens, in time for Halloween.


It shouldn’t cost the earth
Growing plants from seeds is really cheap but you don’t need to spend a fortune on pots either. Eye-catching flower pots can be made from almost anything, so think about using pretty tins and boxes – with drainage holes punched in the bottom – old wine crates and even used wellington boots. Keeping a gardening diary with your children can also become part of the fun. It helps them to observe the changes in the garden and seasons, while also providing an understanding of how long it takes for seeds to grow into plants.  


No-garden gardening
You don’t need to have a garden to develop your kids’ green fingers – all you need is a window ledge. Help your child create a haven for butterflies, bees and bugs by filling a window box or small crate with wildlife-friendly plants, such as snapdragon, dwarf hebe, chives and lavender. Help your child make a mini insect house by folding some corrugated cardboard inside a bottle, or tying together some hollow sticks and seedpods for creatures to crawl into. Add a few small rocks for insects to crawl under and a tiny pond made from a small dish or foil tray, and you’ll have wildlife flocking to your window ledge every day.

 

More ideas for kids’ gardening projects

Flowerpot people
Children can make sunflowers look even more cheerful and give them a real personality by painting the pots they are planted in. Old  paint tins with a few holes drilled into them make great plant pots. Your children can then paint ‘clothes’ for the sunflower on the outside of the pots. If your kids keep watering the plants, they will soon see the sunflowers grow and flower. Once the flowers have opened, try using a pencil to pick out some of the tiny flowers on the head to make a face.

Floral tepee
Create a perfect hideaway for summer games and adventures with your children by making a flower- covered tepee which will grow all through the summer. Tie  beanpoles together at the top with twine to create the structure of the tepee. Kids can have fun creating doorways and windows with dried out branches, then sprinkling seeds around the bottom of each beanpole. If they are kept moist, morning glory, sweet peas, black-eyed Susan (Thunbergia alata) and Lablab purpureus will climb quickly up the poles, covering the sides of the tepee with flowers and creating the perfect den for your children.

Pizza garden
If your kids like pizza, they may beinterested in making their own pizza garden. The toppings won’t be ready as quickly as if you order a takeaway, but will be much tastier and healthier. In early summer, buy plants of small tomatoes, peppers, onions and Italian herbs and plant them into a large container. Your kids can add colourful, painted section dividers. The plants will soon grow if you put them in a sunny spot and water them regularly, and children will love cooking the crops to make their very own perfect pizza.

 

The Royal Horticultural Society’s book Ready, Steady, Grow! (Dorling Kindersley, £9.99) has more ideas for gardening with children. Also visit www.rhs.org.uk/children for monthly activities.


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