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Gardening for Children


Gardening is a subject which captivates most of us at some time in our lives. It is quite rare for a person to reach their twilight years and not have been touched by this enormously popular hobby.

Over the last few years gardening popularity has soared with its very high profile in the media, in particular television, which has acted as a precursor to the vast numbers of books and magazines covering all aspects of gardening which now appear in our bookshops.

The Horticultural Trades Association estimates that the industry is now worth billion pounds, a third of which is spent on plants that are bought through DIY outlets and Garden Centres, used to enhance our gardens and stimulate our enthusiasm for more adventurous designs.

It interesting to note that the demand for gardening courses at Kings Heath Horticultural Training Centre has never waived during the last 15 years with many people now considering it as a serious career change later in life.

To reflect, I for one became interested in gardening at the age of 5 years old and was inspired by the enthusiasm of my Grandparents, who were very keen gardeners themselves. I will always remember how enthusiastic my Grandfather was to pass on his knowledge and secrets of growing prize winning chrysanthemums and vegetables which he used to exhibit at gardening shows all over the country.

It was my Grandfather who inspired me so much to take up gardening as a career. I will never forget how enthused I was at taking cuttings and sowing seeds, which later developed into plants that would create so much pleasure and produce a kaleidoscope of colour in my garden for everybody to see.

Today, there has never been a better time to get children interested and involved in the garden and to help them understand and develop respect for the natural environment which we all live in.

If a child first experience with gardening is fun and successful, the chances are that they will develop the green fingers, a reward that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

There are few things children enjoy more than digging in the soil and making mud pies. They are fascinated by looking for worms and insects and love to water the garden or anything else in the vicinity. Children also like planting seeds, watching them grow and then harvesting what they have grown.

By carefully cultivating their curiosity, you can help them develop a love of both nature and gardening that will be with them for many years to come. In addition, gardening can help children have a greater understanding of the living environment which plays such an important part nowadays in the national curriculum. It should be remembered that supporting your child in these activities can be very demanding, time consuming, and therefore it is important not to overwhelm either you or your child by making the experience over ambitions or too intensive. Remember, gardening should be fun and exciting.

For younger children, soil preparation may be the most fun part of gardening. Children aged 2 or 3 love to dig the soil with a large spoon and help prepare the garden ready for seed sowing or planting.

Where children live in a townhouse or apartment, a small corner or balcony can provide enough space for a child container garden. It is surprising what you can grow and surprising how attractive growing a range of lettuce or Swiss chard can look in combination with other greens in containers. In fact dwarf varieties of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and fruit such as dwarf apples, strawberries etc can do well in containers.

For older children, 5 8 year old, whilst they still need an adults support, they can have a larger sized garden with a greater variety of full sized plants such as tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, radish, carrots and some herbs. It is important not to forget plants such as marigolds, nasturtiums, sunflowers and vegetables like cabbage, carrots, beetroot, onions and leeks etc. Be careful to make sure plants are non toxic eg rhubarb leaves and stems when eaten raw are poisonous. Berries are also attractive to children, but can be quite dangerous if eaten eg Yew Berries (seeds in the berry are poisonous). Other poisonous plants include Foxgloves, Ivy with berries, Privet, Fuchsia, Potato plant all parts except the potato itself.

Remember children can be sensitive to all sorts of plants in the garden.

What appeals to many children is the sensory garden for example sight, feel, smell, taste and sound.

Sight Sunflowers, Pot Marigolds. Heuchera hocolate Rufflesbr/>Feel Stachys lanata, Lambs Ear, Phlomis fruticosa and House Leek
Smell Lavender, Curry Plant, Sweet Pea*, Chocolate Cosmos
Taste Spearmint, Rosemary, Wild Strawberry and Chives
Sound Sweetcorn, Bamboo, Nigella
* Sweet Pea seeds are poisonous, so parental supervision is advised when planting

At this age children also want ownership of their garden and it is important that you distinguish their area from the rest of the garden. Encourage children to be creative by growing a willow wigwam for the family to sit in, a fun maze, container pond, a pizza garden or sunflower house.

For children 5 to 8, they have a greater understanding of what is going on in the garden and will take more interest in beneficial insects, predators and harmful ugs

As children get older they will also take more of an interest in visits to the garden centre. Here you will be able to select one or two unusual plants or vegetables which they can experiment with for example globe artichokes which are sturdy and do well with low maintenance and a sunny position.

For children gardens use pest and disease resistant plants. Children love to touch and fingers often end up in their mouths, so organic and pesticide free plants are the safest. Vegetables which are fairly problem free include beetroot, carrots, lettuce, onions, peas and radishes.

After watching, watering and weeding, this summer you and your child will have shared hours of fun and learning together.

Of course, there are other ways of encouraging children to become more interested in gardening, for example:

1)Encourage basic gardening skills through a range of projects and activities, children learn how to care for a variety of plants.
2)Make a garden in a bottle.
3)Design a garden in a seed tray.
4)Encourage children to grow plants from cuttings or seeds. Try growing an oak tree from an Acorn.
5)Encourage children to read different books such as information books and increase their range of reading and improve referencing skills.
6)Children like to explore interesting facts for example:
i)Some orchid seed pods hold 3 million seeds.
ii)The largest seed is a double coconut which measures 50cm around the middle.
iii)Coconuts have a fibrous coating and air inside them, because they need to float to a new home.
iv)Seeds provide the world daily food breakfast cereal, toast, pasta or pizza.
v)Some seed is very dangerous eg deadly nightshade 2 seeds can kill a person. Castor Oil plant 1 seed will kill an adult.
7)Join a gardening club The Sunnyside Community Club in the South East is an excellent example of this type of community project.

Schools now see the importance of gardening in relation to the National Curriculum and actively encourage development of gardens and conservation areas as part of the school grounds.

Groups like the Brownies develop awareness through their various badge awards see the Brownies garden in the demonstration gardens at Kings Heath Park.

The Royal Horticultural Society organised a childrenday such as the one at Harlow Carr during the school holidays and presented a range of activities like garden games, quizzes, story telling, pond dipping, nature walks etc.
See the RHS website for future activities.

HDRA at Ryton on Dunsmore run many activities for both children and adults as well as the Organic Gardens School Project.

The National Garden Scheme has open days throughout 2005 to
provide inspiration to develop school grounds as part of the
National Curriculum.

Remember, gardening should always be FUN, EXCITING AND REWARDING.

Useful Books for Children

Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots: Gardening Together with Children
by Sharon Lovejoy

Great Gardens for Kids by Clare Mathews, Clive Nichols (photographs)

How Does Your Garden Grow? Great Gardening for Green Fingered Kids
by Clare Mathews, Clive Nichols (photographs)

Fun with Gardening:- 50 Great Gardening Projects Kids can Plant Themselves br/>By Clare Bradley.

Family Gardens How to Create Magical Outdoor Space for All Ages br/>By Bunny Guiness

Start Gardening (First Skills) - By Cheryl Evans and Sue Johnson

New Junior Garden Book:- Cool Stuff for Kids to Grow, Make and Learn -
By Felder Rushing.

Websites to Visit - www.RHS.Org.uk
www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/gardening with children

Mike Hinton
Kings Heath Park