Gardening with kids isn’t simply about growing lots of things – in fact, that’s only a small part of it. Really it’s more about getting them outside in the fresh air and generally messing about with seeds, soil and water that will turn them into future gardeners. Anything you can do to get your kids engaging with the world of your garden is ‘gardening’. Whether that’s hosing down the outdoor furniture, painting the fence or collecting things for a nature table, it’s all good stuff. If you can get them sowing seeds and potting up, then even better – you’ve got a budding Monty Don in the making!
The trick is to get them hooked and there are a few great gardening projects to get them off on the right foot. Don’t aim too high, start off by growing just one or two things and perhaps a trip to the garden centre to buy a few plants for bees and butterflies. All kids love having their own tools and kit so do invest in some pint-sized tools and a mini wheelbarrow if you can.
Easy to grow plants for children
- We’re all impatient for things to grow and sprout, children especially, so choose plants that will rocket away swiftly. The classic speedy choice is mustard and cress, one of the first things I ever grew indoors on some kitchen roll.
- Other plants that will speed away from seed on the windowsill include tomatoes although you could buy young plants instead. I like the dwarf bush varieties such as Tumbler and Totem but there are lots to try. Watching those distinctive yellow flowers turn into tomatoes is great for teaching kids about the whole process of fruiting.
- If you have room grow a courgette or, better still, a pumpkin plant. Start it off by sowing a couple of seeds into a single pot on the windowsill and then plant out once the big leaves form. It will romp away and will need a lot of space outside but you get to watch the pumpkins swelling and gradually turning orange as the summer goes on.
- Sowing seeds in a row outdoors is fun and there are a few quick-growing vegetables that will be ready to eat before you know it. Radishes are the classic starter plant for children as you can be eating them within a month – you just need to find a good recipe! I love growing mixed mustards for the same speedy harvesting, plus they’re great added to salads or sandwiches.
Make a den
I spent my childhood creating a den almost every summer that I can remember. It really doesn’t need to be fancy – just a load of branches and bits of wood resting against a wall or tree to create a secret space within. We would set up there with some drinks and snacks and while away entire afternoons making up stories and games. This fun activity is guaranteed to get young children excited to be in the garden.
Build a mini beast haven
Making your own bug box is a lot of fun for kids and just requires collecting some materials and perhaps a bit of adult help. Use an old wooden box such as a crate, broken bird box or similar, then just fill in the space with groups of items such as:
- Cut bamboo canes
- Twiggy branches
- Rolls of cardboard
- Broken terracotta pots
Wet day things to do
Buy a notebook that they can turn into their own gardening book. They can draw pictures of plants and flowers, bees and butterflies to give them a record of your garden over the course of a season. You could follow all the stages of a plant from seed to seedling, flower to fruit.
Press some leaves and flowers for sticking in the book. Place these between sheets of smooth kitchen paper or toilet paper in a big heavy book for a couple of weeks. The flatter the leaf or flower the better it will press. You can use them to make pictures and cards too.
Make a nature table. Collect things like interesting bits of bark, seed heads and capsules, snail shells and perhaps even a broken bird’s egg to put on your table or shelf, or even in a shoebox, then label them all. Take pictures for the gardening record too.
What else have you been doing in the garden with your children? Do you have any tips for gardening with kids? Let us know in the comments.
Jane Moore is a multi-award winning head gardener, speaker, writer and TV presenter. Besides her day job as Head Gardener at the prestigious Bath Priory Hotel, her career highlights to date include guest presenting on BBC Gardeners’ World, as well as winning a Garden Journalist of the Year award and an RHS Chelsea Flower Show Medal.