Gardening with Children
Almost anyone in the gardening business will tell you how sad they are that so few young people attend gardening society meetings, exhibit at shows or even buy gardening magazines. But let’s distinguish between young people and children. I can understand that for teenagers and over, there are many other attractions and demands on their time. Only when young adults first own a garden do they begin to take gardening seriously. But children are another matter for most have access to some sort of family garden (even if it is only a window box) and encouragement given at this early stage of their lives will reap its rewards when they have their own gardens later.
I always think that much of gardening with children is concerned with psychology. Be very careful with your don’ts in the garden. Saying ‘no’ too frequently when children venture onto your own beds and borders will cause them to associate plants and gardening in general with something untouchable. It is far better to explain carefully why it is not a good idea to walk through the newly emergingor jump on the . Let them envisage gardening from the plants’ point of view and see them as living things; although do please spare them the ridiculous notion that plants will be ‘hurt’ if they are damaged.
Encouragement is the appropriate word with children, for most have relatively little patience and expect results both quickly and dramatically. I am convinced that setting aside a small area specifically for the children to use is the ideal way in which to stimulate their interest. But please don’t be tempted to give them a spot in which you are unable to grow anything yourself; you should do quite the reverse.
In the open garden, choose a place where the growing conditions are good, where thehas already been well amended with and where there is good exposure to sunshine. An area of about 3.5-4 sq.m (38-43 sq.ft) will allow them plenty of scope although in a , of course, this may need to be scaled down. Choose an area also that is close enough to a tap for the children not to have to carry cans of water long distances.
In a world increasingly aware of the damage that can so easily be caused to the natural environment at large, inform children about the importance of. A bin of their own may be impractical but children must certainly be encouraged to contribute the debris from their own plot to the family bin. And, most importantly, explain to them how the thing works.
Dissuade them from using any pesticides on their plants; there will time later for them to be selective enough to make minimal use of the safer, less persistent substances on a few occasions. Whilst they are young enough to be impressionable, let their garden plot teach them the value of all animal and plant life (including the species that we call pests). But let it also serve to show them that life is a struggle; the plants they choose to grow will not survive if, too, are allowed to flourish.
What are the types of plants most appealing to children?
Vegetables are rewarding too for they offer something edible (although I am uncertain if having grownthemselves, easy as it is, necessarily renders them more likely to eat it). Among other vegetables, are the easiest of all, closely followed by (the small varieties such as ‘Little Gem), carrots (especially the quick growing early, spherical rooted types), , runner beans (which produce more dramatic results more quickly than almost any other vegetable), and courgettes. But almost all vegetables are worth trying and available space need really be the only limiting factor.
Among flowers, the list is longer still. Sunflowers are almost essential because of their size but candytuft, calendulas, nasturtiums, pansies, poppies, schizanthus, and ten-week stocks are all rewarding. When choosing seeds, however, either from a mail order catalogue or from a garden centre display, do allow your children some choice; there may be items that appeal to them from the pictures on the packets and only by trying them will they discover if they are easy or frustratingly difficult.
It may also be worthwhile buying a few plants, partly to give them encouragement while their seeds germinate but also to demonstrate to children that some garden plants can only be propagated by; and allowing them to take cuttings themselves will of course prove tremendous fun later.
Teach your children the value of their garden tools – some manufacturers produce ranges of good quality small tools especially for children. Show them that they should wipe over the tools and put them away at the end of their gardening activities; although I am not naive enough to expect your children to be inherently any better than mine were at tidying away, but in the garden at least, they can always follow a parental example, teach them garden hygiene also; always to wash their hands after gardening.
So much for gardening for children. It is also important to consider gardening with children. Especially those too young to understand even the basics of horticulture. The most important rule here must be a don’t: don’t have a garden pool (and fill in any existing pool) while children are very young – a small child can drown in a very few centimetres/inches of water.
Children of course also expect swings, sandpits, tree-houses, rope ladders and similar essentials. But there is no reason why the entire garden should take on the appearance of a municipal playground. If the garden is large enough, set aside an area for play things, preferably an area visible from the house (or, at least, from the kitchen.) Alternatively, choose items that can be put away easily and simply and that are made from materials that blend with the environment. Children’s garden equipment needn’t be of luridly coloured plastic; relatively inexpensive wooden items are readily available. Nor need such features as sand-pits be planned as permanent garden features; they can be constructed in such a way to be capable of being changed later into , or even into pools.
Let your children garden with you. Choose a day when you are feeling relaxed and are prepared to potter rather than when you are undertaking major activities that need your full concentration or where you need to work quickly. Young nimble fingers are ideal for dead-heading bedding plants, harvesting fruit and planting up hanging baskets. Take the opportunity to explain that by taking off the faded old flowers new ones will be produced. When harvesting, give them a small basket and explain which fruits are ready and how you judge ripeness.
A few gardening activities are best done, however, without the distraction of young children. Above all, using electrical or powered equipment such as mowers, trimmers, hedge cutters and shredders is better done in adult company — you must be able to concentrate on the task in hand without distractions.
Recent legislation requires garden centres and plant producers to label plants for relative toxicity. There are those among us who feel that this has over-emphasised a relatively rare hazard; very few garden plants are dangerously poisonous so it is important to keep a sense of proportion. Nonetheless, children need to learn that they should never eat any plant (including toadstools of course) without parental guidance.
There are two main problem areas that people confuse: those plants which if eaten can cause poisoning, and those plants that can cause skin irritation. The difficulties in establishing guidelines will be immediately evident, however, as some people’s skin is more sensitive than others; and skin irritation can range from a mild rash to painful, large, blisters needing hospitable treatment. The plants in the box below are those that should be officially designated on their labels as toxic to some degree.