*In collaboration with Jessica Foreman
Whether you’re a parent, carer or teacher, you’ll know that kids love playing around in the great outdoors. Even on dreary days they’d do anything to pull on a raincoat and run around, so why not put all that energy to good use by introducing them to gardening? Not only is this an educational activity the whole family can enjoy (even the very little ones), but with companies like Ashridge Nurseries supplying a wide range of plants and trees to grow you won’t be short of choice.
Of course, you’ll need to be prepared and structured for gardening activities to work, so here’s a basic guide to get you started.
Make sure you have all the right equipment
Children can get rather messy when digging holes and planting flowers in soil, so it’s important to dress them correctly. Wellies are a must on chilly days and if the weather looks a little temperamental, a raincoat will come in handy.
Gloves will protect delicate skin from spikey flowers as will long sleeved tops and trousers, so try to cover as much skin as possible. What’s more, before attempting a gardening session, always dress your kids in comfortable clothes as they’ll need to do a lot of stretching. Jeans, fashion shirts, dresses and other stylish garments might look nice, but buttons can dig in when they’re playing in the garden and are not overly practical.
In terms of equipment, you’ll also need child-friendly items such as plastic buckets and spades. Gardening sets for kids can be bought cheaply online and you’ll even find mini shovels, rakes and wheelbarrows that they can use with ease. Traditional, metal alternatives can be too heavy for small hands, so mini tools are well worth the investment.
Think carefully about what to grow
It’s fair to say that most children have a short attention span. They can also become easily discouraged, so it’s wise to choose easy-to-grow plants that’ll help their first gardening experience to be positive and fruitful. The primrose plant, for instance, is a great choice as this spring wildflower can be planted in pots and containers meaning that even on a rainy day you can sit in the kitchen or a conservatory and do a spot of gardening.
Kids will love placing soil in little containers and when watered every day a host of brightly coloured flowers will emerge. Similarly, pot marigolds are also ideal as if you plant a pinch of seed around March or September, you will be rewarded with a mass of stunning flowers in around ten weeks.
If you are looking for a real showstopper, however, that’ll keep the children gripped for weeks – take the time to grow your own sunflowers. These eye-catching flowers are beautiful, easy to grow and their height and rapid growth is extremely fun for youngsters to watch.
There are many ways you can do this, but it’s probably best to start seeds off in a clear, plastic cup with plenty of soil as that way kids can watch as the seeds germinate – feel free to use a magnifying glass too for a closer look.
Pop them in the sunniest place you can as sunflowers need at least six hours of sunlight a day and when they are around 20cm replant them in the garden. Bear in mind Russian Giant sunflowers reach a whopping three metres, so this is a really fun project for kids to get stuck into – you could even make a sunflower diary to track their progress.
Create a sensory garden
Gardening is also the perfect way to teach youngsters about textures, colours and scents. Different plants have different attributes so by planting a variety of things you can create your very own sensory garden.
While chameleon plants, Swiss chard ‘bright lights’, heuchera ‘chocolate ruffles’ and of course, sunflowers are visually stunning, wind rustling plants such as greater quaking grass and Nanus Variegatus (a pretty bamboo like foliage) encourages small ones to listen to the sounds of nature. Lamb’s ears or stachys byzantine also have a silky texture which is soft to the touch compared to Jerusalem sage which has downy leaves, so try to mix things up a bit. Gardening is a wonderful activity for all ages, so go ahead and give some of the above tips a go.