Gardening with children - Deborah Ballard
With the children off school and confined to home, why not encourage them to grow flowers, or better still, vegetables? It’s a great way of inspiring a love of nature, understanding how plants grow and where your food comes from (and for older kids, food security) – and children will usually eat something they’ve grown themselves. It’s also highly educational. You can get anything you need, as many garden centres will prepare an order for you to collect, or despatch an order.
No space? Sacrifice part of a flower-bed, dig up a corner of the lawn, or buy a small raised bed and some compost, which will mean fewer weeds for them to cope with. For those with only a sunny balcony, invest in a few pots, some slow-release fertiliser granules and some potting compost. Only give a small space to little ones, and expand later if they are really keen. The bed does need to be in full sun.
What to grow:
Think about large seeds for little fingers, and quick germination and results. Dwarf French beans are ideal, and most kids like them; choose yellow and purple ones, e.g. Helios or Purple Teepee, to make harvesting easier. Early peas are good, too, e.g. Kelvedon Wonder, although you will need to support them; you can sow some thickly in a large pot for quick pea-tips for salads. Radishes grow in 6 weeks, and are best eaten young – try Cherry Belle. Carrots are popular – get an early variety like Romance F1 or Amsterdam Forcing for a quicker result; both are delicious eaten raw. You will need to protect them from carrot root-fly with horticultural fleece.
Early potatoes can be grown in a potato barrel or in the ground. All children love strawberries – get young plants for a crop this year, e.g Elsanta and Cambridge Favourite, and you can show the children how to net the fruit and how the plants reproduce from runners. ‘Determinate’ (non-climbing) tomatoes like Tumbling Tom can be grown in pots, although if you can rig a support for a climbing tomato, Sungold will have them eating them like sweets.
If you already grow vegetables, you can get the children to help to sow and harvest, explaining as you go. As for flowers, non-trailing nasturtiums and ‘pot’ marigolds (Calendula) have pretty flowers and big seeds, and the petals can be eaten in salads. Any hardy annual flower will give a quick result, and sowing or planting a patch of wild flowers will attract bees and butterflies and instil a love of nature.
- Alan Taylor