For some kids, the garden is what you run through from the front door to the car. Nothing more. But if parents are genuinely interested in the garden, and instil a sense of curiosity into their kids, the kids will be interested in the garden and what grows there too.
By the time he was four my grandson was picking the shoot tips out of the mint and eating them and checking every day to see when the first strawberries were ripe. But different things interest different kids.
Some kids are fascinated by textures, from spiny cacti to furry lamb’s ears. Some like to hide and play amongst the plants while others are just amazed by the very existence of an orange pumpkin. And why not?
There’s so much to interest kids in a garden – from bugs to blackberries to buddleias for butterflies – it’s up to mum and dad to provide the opportunities. Think how amazing it is to grow a plant that will be taller than their dad in just a few months.
Kids love pumpkins because they grow so fast. And because their leaves are so big they can hide under them. And because they suddenly develop these amazing orange footballs that grow into beach balls and then into space hoppers. And because you can hollow out these beach balls and make them into faces and put candles inside. The only problem from the parents’ point of view is where to grow them. Pumpkins make big sprawling plants that smother their neighbours. Better ask granddad to grow them… Grow to a 2-3m spread.
If kids can pick strawberries or blackberries or raspberries or cherry tomatoes from the garden and taste them straight away – even if they’re brought up on burgers and cola – it’ll teach them something. And they might just enjoy the taste. OK, perhaps it’ll teach them they don’t like tomatoes but they won’t forget the plant from which they picked that horrid little fruit. There are varieties of raspberries and blackberries without thorns, if that’s a worry, and it’s a great opportunity to promote the idea of “if in doubt, ask” when picking berries. Grow to 30cm-2m.
The fact that anyone can grow a sunflower 3m or 4m tall in one summer is pretty amazing; it seems to me, and not just to kids. But for kids to see the plant overtake their own height in just a few weeks is going to excite them. At the same time, growing a flower as big as your kid’s head – and perhaps on a plant shorter than they are… well, that too will grab their attention. Sow the seeds in paper cups on an indoor windowsill in March or in the ground outside in April for the earliest flowers – but you can leave it until May if you prefer. Grow to 30cm-4m.
This is all about growing your own forest in one summer. It’s true… You can buy plants from the garden centre in May, or get out those paper or plastic cups again and sow seeds on the windowsill in April. Plant them in early June – but this is important: don’t plant them in a row. Plant them about 30-50cm apart in a square block – well, more or less… They’ll grow 1.5-1.8m high and there’ll be just enough space between the stout stems for kids to crawl and hide. Oh, yes and in late summer each plant will have a couple of cobs for you to harvest. Grow to 1.5-1.8m.
Now I know some kids are a bit squeamish, and the idea of plants eating insects will make them shudder or wonder if they’re next on the menu. But at the same time many kids have a ghoulish fascination with this sort of thing and if you grow a Venus fly trap on the windowsill they’ll be able to check it at breakfast to see if the plant is also having a meal. It’s a small plant, not expensive to pick up at the garden centre, and it can be grown in a 10cm, pot. And the fact that the leaves move as they close around supper is always intriguing. Grows to 20cm.