child looking at marigolds

Easy plants for kids to grow

Growing plants helps kids concentrate, gets them outside and gives them their '5-a-day'

Children are naturally curious and anything that combines this with getting mucky is a winner so why not introduce your kids to the joys of gardening; you don’t even need a garden, a warm sunny windowsill will suffice. Having a connect to the natural world is essential given the perilous state of a lot of the earth’s habitats and the tendency to rely completely on technology. We all need technology but we also need to understand where our food comes from and appreciate our truly wonderous planet.

You don’t need any particular skills to have a connection to nature, some seeds will grow almost anywhere and seed packets will give you all the instructions you need. If you struggle to get your kids to eat fruit and veggies then growing their own is the perfect solution, as they are usually quite willing to eat something that they have nurtured and produced all by themselves.

Children are less likely to lose interest if they are growing something they want to grow. If you are an experienced gardener let them look through seed catalogues and choose their own, the bright pictures are more likely to entice them to grow something. If you are a novice then visit a garden centre and browse through the ranges of seeds aimed specifically at children. Both Thompson & Morgan and Johnson’s Seeds produce seeds, the packets aimed at attracting children, which are easy to grow or are quite quirky.

If you don’t have a garden try growing salad leaves on a sunny windowsill, there is a huge range to choose from and they grow quite quickly so the kids, hopefully, won’t get bored waiting for something to happen. Small evergreen lavender or rosemary plants would grow well, and they have the added bonus of smelling divine whenever you touch the leaves; once they get too big for the windowsill just plant up into a container and site outside in full sun. If you have plenty of space on the windowsill then tiny cherry tomatoes would be a big hit; just make sure you buy ‘bush’ plants not the cordon variety as they grow too tall for a windowsill.

Cacti and succulents are great for children to grow indoors as they don’t mind being forgotten about for long periods; their main requirement is that they need a warm sunny position. Just stay away from the spiky varieties. Carnivorous plants are fantastic fun for children as they eat insects which appeals to the gruesome in kids. They just need a warm position out of direct sun and to be kept damp; just make sure your children don’t keep making them close repeatedly as it exhausts the plant and it won’t be able to catch the insects it needs to survive.

Even if you only have a back-yard or small patio there are still plenty of easy and tasty plants which can be grown in containers. If you want a truly spectacular plant then the sunflower ‘Russian Giant’ lives up to its name, reaching a height of around 10 foot. It needs a large pot, at least 12” in diameter and 18” deep with John Innes No 3 compost; even better if it can be planted in the garden. It will need a sturdy cane for support as it grows or place it next to a drainpipe and tie it in as it grows, just make sure the drainpipe is really secure. Once the flower head has gone over and the seeds formed it will attract a whole host of seed eating birds; adding another element of nature to the garden. Remember to keep back a few seeds to sow the following year. Sunflower seeds are really handy for older children to use in creative projects; paint and thread onto sturdy thread to make a necklace or paint and stick onto card to make a mosaic picture.

Nasturtiums can be grown in containers and hanging baskets; not only do they look pretty but the leaves and flowers can be eaten in salads. They need to be grown in really poor soil otherwise they will produce a lot of leaves and no flowers. If you have any compost which has already been used in containers or hanging baskets this is ideal as the nutrients it originally contained will have been used by the previous crop of plants. English marigolds or calendulas are easy to grow and can be bought in packs of 6 in garden centres in early summer so you don’t have to sow seed and get masses more plants then you need.

There are plenty of edible plants which can be grown in containers; salad leaves, small cherry tomatoes, radish, sugar snap peas and Chantenay carrots can all be eaten without being cooked, just wash off any compost. They all need a sunny position and to be kept uniformly damp; if you let them dry out they become tough and woody. Dwarf French beans and potatoes both grow perfectly well in containers; place 3 seed potatoes in half a tub of good quality compost, just cover with a little more compost and as they grow keep adding more compost until the container is full. Again make sure they are in a sunny position and they don’t dry out. Harvesting potatoes is always exciting as you don’t know what you’ve got until you turn them out of the container.

Strawberries are also ideal for growing in containers and hanging baskets and as with the veggies, need sun and even watering to produce a good crop; but you may have to throw some fruit netting over them as the birds also find them irresistible. Blueberries, which are often classed as a super-food, as they are rich in vitamins and antioxidants, thrive well in containers and are easy to grow, just keep them damp and give them sun. Another essential requisite is that they must be grown in an acid soil, which, in garden centres is labelled as being ‘ericaceous compost’.

If you have a garden where your children can have their own little plot then you can grow a whole host of plants; sweet peas are always a favourite as they smell so delicious and there is the added interest of building a wigwam of cane to support them. A wild flower patch to attract the insects and butterflies is easy to achieve, all you have to do is dig over the patch, rake it smooth, sow the seed in April and cover the seed with a thin covering of soil. Water and wait for the seeds to germinate. Instead of the wild flowers try a cut flower mixture to display in the house all summer. Bedding plants make a great show and can be planted in the ground or containers, you can often buy them in packs or as single plants, so you can buy just the amount you need, and you have instant colour, especially with primroses in spring.

Teasels are another great plant for wildlife as the seeds will feed the birds all winter and they grow to an impressive height. Funky shaped ornamental gourds are fantastic value as the kids get the pleasure out of growing them and once they have dried can be hollowed out, painted, varnished, hung up and used as bird houses and feeders. In the same vein as the gourds why not grow pumpkins for Halloween and have a competition to see who can grow the biggest. Courgettes are easy to grow, produce a massive plant and the kids can have fun searching underneath the leaves for the fruits.

By growing their own fruit and vegs children can be introduced to cooking simple dishes; courgettes make fun courgetti spaghetti. Blueberries can be made into muffins, the cherry tomatoes, salad leaves, radish and sugar snap peas made into a salad, the possibilities are endless. Growing your own food and flowers opens up a whole new world of nature, cookery and the responsibilities of caring for a living entity.

Angela Slater
Daughter of a farmer and market gardener so have always had a connection with the outdoors, whether it was keeping animals or producing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Along with my work at Hayes Garden World I also have a smallholding, mainly breeding rare breed pigs. I gained an HND and BSc in Conservation and Environmental Land Management, as a result I am an ardent environmentalist and have a keen interest in environmentally friendly gardening. In my time at Hayes I worked for several years in the Outdoor Plant and Houseplant areas