Gardening with kids; how to make nature fun

Gardening with kids; how to make nature fun

Engaging with nature is easy, you don't need a garden or any skills 

Children love getting mucky, the gruesome and searching for bugs so any activity which involves these elements is sure to be a winner. Growing their own food is a great way of getting them to eat their veggies and if you are enthusiastic then there is a good chance that they will be too. If possible, give them their own little plot to decorate and grow what they want, not what you want! Most seed companies have children’s ranges which usually include easy seeds to grow, big flowers and funky coloured vegetables, such as purple carrots and tiny yellow tomatoes. Kids usually love digging in the soil, so get them to prepare their own plot and count how many worms they can see. If they can have their own plot let them personalise it with a scarecrow, colourful bunting and a fence painted in bright colours, just use the wooden log roll lawn edging. All these can be done in the house when the weather is bad. As can going through seed catalogues, with lots of pictures, to choose what they want to grow.

Try growing pumpkins for Halloween or small ornamental pumpkins which, when dried, can be hollowed out, painted and varnished then used as bird houses or feeders. Just attach some strong string to the top. Strawberries are a great crop for children to grow as they can eat them straight off the plant, try the Alpine variety which are tiny and delicious. Even if you don’t have a garden you can grow salad leaves and quick germinating seeds, such as cress and micro vegetables, on damp kitchen paper on a warm sunny windowsill. Peas and beans can also be grown on damp paper then planted into small pots to grow on when they have produced two pairs of leaves, just cut round the roots and plant the whole lot.

Carnivorous plants can be grown in the house, which appeal to the gruesome side of kids, just keep them damp. Venus Fly Traps snap shut when a fly lands on the pads. The pitfall plants, Sarracenia and Nepanthes catch insects by luring them into their pitchers from where there is no escape.

You can go bug hunting even if you don’t have a garden just go for a walk in the countryside or your local park, armed with a magnifying glass and an invertebrate identification book see how many different bugs you can find. Encourage the bugs into your garden by leaving a section to grow wild, pile logs up, also pile up twigs and cover with leaves to provide a safe haven and winter home. You can make a bug hotel out of bundles of canes cut into short lengths and fastened together, rolls of corrugated paper, bundles of bark and straw or just head to the nearest garden centre where you can buy them ready made.

There are different mixtures of annual flowers seeds available in garden centres which are easy to sow, just rake over a small plot so that the soil is fine and free of stones, sow the seed, cover it with a thin layer of compost and keep it watered. After a few weeks you will be rewarded with a kalaidoscope of summer flowers for the children to pick and bring into the house. The flowers can also be pressed and used to make pictures and birthday cards.

Planting flowers which attract butterflies, birds and bees adds another element of interest. Birds will feed all winter off sunflower and teasel heads; a pair of binoculars and a bird ID guide will keep kids busy for hours, ticking off the different species. Supplement the flower heads with a bird table and fat ball hangers. Let the children make their own fat cone feeders by rolling large cones in a mixture of suet, berries, nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Site nest boxes on the north side of the house or shed and install a nest cam so the children can watch the eggs hatching and the parents feeding the chicks.

If you are enthusiastic about nature then the chances are your kids will be too, we’re never too old or too young to learn and take an interest in the natural world. You don’t need to be an expert gardener to grow a few vegs and flowers, there is plenty of help and advice available both from the internet and garden centre staff. Even something as simple as making daisy chains or wishing on dandelion clocks is better than constantly sitting indoors playing on tablets.

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.