As the garden wakes up, March is a great time to encourage budding gardeners to get outside and involved in growing. Below you’ll find a few simple ideas to get you and your little ones started.
Choose plants that will grow! You want a child’s early experiences of growing to be a success, so choose plants that grow easily, quickly and that have a high success rate. And remember, large seeds, like Nasturtiums, Sunflowers or Sweet Peas, are easier for small fingers to handle.
Make it exciting – Sunflowers are a great place to start because they can grow as big as your house! Digging up potatoes is like finding buried treasure, and you never know what you might find up a runner beanstalk.
Sow sunflowers in pots inside in April, plant out in late May and by the end of the season you could have a monster the size of your house. . They grow best in a sunny sheltered position, need some support and plenty of water. Check the details on the seed packet as there are dozens of varieties and they are not all giants.
Edible plants are always popular with children and potatoes are easy to grow even in containers. Just one or two seed potatoes in large pot is all you need. Plant them near the bottom of the pot and top up the compost as they grow for a bumper crop.
Runner beans grow quickly and there may not always be a giant at the top but there will be plenty of beans. Sow seeds individually in small pots in late April, plant outside in late May. They will need something to grow up like canes or string. Pick the bean while they are tender 15 -20cm, leave them to get too long and they become stringy.
Plant some peas in the garden or a large pot in April, keep them watered and give them something to climb up. Now, while you’re waiting for them to grow, plant some more peas in a small pot and in 3 weeks you will be able to cut the tops off and eat the shoots. Let them grow again for a second and third crop. Any pea seeds can be used, they are large and easy for small fingers to handle.
And speaking of eating, herbs, which look and taste so different from each other, are a great introduction to how diverse the plant world is, and open up young taste-buds to new experiences.
You can find a whole series of growing cards on the Garden Organic website to get you started http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/growyourown
Look beyond the plants – getting children interested in gardening isn’t just about growing things. For example, there are lots of small creatures living in our gardens and watching what they do can teach us a lot about how nature works; bees pollinating plants, spiders spinning webs, worms improving the soil or slugs and snails eating our plants.
Organic gardeners try to work with nature encouraging the beneficial animals by growing the plants they like and in return they help to keep down the pests that attack the plants. Find out who you can see living in your own back garden, and work out whether they are a friend or a foe. There are lots of ideas and information on the Nature Detectives website http://www.naturedetectives.org.uk/
Taking a closer look at the plants in the garden can also be rewarding – how many different leaf shapes or different coloured petals can you find? You can try making a rainbow from the petals or you could grow a rainbow – mark out a rainbow shape and sow different coloured flowers in each section something like Nasturtiums, Calendula (Pot Marigold), red Poppies, chives and Cornflowers. Or grow a series of pots with different coloured flowers that can be arranged in a rainbow shape.
And finally, it’s great to give a child their own small patch – a sunny spot with well dug soil gives the plants a fighting chance – but don’t worry if you haven’t much space – pots and grow bags work well and can make it easier to watch your plants grow. You don’t need lots of expensive equipment either – old spoons and forks from the kitchen are great for small helping hands