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Gardening fun by Sarah Bloom-Davis

It is never too early to introduce young children to the exciting life that is to be found in the garden. Children delight in planting seeds in small pots and seeing those seeds develop into something they can eat or place in a vase. I am hugely impressed by my son’s school which has introduced a gardening scheme for the nine to ten year-old children, whereby they choose their own flowers and vegetables, grow them from seed, market and sell their produce. Who knows which one of them will become the next television gardening celebrity!
Spring is a wonderful time to get out in the garden - the ground is warming up, plants you had forgotten were there show signs of life, and the days are getting longer. What better way to spend some time with your little ones in the Spring than getting young children interested in growing their own plants from seeds in trays, ready to plant out when the frosts have finished. It doesn't matter how small your garden is, a couple of eight-litre terracotta pots, grow bags or even window boxes will do. Alternatively, you can grow some things very simply in jars or empty yogurt pots on the kitchen windowsill.

Nurturing your Little Gardeners

You may remember an early school science experiment with a jam jar, blotting paper and a large bean seed. Just place a piece of blotting paper (or a few sheets of kitchen towel) the same height as the jam jar inside it, place a bean between the glass and the paper, with enough water to moisten the paper. Find a light place for the jar and wait and watch over the next few days for the seed to sprout and start growing roots, shoots and leaves. This simple activity is an ideal way to help explain to a child how a seed germinates and becomes a plant.
A packet of cress seeds can be grown in a matter of days in a margarine tub lid or saucer with a few pieces of damp kitchen on the bottom. Simply scatter the seeds on the damp paper and store in a dark, warm place (remembering to keep them damp) until they start to sprout, at which point they can be kept on a windowsill. Within about seven days you will have a crop of cress to make delicious egg and cress sandwiches for tea.
Children can also have fun brightening up a window box. I recommend ready-grown plants such as violas, pansies and primroses, or summer bedding plants like busy lizzies and geraniums, which your children can help choose and plant up in a window box with potting compost. A fun job for little fingers will be to dead-head the tired flowers and encourage the new buds to keep flowering, thereby providing plenty of colour throughout the summer. Remember that window boxes will need regular watering, as any plant in a container will dry out quite quickly.

Useful starter equipment which you should be able to find at a garden centre:

  • Shallow seed trays
  • Potting compost
  • Small trowel and fork (or an old tablespoon and fork!)
  • Small watering can
  • Little pots for planting out seedlings (or why not recycle some old yoghurt pots)
  • Plant tags for naming seedlings
  • Seeds (there are several ranges especially for children with attractive pictures and easy instructions).
A visit to your local garden centre makes a wonderful outing for little children. They are stocked with all kinds of goodies, such as children’s trowel and fork sets, pretty watering cans and a huge variety of seeds especially aimed at children. These seeds are all non-toxic and are very easy to grow - just choose what appeals, and remember that children will show more interest if the plant is something pretty or edible. Easy plants to grow include nasturtiums, sunflowers, beans, peas and tomatoes. These all have the added advantage of having fairly large seeds, so young children can actually hold the seeds in their hand and place them individually in the soil, before covering with a scattering of soil or potting compost. As well as being fun, this is a good developmental exercise for children’s fine motor skills.

Gardening with your children will be a joy, and is guaranteed to engage their interest. Whilst there is much that children can do on their own, you will probably have to assist them when scattering very small seeds. I find flicking the packet before opening them helps to loosen and separate the seeds before scattering. One part of gardening children always love is the watering, and with a small hand-held watering can they can do this - just ensure the pots aren't flooded in their enthusiasm. Show children how to check the pots for dry soil and remind them to water regularly so that plants don’t dry out and die.

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