Growing plants with your kids opens up a whole range of possibilities, from education to downright fun – but with so many different plants to choose from, sometimes even the most green-fingered parent can have problems knowing where to start. From colourful border flowers to vegetables or trees, a fascinating world of discovery awaits your youngsters, once you’ve worked out what you want to grow!
My Kids Are Really Keen to Get Involved, But They’re Only Little and Planting Seeds is Terribly Fiddly For Them. Any Suggestions?
For good, big seeds that are easy to grow, beans are hard to beat – and once they get going, they grow satisfyingly quickly and have the bonus of a crop your youngsters can enjoy picking later. Even if you don’t have much space, the dwarf runner bean “Hestia” is ideal – it will do well even on exposed sites and is perfect for container-growing too.
Alternatively, you can always try purchasing plug plants and letting your young gardeners pot them on and then ultimately plant them out – they’re nothing like so fiddly and offer a more instant result, which may appeal. However, if you want your kids to enjoy the whole growing process right from the very start, then well-chosen bulbs and corms are probably the best option for little fingers to plant.
So What Are The Best Kinds Of Bulbs to Grow?
A lot depends on your local climate, the soil and your plot’s aspect – not to mention the natural interests of your own young gardeners, but any of the old garden favourites are worth considering.
Spring bulbs are a great way of keeping children’s interest, particularly after Christmas, when the garden can look a little bare. Early flowering types, such as winter aconite and snowdrops, are perfect to make everyone think that spring is on its way, while the usual crocuses, daffodils and narcissi make colourful shows as the season moves on.
Come the summer, the options get even bigger, with various kinds of lily bulbs on offer along with a range of corms and tubers including the likes of Crocosmia, Gloxinia, Nerine, dahlias and Begonias – and many more besides – to take you through into the autumn.
We Want to Start Growing Out Own Food, But We Don’t Have a Very Big Garden; is There Anything Suitable?
These days there’s a lot of choice, no matter how small your garden, especially since a lot of varieties have been bred specially for container growing. The dwarf runner bean “Hestia” is one, but there are also tomatoes such as the “Hundreds and Thousands” – named after its small-sized but prolific crop – courgettes, gooseberries, strawberries, peppers and even potatoes that can be successfully grown in very small spaces. Look out for anything described as a “dwarf” or “patio” variety and you won’t go far wrong.
Salad leaves can make another fairly easy to grow option. Wait until there’s no more risk of frost and then sow them quite thickly; thin them out as they grow – they make a great garnish for meals – and leave the rest to grow large enough to make a tasty meal themselves. If you stagger your sowing, you can enjoy fresh salad throughout the summer – but do watch out for slugs and snails!
I Don’t Want to Use Pesticides Around The Kids. Are There Any Alternatives I Can Try?
Pesticides are always a worry especially with very young children; no matter how carefully you handle them, there’s always an unpleasant nagging fear at the back of your mind! Fortunately, with the interest in organic growing and being “green”, less dangerous remedies for a variety of garden pests are available – including, for some problems at least, methods of biological control which will only affect the pest and leave everything else untouched. Your local garden centre should be able to advise you on appropriate pesticide-free solutions.
There’s always the option too of enlisting a little free help, by making your garden attractive to nature’s own pest controllers – the likes of ladybirds, hover flies, frogs and hedgehogs. The changes necessary to the garden are typically very small, but the benefits can be enormous – with the added bonus of getting a ringside seat to watch some fascinating wildlife into the bargain.
As a Really Keen Gardener, I’d Love to Be Able to Share My Love Of Gardens With My Children – is There Any Way I Can Spur Their Interest?
Try growing something interesting – really interesting – and ideally a plant so odd, it will instantly captivate their attention. There are some fantastic plants to tempt the reluctant gardener – including the Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea muscipula) and other carnivorous plants or the likes of Mimosa pudica, a “sensitive” plant which reacts to touch by folding its leaves; the harder you touch it, the more it reacts.
Alternatively, although it’s not for everyone, with its characteristic odour of rotting meat, the aptly-named Corpse Flower (Rafflesia arnoldii) has an obvious and instant appeal for more gruesomely-inclined youngsters. However, since it is one of the largest flowers in the world and needs rather specialist care, it’s probably best talked about, rather than grown in the conservatory – much to the relief of parents everywhere!