With summer almost here, now is the time to get outdoors and start gardening. Gardening is a fantastic activity to involve kids in.
With most of us now spending an estimated 90% of our lives indoors, time in the garden, yard or allotment is the perfect way to get kids outdoors and active, and the perfect antidote to gaming, tablets and TV. Working in a garden provides a direct connection to the environment which is impossible to achieve by any virtual means.
To smell the flowers, feel the sun (or rain) on your skin and hear birdsong cannot be replicated. Gardening gives children the chance to explore the natural environment, while encounters with birds and bugs opens up the possibility of learning about ecosystems and native wildlife.
It can also expose children to some of the environmental threats we see today, such as climate change and species extinction. For example, they can learn about the threat to pollinators, necessary for food, crops and seed production, but currently in decline. Most children will probably be familiar with bumblebees and honeybees, but what about red mason bees, which love urban green spaces; or leaf cutter bees, each of which use 40 pieces of leaf to build a nest for their young?
Growing plants helps to demonstrate to children (and reminds us adults!) where different foods come from, providing them with a link that goes much further than the supermarket shelves. Plus, there is nothing like the taste of your own home-grown tomatoes or strawberries. You don’t even need to have a huge amount of space to grow something: planting can be in pots or containers, grown up fences or on window sills. Learning to nurture Gardeners are nurturers and caring for a plant or veg patch can teach children to be nurturers too. Giving children the skills to care for and raise something will serve them well in later life.
For older children, a passion for gardening may spark an interest that leads to a career, and with horticulture currently suffering from a skills gap, now is a great time to get into it and make a difference. It is a profession that will become increasingly important as we see our climate change and competition for land increase. It is also a profession that is incredibly rewarding. Most garden designers and horticulturalists cite helping a parent or grandparent as a key
influence on their career choice, so encouraging them in the garden can be a passion that grows (excuse the pun) into something more.
Get the children involved
Some great garden activities for children to get involved in include:
- planting seeds – pick a few easy-to-grow varieties, such as nasturtiums, sunflowers or edibles such as lettuce or carrots
- watering – kids love watering and with a little bit of oversight to make sure nothing is left out, they can help you with this garden task
- bug hunts – a great way to demonstrate the diversity that exists in the garden
- creating habitats – whether it’s a log pile, a bee hotel or a small pond, kids will love to be involved in providing a home for garden creatures
- harvesting produce – children will be excited to dig-up or pick their produce. Hopefully at least some of it will make it back to the dinner table! They can also help collect seeds for planting next year
- tidying up – it’s usually good to leave a layer of leaves on flower beds over winter to provide a habitat for sheltering invertebrates, but if you have a specific area that needs attention, such as a lawn, they can help to collect the leaves.
For more information, try the RHS website www.rhs.org.uk, which is a great resource for design ideas and garden projects. Kate Bradbury’s book ‘Wildlife Gardening for Everyone and Everything’ has lots of information on the types of wildlife to be found in the garden and what they need to thrive.
Like raising children, planting a garden is an investment for the future. What better way to give the next generation a great future than to give them a passion for gardening? As the Indian proverb goes, “All the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of today.”
Julia Crawford is a garden designer living and working in south west London. She has a passion for creating gardens that can be havens for people and wildlife.