How to garden with kids

Published on June 28, 2010   ·   No Comments

Tips for passing on green fingers, and a taste for vegetables, to your sprogs

Kids are apparently more likely to eat vegetables when they have grown them themselves. The National Trust’s ‘grow your own’ survey of 1,000 kids aged 8-12 found that almost two-thirds would rather eat their own home-grown fruit and vegetables than those bought from the supermarket. Naturally, this entails having their own gardening space, which, according to the research, a majority of the kids also want. Lest we parents feel we’ve completely misread our fussy offspring, the survey also revealed the lengths kids will go to NOT to eat vegetables – with hiding, binning and feeding them to the dog amongst the most routine.
Somewhat bolstered by this information, I invited my son to join me in planting a vegetable garden. As a five-year-old, he is at a ripe age to begin gardening, full of enthusiasm and curiosity. ‘Give me something to do!’ he shouted. I did, and he turned out to be a very good helper and we made a good team digging holes, planting and watering.
While he jumped at the chance to get his hands dirty, I factored in his short attention span by planting seedlings, which, for a first time grower, makes the experience more rewarding in the short term. With seedlings, you bypass the tricky bit of germinating a seed and can notice results pretty much overnight. I got a Children’s Garden pack from Cornwall-based Rocket Gardens, which includes 10 different vegetable seedlings, as well as strawberries and tomatoes. The box is delivered to your door, with seedlings safely nestled in layers of straw, so you can get planting straight away.
It helps to start small. It is a valuable enough lesson to learn about where your food actually comes from, and if you can get kids to experiment with new vegetables all the better, but you can’t go wrong growing vegetables your kids already like – be it potatoes, sweet corn, or tomatoes.
After the mucking in, comes the real work. I try to keep up the momentum with a routine of watering and general garden maintenance. At five years old, he won’t eat home-grown lettuce, but he can correctly identify beetroot and pumpkin seedlings. Success?
When it comes to explaining the finer points of photosynthesis and pollination and seed dispersal, there is an excellent book called Kids in the Garden by Elizabeth McCorquodale that has been a useful guide – and good bedtime reading as well. It has short, accessible explanations, with pictures, on the most important elements of nature’s work. The book also includes double-page spreads on individual vegetables, with tips on planting, harvesting and eating.
Days out
Why not expose kids to food growing on days out? The National Trust’s Food Glorious Food campaign includes a ‘great seed giveaway’ during the summer when 170 million free seeds will be given away at family events across the UK. You can search for the nearest growers/farms and event dates from June to December on the website.
The Growing Schools website has a fantastic search function on ‘places to visit’ that will tell you the farms, eco centres, woodlands, nature reserves and more in any given distance from your postcode.
Also, this weekend (June 12-13) is the London Parks and Gardens Trust Open Garden Squares event when you can visit over 200 private gardens in London not usually open to the public.
The Roots and Shoots garden in London’s Kennington runs beekeeping training sessions with the London Beekeepers Association and have children’s bee suits to take small groups into the apiary when visiting.

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