Children love to make plants grow, and get a lot of satisfaction from looking after their plants and taking good care of them. Gardening can also teach responsibility and how to care for things in a much less traumatic way than a first pet does.
With children, the trick is to pick something easy to achieve that will give them satisfaction. Many start with what is possibly the simplest thing of all to grow – cress seed. Sprinkled on kitchen paper, all that the child needs to do is keep the paper moist and the seed will grow. Even better – when it’s ready, the gardener can turn cook and make a tasty sandwich for mum or dad – the ultimate in small-person satisfaction.
Other fast growing, easy to manage vegetables include radishes and salad leaves. Sow them, water them, and they’ll quickly grow into plants that even very small children can say they grew all by themselves! Many people also recommend carrots as fast and easy child-friendly crops, but this can be frustrating for new gardeners as the lovely leaves develop far faster than the edible tubors, and crops which need to be thinned out can be a bit dispiriting for young impatient gardeners.
Mushroom loving youngsters might also be pleased with a mushroom kit. Mushrooms are fast, simple and are grown indoors, so if the weather’s nasty or you don’t have a garden, they can be an ideal way to get gardening.
With some fast growing plants in the soil to hold their interest in the short term, other veg can be really satisfying for small gardeners. Beans, peas, squashes, courgettes, cucumbers and pumpkins take longer to crop but are easy for small hands to plant, quick to show the first sprouts and give a lot of exciting veg which can be picked almost every day in a good summer – so they’re great to sustain interest and make young helpers feel like they’re really doing a good job! With pumpkins you don’t get many to harvest, but you do get a very big plant and the chance to make a great lantern at halloween.
The other important consideration is what your child likes to eat. There’s absolutely no harm in trying to grow something they love, even if it’s not considered to be an easy crop for new gardeners. If your family loves sweetcorn then give it a go! You will need to help a little more with this but it’s a fun thing to do together and there’s nothing more satisfying to a young gardener than being lifted up to pick their veggies.
Which leads us neatly onto that other tall crop, the sunflower! Kids love sunflowers. They’re fast, they’re easy, and they’re HUGE! (make sure you buy the large variety). They’re also great for feeding the birds in the autumn so you get two things to do for the price of one! Although flowers are less satisfying for many children, fast growing flowers or some of mummy’s favourites in a small area can be fun for children to tend and for relatives to be given bunches of. Choose them together in the garden centre, which often has special packs which are chosen to be easy for children to look after.
At the grand old age of 104, our expert gardener, Ralph Hoare is the oldest amateur gardener in the UK but he does need help with some of the gardening activities and his great grand-daughters are more than happy to get stuck in.
"My two eldest great grand-daughters, aged six and four, have become proficient in deadheading the roses, under supervision of course!"
Finally, remember that children like to do things with you. It’s nice for a child to have their own little area which they look after, and where anything that grows there is ‘theirs’, but don’t underestimate the importance of doing this together. If your roses need deadheading, your brassicas need weeding or your leeks need planting out, let the kids help! Gardening should always be about enjoying your garden and it doesn’t really matter if your rows aren’t straight or you lose the odd cabbage seedling to an over-enthusiastic weeder, as long as you all have fun!