10 April 2015

Gardening with Children


This week in partnership with the Allianz Garden Show Ireland 2015’s very own Gardening Guru, Geoff Stebbings from  bring you some top tips in how to involve children in the garden.

 Gardening may not be the most obvious thing that most children want to do but it can be encouraged and it certainly makes for a rewarding activity if all the family are involved. Kids usually love to get their hands dirty and if this is followed by a colourful or edible reward then all the better. The stock suggestions for childrens’ gardens are quick growing plants such as radishes and nasturtiums and it is true that children are no more patient than adults so quick results are a bonus but I always question whether these two really are the best plants to get children hooked on gardening. Radishes may be quick but are they really what kids want to eat? And radishes quickly get hot and hollow and a challenge to eat. And nasturtiums, though easy to grow and easy to sow with their large seeds, are prone to caterpillars and blackfly so are not that easy to grow well.

I think it is better to work with the children to help them grow and perhaps choose something a bit more challenging but much more rewarding. What you must not do is give them a piece of the garden to work on alone, especially if it is an area where you yourself have given up on because it is too shaded or dry to grow anything decent – that will put them off for life!

Start small and maybe just give them a few pots filled with compost, and be forgiving if they get fed up with watering – help them out and keep the plants growing if the youngsters lose interest for a while.

 I think some of the best things for children to grow are potatoes, tomatoes, squashes and pumpkins and sunflowers. Most children like big and exciting plants and there are lots to choose from.  It is a bit late to plant potatoes, mainly because you may not be able to find any seed potatoes in the shops, but if you can get some then potatoes are a great crop for children. The dense foliage swamps weeds, they do not need much attention and there is real excitement in digging up the tubers in autumn – and you can make chips! It is always fun to dig up and find the biggest tuber or the oddest shaped one.

Tomatoes are also easy, can be grown in pots or growing bags and most children love to pick their own, sun-ripened tomatoes. But I think that the best crop is any of the squashes, whether courgettes, pumpkins or any of the many other winter squash. You can start seeds now and it is easy to sow one of the large seeds, on its side, in a pot. On a windowsill the seedlings will appear in a week or so and you can plant out the seedlings in late May. The more compost or fertiliser and water you give them, the faster and bigger they grow and most, except courgettes which are generally bushy and well behaved, grow like crazy. At their peak they can grow 10cm a day and children will love the huge yellow flowers. Since the blooms are either male or female you can even teach them about the birds and bees! Courgettes may not be at the top of your child’s favourite veg but they won’t be at the bottom either and growing their own may get then to try them. But grow pumpkins and other squash and they will be enthralled by how big they grow and you can have the fun of weighing them in autumn. Who knows, they may well grow a squash that weighs more than them!

 Even the most sophisticated gardener loves sunflowers and it is easy for a child to grow a forest that towers above them. Start now by sowing two seeds per pot on the windowsill. If both grow pinch out the weaker one. If you are aiming for the sky it is vital that your seedlings do not get too tall in the pots. They must be young and vigorous when you plant them out. Plant them out at the end of May and give them plenty of space, and water and fertiliser, if you want big plants. Sunflowers need sun to grow really well too.


 To make a face on a sunflower, wait until all the tiny flowers in the middle of the sunflower head have opened and then pick them off in the pattern you want. The face will last for several weeks. 

Antrim Castle Gardens, will be bursting with colour at this year’s Allianz Garden Show Ireland, this three day festival of flowers, food and fun awaits visitors to these magnificent gardens from 8 – 10 May 2015. The packed programme includes appearances by international gurus from the world of gardening and food, including the return of special Festival visitor, Monty Don, on Saturday 9 May. As well as the thousands of plants on display, the new Food Pavilion with local food producers, local craft, tea tent and show gardens, will be fun filled activities appealing to all age groups. Live music, garden theatre, a dedicated kids zone, a garden cinema, and much more. 



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