Get your children out there in the fresh air and, we promise, they’ll be hooked for life!
1. Choose seedlings
Gazanias, pansies and marigolds come in cheerful colours, flower for ages and look great in pots. Buy seedlings or young plants, which you’ll find in garden centres. Impatient children will appreciate the instant gratification that seedlings bring.
Kids who are old enough to handle a trowel can plant them: show them how to tell if the plants need watering or dead-heading (this will prolong the flowering period) and put them in charge of those little jobs.
Read more: How to grow your own vegetables from seeds
2. Start them off young
Stick a pair of wellies on a toddler, give them a spade and bucket and encourage them to ‘help’ you in the garden. If that means digging holes in the border and making mud pies, then at least they’re having fun. Get them hunting for snails, while they’re at it (just make sure they don’t try to eat them!).
Teach them to identify one or two weeds and lighten your gardening load. Children over 4 can help with bigger tasks, such as cutting flowers for the house or pruning trees with long-handled shears that extend like bionic arms.
3. Succulent fun
Get them to grow an assortment of succulent cacti — but mind those prickles! They come in all shapes and sizes and don’t need much looking after: just a warm sunny place inside (such as a windowsill), well-drained soil and the occasional drink.
4. Friendly competition
If you have youngsters who are competitive, set them a challenge such as who can grow the tallest sunflower or the biggest pumpkin. Choose sunny positions for both teams, then set a date when the judging will take place.
5. Take time to teach
Teach children the connection between planting a seed and seeing the results. Choose plants that give quick results, such as cosmos, sunflowers, Californian poppies, and nasturtiums — they’re all annuals, so they grow from seeds to flowers in one season and start coming up in a matter of weeks. Almost instant gratification!
6. Special spot
Give them an area of the garden or window troughs to look after — choose a sunny spot with good soil. If you’ve got room, a bench or chair will make it somewhere older kids will want to hang out, especially if it has some privacy.
7. Sow the right seeds
Big seeds (like beans, pumpkins, sunflowers and nasturtiums) are easy for little hands to handle, so even a toddler can have a go at planting them. In the autumn, get kids (6 years and over) to plant daffodil and tulip bulbs ready for spring – these can cause skin irritation, so make them wear gloves or wash their hands thoroughly afterwards.
If you want to make life REALLY easy for yourself, check out a veggie growing kit from Reel Gardening. All the fuss is taken out of gardening. Seeds are placed in colour coded biodegradable paper tape at the correct depth and distance apart, you just need to place the paper vertically in the ground with the coloured portion visible above the soil, add water and your plants will grow out of the paper at the correct spacing (even if you don’t have green thumbs). Genius!
8. Get growing
Growing veg is a great way to learn where food comes from. Climbing French beans and runner beans will give you pretty flowers, lots of shoots you can train up a wigwam of poles, then beans to pick later in the summer.
Radishes, lettuce, Swiss chard, marrows and carrots are all easy to grow. Little alpine strawberries don’t need much care and it’s always fun searching for them among the leaves. They will come back every year, too.
9. Cook up a storm
Get older kids, 10 years and over, to use the veg they grow to get them interested in food. They can add herbs or edible flowers, such as chive flowers, nasturtiums or pansies, to salads; or they could experiment with mint and lemon balm to make refreshing drinks. Make pies and crumbles using soft fruits, rhubarb and apples. And let them dig up potatoes for supper – just make sure they’re careful with the garden fork!
10. Birds and the bees
To attract butterflies and bees you need flowering plants, such as lavender, felicias and indigenous geraniums. Get the kids to keep a notebook of all the insects they spot and help them research the ones that interest them most. They could build a birdhouse out of wood and paint it with a lead-free, non-toxic acrylic craft paint or a wood stain. Natural colours are usually better than bright colours, which can attract predators.