Our wonderful guest blogger this week is Ciar Byrne, who blogs at carrotsandcalendula.co.uk about growing flowers, fruit and vegetables with her three children in their family garden. This is the first post of a two-part blog, so check back next week for the other 8 fun child friendly garden activities!
15 Fun Things To Do With Kids In The Garden – Part 1
I believe it has never been more important to get children out in the garden growing plants and learning about nature. What better way for kids to balance out all that screen time than to get dirt under their fingernails, taste a juicy strawberry they have planted themselves, or feel proud of a giant sunflower they have grown from seed?
But if my own three are anything to go by, it is important to make gardening fun, not a chore. Give them simple, achievable tasks and don’t worry too much about whether they are doing it in the “right” way or making a mess.
Here are some suggestions for fun garden projects to do with children.
Make a miniature dinosaur garden
You will need a large pot or trough – we used an old butler’s sink bought from a local builder, but a large plant pot would do; some interesting small rocks and gravel – we just used stones and pieces of chalk gathered from our garden; a small selection of alpine plants – it is always best to plant in odd numbers so 3, 5 or 7 would be good; and model dinosaurs – our three-year-old son is a dinosaur obsessive so we have plenty to choose from. Make sure the container has good drainage: we placed our sink on a couple of bricks and put some broken crocks in the bottom; then fill it to about 5cm below the brim with peat-free multi-purpose compost. Arrange your plants and larger stones so that you have an idea of how you want it to look before putting them in and firming the soil with your hands. Then carefully add gravel or small stones to the surface around the plants. Finally, introduce your dinosaurs to their new “prehistoric landscape”!
Sow a wildflower patch
There is something immensely satisfying for children about scattering seeds with abandon and wildflowers are the perfect seeds for this. We chose a patch at the back of the garden, close to the children’s swing and sandpit so they will be able to appreciate them, but it doesn’t matter too much if they don’t look perfect. Then my six-year-old daughter helped to weed and fork over the soil with a child-sized hand fork. We chose a colourful packet of wildflower seeds designed especially for children which could be scattered straight from the box, not forgetting to give them a good water afterwards. Now we can’t wait for them to grow.
Grow bog roll beans
The inner tubes of toilet rolls are perfect for growing beans in because you can plant out the whole thing without disturbing the new plant’s root system and the cardboard will compost away into the soil. It also helps to teach children about recycling everyday objects. This year we are growing three varieties of beans: ‘Bunyard’s Exhibition’ broad beans, ’Enorma’ runner beans and ‘Cosse Violette’ purple French beans. Just fill the tube with potting compost and press your bean seed down to the depth recommended on the packet, making sure it is well covered. Place the tubes in a tray on a windowsill and water regularly until they have grown into healthy young plants and are ready to be planted outside. Broad beans can be planted out early in the year, but it is best to wait until May when the frosts are over to plant out runner beans.
Make a Scarborough Fair herb garden
“Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,” goes the traditional song made famous by Simon and Garfunkel. This is a perfect combination of culinary herbs for a small herb garden. You could choose any suitable sunny site in your garden, or a container or window box. These common herbs can be bought cheaply from most nurseries or garden centres. We planted ours in an old trough and made a signpost pointing to Scarborough Fair. We have planted them close to our kitchen, so we can easily pop out and pick a few leaves for cooking whenever we need them.
Plant a sack of potatoes
Potatoes can be grown in any container deep enough for the seed potatoes to make more “tubers” – the short, thick, underground stems which we call potatoes. This year we have tried growing them in reusable supermarket bags – the large, sturdy variety which we usually use for carrying lunch boxes and water bottles to and from school. This is a great option for anyone with limited space as it can be done on a patio or even a balcony. We bought our seed potatoes at a seed swap early in the year, then “chitted” them by placing them in an old egg box on the window sill with the “eyes” pointing upwards, giving them time to produce little green shoots. Our first earlies were planted out over Easter, but main crop potatoes can be planted a bit later.
We filled the bottom of the bags with about 20cm of peat free multi-purpose compost, placed three seed potatoes to a bag with the sprouts pointing upwards and covered them with another 10cm of soil. Now that the potato plants have appeared, we will add more soil, so that just the top of the plant is visible. Harvesting time differs between varieties, but our first earlies should take about 10 weeks from planting, whereas later main crop potatoes can take up to 20 weeks. The beauty of planting in bags is that children can simply turn the bags upside down when the time is right to find oodles of lovely potatoes growing in the soil, ready to cook and eat!
Grow a strawberry fountain
You will need a small to medium sized plant pot, a large plant pot and some strawberry plants. You could go for all the same variety for a consistent look, or it might be fun to try out some different varieties to compare the taste. Fill the bigger pot three quarters full with compost, and the smallest almost to the top, then place the smaller pot inside the bigger pot leaving room around the edges for planting. Plant your strawberry plants, spacing them evenly and water well. Continue to water regularly and feed them every couple of weeks with tomato feed. As the plants grow and produce fruit it will tumble down attractively, until red and juicy and ripe for picking!
Build a den
Garden hideouts can be as simple or elaborate as you want them to be. A large sheet draped over a washing line and filled with cushions can make a perfect tent on a warm summer’s day. Or you could gather large sticks and prop them against a tree to make a temporary wooden hideout. For something a little more permanent, look around the house or shed for pieces of wood you no longer need. Now our son has outgrown his cot, we are planning to paint the side panels and use them to make a little fence around a raised area. We will hang some bunting from it and put a couple of old chairs and an upturned crate inside to make the perfect place for our kids to have a secret picnic with their friends!
If you’ve enjoyed reading this first instalment of fun child friendly garden activities, please do check back next week for the next 8 ideas! In the meantime, we have a other useful gardening guides including how to Expert Greenhouse Advice With The Sunday Gardener and No Dig Gardening With Sally Hinchcliffe.