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 second post of a two-part blog with the final 8 fun child friendly garden activities!
15 Fun Things To Do With Kids In The Garden – Part 2
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.
Draw a sunflower emoji
There is something very special about watching a sunflower grow from seed. There are many varieties to choose from and lots of fun packets designed with children in mind. You can either plant the seed in a pot filled to about 1 cm below the brim with potting compost and keep it well watered on a windowsill until it is ready to plant out, or sow the seeds outside directly into the site where you want them to grow once the risk of frost has passed. It is a good idea to sow a few seeds in case some of them don’t grow or are eaten by slugs or snails. Sunflowers grow quickly and by the end of the summer may well be the tallest plant in your garden. Encourage your child to measure themselves against their sunflower. Once the giant flower head has formed, they can pick out some of the little florets in the centre to design their own emoji
Build an bug motel
There are lots of posh insect hotels on the market, but it is very easy to make your own. I think messier, more imperfect versions are more likely to appeal to real-life bugs. We call them bug motels. Get your child to use their imagination to hunt around the garden for objects to use. If you have an old wooden box with dividers you could use that, or you could simply create “rooms” in a quiet corner of the garden from piles of different materials such as empty snail shells, twigs, moss, old bricks with ventilation holes in, small stones and dried leaves. Your child could keep a diary of what insects they see in there each day.
Plant your name in bulbs
There is an enormous variety of Spring bulbs of all shapes, sizes and colours to choose from and the best time to plant them is mid to late autumn, leaving tulips bulbs until November so they do not rot in the ground. Whether it’s cheerful yellow narcissi, pretty blue grape hyacinths or bright red tulips, let your child choose their favourite colours and flowers. Then find a free patch of flowerbed, lay out the bulbs in the shape of their name and let them plant the bulbs to the recommended depth using a trowel and making sure they are well covered with soil. Stick to one variety to make sure they all come up at the same time. Then all they have to do is wait for the Spring to see their name in lights!
Grow tomatoes in a hanging basket
I think there is nothing more delicious than a ripe tomato, but my offspring would rather consume them in the form of ketchup. So this year in a bid to change their minds we are going to grow our own tomatoes and because we don’t have a greenhouse or a free sunny space against a wall we are going to use a hanging basket. First you need to line your hanging basket with a strong plastic bag, cutting holes in it for drainage. Then fill the lined basket with compost and plant the young tomato plants in it, firming down the soil with your hands. Water well and continue to water regularly. throughout the growing season. It is a good idea to “pinch out” tomato plants as they grow. Usually tomatoes will grow three or four “trusses” of fruit, so pinching off the main shoot a leaf or two after the fourth flower truss will encourage better fruit on the remaining trusses. Also take out any side shoots. Once the fruit appears, feed plants weekly with a tomato feed.
Make a scarecrow
From Worzel Gummidge to The Wizard of Oz, there are lots of scarecrows in children’s fiction and it is very easy to make your own to frighten birds away from your vegetable patch and add an element of fun to your garden at the same time. Just take an old broom handle or cane, find some clothes that your children have grown out of, stuff them with straw and thread them on to the cane, using string to tie the ends of the arm and leg holes. For the head you could use an old white T-shirt or similar, stuffed with straw and made into a ball on which your children can draw a face in felt-tip pen, being as creative as they like. Stick on left-over straw with glue to make the hair and, if you have one, stick an old hat on top.
Plant a rose just for picking
Last year I took a course on how flowers and herbs are distilled into essential oils. One of the highlights was being set free in a large bed of roses and allowed to pluck the fragrant velvety blooms with our bare hands before tossing them into a large wicker basket. It was heaven. I am hoping to recreate this in a very small way in our own sunny, south-facing front garden where I have made a small cutting patch in the centre of which I have planted a Gertrude Jekyll rose, a beautiful pink rose with a divine scent. The best time to plant roses is between November and March when you plant them “bare root” without any foliage. When our rose produces flowers, I am going to set my children free to pick them and bury their noses deep in the petals (checking for bees first!) to enjoy the rich perfume.
Grow a carriage for Cinderella
If you say “pumpkin” to most children they will immediately think of Cinderella’s magical carriage and I think a pumpkin patch creates a fairy tale feel in a garden. Sow pumpkin seeds indoors in a pot filled with seed compost in mid-Spring and keep well-watered on a windowsill. They will require quite a lot of room when you plant them out, so find a corner of your garden that gets some sunshine that fits the bill. Dig over the patch and add some well-rotted manure. When your pumpkin plants look sturdy enough to withstand a slug attack, plant them out and keep them well watered. Once the baby pumpkins start to appear, choose the biggest and cut the others off the plant so that it can put all its energy into growing a pumpkin fit for a princess!
- Sow carrots and calendula straight into the ground
Carrotsandcalendula.co.uk is the name of my blog because I love growing this combination with my own children. Both can easily be sown directly into the ground. This year we have created a small veg patch in our new garden in a raised bed close to the house, because that way we remember to water and pop out in the evening to pick off slugs and snails. First of all we removed all the weeds from the bed and dung it over with a spade, adding plenty of well-rotted manure. Once Spring had well and truly arrived it was time to sow our carrot and calendula seeds, choosing children’s seed packets. The carrots are a short, stubby orange variety called Paris Market Atlas, although in the past we have grown purple carrots which made my children chuckle. It is a good idea to sow them early to avoid carrot fly. Using a wooden dibber (your finger would work just as well) we marked out a small trench a couple of centimetres deep and sowed the seeds in a row, sprinkling a thin layer of soil on top to cover the seeds and watering with a fine hose so they were not washed away. Next to this, we sowed a row of calendula seeds and a couple of weeks later the tiny green shoots were starting to poke through.
Now you have introduced your child to the joys of being out in the garden, digging, sowing, caring for plants and helping to encourage wildlife, hopefully they will let you sit back and enjoy the space you have created together!
If you enjoyed reading these 8 fun child friendly garden activities take a moment to check out the first of this two-part blog: 7 Fun Child Friendly Garden Activities By Ciar Byrne.