My own childhood memories of high summer are filled with light, scent and taste: my dad’s mesembryanthemums with their candy-coloured faces following the sun, honeysuckle perfume saturating the evening air and summer raspberries still warm as I popped them in my mouth.
I was lucky enough to spend my childhood summers playing in a third-of-an-acre garden with apple trees, flower borders, a vegetable plot and a wild area where I was often to be found, at the top of the Scots pine, with an apple and a book.
Modern gardens are getting smaller, and more families are living in urban settings, often with only a balcony or window ledge for outside space. So how can we engage today’s youngsters with plants, nature and the outdoors, especially during the long summer holidays?
How to create a natural den
The Scots pine canopy of my childhood was a special private place – the kind of secret outdoor space that many children like to create around themselves. But there are no mature trees in our small garden, so I planted a willow den for my kids as a place where they could be alone with nature. Willow dens are created by using whips (young, thin willow rods) that will root when driven into the ground and kits can be purchased from specialist suppliers to train into wigwams, domes and tunnels. As they mature, the foliage cover develops and entirely screens the centre of the den from the outside.
My children loved their den. We have fond memories of eager faces appearing from the entrance playing ‘peepo’ and small hands thrust through the foliage to wave at us from within. Willow likes fairly damp ground and our den finally perished after six years as the soil is a little too dry, but in ideal conditions these dens will last for years.
How to sow the magic of seeds
There’s nothing like the magic of watching seeds germinate and develop bright blooms for flower pressing or tasty salad leaves. Getting kids involved in growing from seed can be the start of a lifetime’s fascination with gardening and it’s easy to grow plants like marigolds, lettuce leaves or tomatoes in a container or on a windowsill. If you haven’t sown seeds with the kids yet, it’s not too late. French beans, radishes and beetroot seeds can be sown as late as July, or alternatively you can buy tomato, courgette and pepper plants which will bear fruit throughout the summer.
This year we’ve been growing nasturtiums, calendula, cherry tomatoes and peas so the children can make simple salads garnished with edible petals. We also pickle the nasturtium pods as an alternative to capers – a peppery addition to pasta and pizza. As they eat their way through the vegetable bed, the kids are definitely developing more adventurous tastes and learning about where their food comes from.
How to get up close with wildlife
There’s a whole world in even the tiniest patch of grass or flowerbed: spiders, woodlice, ants and hoverflies are all easy to spot when you stop and observe the garden close up. We’ve had tawny mining bees in our small lawn this summer, exciting visitors that we’ve been watching as a family and the kids have a magnifying pot so they can examine the patterns on a snail shell or the detail of a ladybird’s wing.
A container in a sunny spot filled with lavender, salvia, agastache, dwarf buddleja or herbs like oregano and thyme will encourage pollinators into the garden or onto a balcony. Putting food and water out for the birds adds another dimension to the garden, allowing kids to learn more about local wildlife.
One of my favourite garden moments was watching fledgling great tits emerge from the bird box by the shed with my five year old son. He’d watched the adults feeding their young for days and was fascinated by the way the fluffy fledglings kept poking their heads out of the hole before finally flying the nest. When the last great tit left the nesting box, to our amazement, it landed briefly on my shoulder and then headed off over the shed – this kind of experience is a fabulous way to ignite a child’s interest, creating the gardeners and naturalists of the future.
Disclaimer: The author and publisher take no responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Not everyone reacts positively to all edible plants or other plant uses. Seek advice from a professional before using a plant for culinary or medicinal uses.
About the author:
Nic Wilson is a writer, garden designer and Garden Media Guilds Awards nominee (Best Blog, 2017). She enjoys growing flowers and unusual fruit, vegetables and herbs, and loves to encourage nature into the garden. She also blogs at www.dogwooddays.net
What better way to get your kids excited and interested in the garden than inviting them to get their hands dirty? To help you pique their interest in all things green-fingered we’ve ploughed the internet for some great ideas to get your kids outdoors and digging.
The Outdoor Dad
Does your toddler love to copy your every move? Two-year-old Sonny has a great time helping his dad, Oli of The Outdoor Dad, brush leaves in the garden. Oli and Sonny also have an awesome time bug hunting, looking for birds’ nests and building dens.
An ambassador for getting muddy, first time dad Oli shares his passion for adventure in the garden and beyond. He says, ‘there’s so much to see in the big wide world that I want him to get started early.’ Check out his 101 outdoor activities for families, for ideas like building a compost heap or giving geocaching a try.
The Newhouse Family
Little ones chomping at the bit to get into the garden will love Gardening with Willow, the Youtube gardening show with the world’s youngest presenter. When your kids watch Willow harvest runner beans and plant mushrooms they’re bound to want to have a go too.
A journey ‘towards a greener, cheaper lifestyle,’ The Newhouse Family Blog details the family’s quest to turn their garden into a sustainable paradise. Even if you only have a patio or balcony, you can still teach your kids eco-friendly gardening. Check out this family-friendly guide to organic growing to find out how.
The Ladybird’s Adventures
Join Claire and her toddlers over on The Ladybird’s Adventures as they make bird feeders, butterfly biomes, and bug hotels in their back garden. Passionate about ‘learning through play and encouraging creativity,’ Claire also buys her kids their own mini tools, lets them choose their own seeds, and encourages them to keep a journal to track seedling growth.
Check out the rest of Claire’s tips and tricks for budding gardeners to encourage young children to engage with the garden. You’ll love the scavenger hunts she’s designed for you and your family to use.
Kids of the Wild
Pairs of outgrown wellies kicking around the house? Get your kids growing boot-loads of herbs by turning them into planters. That’s just one of Lucy of Kids of the Wild’s creative outdoor gardening activities – she and her daughter Caroline also show you how to grow a willow den, dig a pond, and create wildlife havens.
A go-to resource for all things wild, Lucy’s passion for the outdoors helps spread the message that nature is transformative – a lesson she learned when Caroline was battling cancer. As she says, you and your family will benefit from getting outdoors, ‘even if you think you don’t have time.’
If you’re looking for a family project to get everyone outdoors, why not enlist the kids’ help to create a wildlife pond? Professional garden designer Rajul Shah shares step-by-step instructions over at her blog, The Small Gardener. Her top tip? Design a shallow, sloping ‘beach’ at the front so wildlife can enjoy a drink or bath without falling in.
Rajul’s own garden is a wildlife-friendly space. There are natural play areas where her children can hide, a fruit and vegetable patch, and a studio where she works. Kids will love her family-friendly projects like this hedgehog hotel too. Made using simple household objects, it’s a brilliant way to occupy a quiet afternoon.
Inspire Create Educate
Let your kids sow and grow their own plants from seed to harvest, says Lauren of Inspire Create Educate. That’s because there’s no better way of getting children to fall in love with gardening and the environment, than by putting them right at the heart of the growing cycle.
Green-living guru Lauren’s blog is a handbook for living sustainably with kids – and garden activities are key. Here you’ll find all you need to teach your little ones about ecosystems. Looking for something for impatient kids to do while they’re waiting for their seedlings to grow? Easy, Lauren says. Get them to dig a big muddy hole.
Teach your kids to grow plants even when there’s no outside space by using Sabina at Mummy Matters’ guide to growing indoors. She proves you can turn those little fingers green even if you can’t access a garden, with tips on what thrives in tight spaces, and even without sunlight.
Find out how to grow veg, herbs, and make personalised pots with your kids’ names on, and more. And when sometimes enthusiasm just isn’t enough to get the little ones excited about gardening, why not get your kids to plant seedlings? As Sabina says, “they’ll grow much faster and the reward will come much sooner”.
“Children make very natural gardeners in my experience,” says Catherine over at Growing Family. “They love hands-on activities, they’re curious about nature and the world around them, and they generally relish the opportunity to get grubby!”
You’ll never run out of ways to entice kids out into the fresh air once you’ve bookmarked Catherine’s Growing Family. With easy-to-grow veg, homemade bird feeders and loads more, there’s something for everyone. Fussy eater? Few children could resist tasting a vegetable that has their name on it! Here’s how to grow your name in a courgette this summer. For quick ideas that fit around busy family life, Growing Family is the place to be.
We’re sure you can’t wait to pull your wellies on and get your little ones’ hands dirty in the garden. Let us know what inspires you to move playtime outdoors by heading over to our Facebook page and dropping us a line.
Kids have a natural love of nature, but they’re easily lured back indoors by screen time. If you’d like to get your children out in the garden for fresh air, learning and fun, we’ve compiled some great tips courtesy of our favourite family and gardening bloggers. Here’s all the inspiration you need to encourage young people to embrace the outdoors, gardens, and gardening…
How to tempt kids outdoors
- Make garden activities age-appropriate
Lauren of Inspire, Create, Educate says: “Start by asking yourself what child-friendly means for your child. When my three were younger it would have meant keeping tools out of the way and being relaxed enough to let them dig and muck about wherever they liked. Now they’re all in junior and high school, we plant things together and they’re shown how to use the garden tools safely and appropriately.”
- Let kids get dirty
Kate of The Ladybird’s Adventures says: “My kids love mud so it’s never been hard to get them involved in the garden.” With that in mind, she’s created a mud kitchen for her children to play in: “They have a little play house that grown ups can’t fit inside and a mud kitchen that they adore. We use all sorts in the mud kitchen such as shells, petals, mud, conkers and of course water.”
Vicky of Earth Based Fun is another big fan of the power of mud to get kids outdoors and says a good way to get children interested in spending time outside is to get them building dens: “Children love to make dens – use willow, sticks, mud, just anything you can find to make a den that they will spend days playing in. Use clay to play in and keep it simple making mud pies. The smallest most simple of activities can create the most magic, and those are the things that they will always remember.”
- Create space to play
Space to play unhindered by rules turns your garden into whatever your kids imagine it to be. Kev at An English Homestead says: “Giving them an area to play and just do their own thing is just as essential. Mine have a few different areas and love creating different games between their Wendy house and swings. It’s great for me as well, while they’re outside having fun, I can keep an eye on them while I work on the garden.”
- Create a wildlife pond
Lucy who writes Kids of the Wild says: “Whether in a bowl or several metres wide, it’s a brilliant ongoing project for all the family. We started with a bog garden in an old dog bed and now have a fantastic metre-deep pond teeming with wildlife and native fish! The children find it mesmerising.”
How to get kids interested in gardening
- Give kids their own patch
One of the best ways to get kids to switch off their devices, pull on a pair of wellies and get out into the garden, is to give them a patch of their own. It’s important, says Lucy of Kids of the Wild, to let your children make decisions without your input: “In our last garden my daughter edged her patch with stones, planted daffodils, allowed celandines to grow and hung a sheep’s skull on her patch of fence! Whenever I was outside she’d potter over and weed or rearrange.”
This freedom has clearly encouraged Lucy’s daughter to make more sophisticated choices about her gardening: “In our current garden she’s made fairy paths in her special area – a bigger space than previously – using pottery we’ve dug up, she’s planted geraniums and fallen in love with dahlias! I’m not a dahlia fan but allowing her to have autonomy has allowed her to develop her own gardening loves.”
Are you short of outside space? Catherine creator of Growing Family says even a container can be enough to get a child interested in the garden: “Having a piece of earth to call their own really motivates them to look after it and stay interested.”
- Ditch the toy tools
Kev at An English Homestead writes: “Once they’ve over toddler size they know whether something is useful or not. My three children have proper “trenching” spades and shovels that are used by construction workers in deep and confined trenches. They can dig properly with these and actually feel useful. I think kids have a sixth sense when something is just “busy work” or real work, so give them proper jobs to make them feel helpful.”
- Set an example
The best way to get children interested in gardening, says Lauren at Inspire, Create, Educate, is to let them see you in the garden! She says: “Children take their cues from their parents – even babies will reach for your phone instead of the cute child-friendly toy phone. If you do all your gardening while they’re in school and they never see you doing it, they’ll never take an interest.”
Speaking of maintaining children’s interest, Catherine at Growing Family says: “Don’t expect kids to have a long attention span in the garden either; you can keep things interesting by giving them a series of little jobs, and letting them potter about at their own pace.”
- Get kids growing
Kev at An English Homestead says the best way to get kids to engage with gardening is to let them grow from seed and harvest and eat the resulting crop – as he says “my three always think of their bellies and look forward to a tasty harvest.”
Catherine of Growing Family agrees. She says: “Growing plants from seed is my kids’ number one favourite gardening job. I can see why: it’s just such a magical process, and hugely rewarding when those little seedlings thrive.”
Don’t have your own garden? That’s not a problem says Sabina who writes Deep in Mummy Matters. She says: “My mother-in-law has an allotment where she grows fruit and vegetables. The children really enjoy going over to the allotment with her to help out, and of course to eat the fruits of their labour. If you don’t have space in your garden for a vegetable patch then speak to your council about an allotment as they are really cheap to rent and it’s a good family activity to do on evenings and weekends.”
And do let kids take charge, reminds Kev who allows his kids to harvest veg for tea: “They love coming back up with all the goodies and knowing that they had to decide what was ready and what wasn’t. It gives them a sense of responsibility and pride that they’re helping to feed the family.”
Karen at Pumpkins and Bunting has a great idea for combining growing and building dens. She says: “Children of all ages love dens and sweet treats, so try growing your own pea teepee! It’s a simple way to encourage children to get involved with gardening on the allotment and pick and eat fresh veg too. Make a simple tepee leaving a gap between two of the canes big enough for a child to crawl into, tie together at the top securely with twine.”
What’s best to sow and grow with kids?
“Radishes, lettuce, carrots and beans are all easy and quick to grow,” says Vicky at Earth Based Fun. “Edible flowers seem to always fascinate them. My daughter loves wild flowers. All you need is a bit of dirt and a small pot to watch them grow.”
- Things they can pick and eat on the spot:
Kev at An English Homestead writes: “My children love running down the garden after school to find enough to snack on. They love all the berries but also go mad for cucamelons, cucumbers, tomatoes, New Zealand yam leaves and a weird favourite is electric daisies [they taste of citrus crossed with an electric shock] which they love tricking their friends with!”
“Sunflowers are one of the best things to grow with children because they’re fast-growing and fun to race,” says Lauren at Inspire, Create, Educate. She and her children also grow tomatoes during the summer and adds: “My youngest loves to grow colourful rainbow chard (as well as his very own apple tree), and we love to see nasturtiums too. The answer really is, grow whatever your children want to grow!”
Over at An English Homestead, Kev’s kids adore peas. He writes: “I love growing tall heritage peas just so I know there will be some they can’t reach! I remember looking out the window a couple of years ago and between them they had harvested a bowl full of peas and raspberries and they sat sharing them out between each other, eating both at the same time!”
Try growing strawberries in hanging baskets, says Claire at The Ladybird’s Adventures – it’s very simple and takes little space.
- Create a container garden:
Create a bit of magic with acontainer fairy garden, suggests Karen at Pumpkins and Bunting. “Use a container with a wide surface area and fill with compost. Add small plants such as heather, succulents, cyclamen or house plants. Make or buy a fairy door and use gravel and small stones to create a winding path. Include small furniture from a doll’s house or make your own. Add solar or battery operated fairy lights for extra magic sparkle!”
With our bloggers’ tips, you now have plenty of strategies you can use to get your little ones hooked on gardening and the fascinating natural world that lies just outside the kitchen door.
There are many ways to grow fruit plants & berries in small spaces – wild strawberries in window boxes, a vertical wall of cranberries, dwarf raspberries in hanging baskets or blueberries in pots on the patio. Plant your containers now and you’ll get heavenly fragrance throughout the summer and a wonderful harvest with which to make delicious jams and cordials to last throughout the winter!
If growing veg is your thing, you’ll love our selection of some of the best vibrant veg growing blogs around. From ingenious folk who garden the smallest of plots, to budding self-sufficiency enthusiasts and smallholders, here we present some of the very best online diaries from the most prolific and knowledgeable gardeners you’ll find anywhere.