Here are 12 simple tips and projects to help grow the next generation of green fingers (and hopefully relieve any boredom!)
1. Go speedy! Little children (and big kids alike) are impatient so grow quick crops to keep them interested. Radish, baby lettuce, calendula and forget-me-nots germinate in days and should crop or flower in 6 weeks or so. Cress should only take two weeks tops.
2. BIG is best! Colossal sunflowers, pumpkins and squash are all spectacular to youngsters. Plant where kids can measure and plot their growth in a jotter each week. Hardy banana (Musa ‘Basjoo’), tree ferns and kiwi are similarly exciting giants.
3. Bugs and beasties: With a pocket magnifying glass children will spend ages hunting for creepy crawlies. For a real bug bonanza sink a jar into the ground so the top is level with the soil. Leave overnight. By morning it’ll be full of creepy-crawlies. Kids can identify their catch and draw them in a Beastie Book. Remember to free your catch afterwards.
4. Favourite foods: Kids love to watch their favourite fruit and veg grow. Chances are if they’ve grown it, they’ll eat it, too. Finger-sized foods like strawberries, raspberries, whitecurrants, peas and plums are good to try.
5. Curious crops: Oddities always attract children’s curiosity. Try growing purple carrots, stripy beans, yellow cucumbers – even violet cauliflower!
6. Scent detectives: Most children love scented plants. Fill the garden with sweet scents that are near to their noses like lilies, night-scented stocks, pineapple broom and chocolate cosmos. Sweet peas are perfect – they grow quick, respond well to picking and smell gorgeous. Position touchy-feely scents like mint, rosemary, chives and lavender within easy reach of fingers or feet; get kids to seek out their favourite.
7. Stimulate the senses: Furry Stachys byzantina, or lambs ears (touch and you’ll see why) feathery squirrel tail grass (Hordeum jubatum) and woolly silver sage are ideal for little fingers. Get children to touch them, and then describe the feeling. Try to include some noisy plants: rustling bamboos, and tall grasses are perfect.
8. On the move: Plants which fidget when you touch them will amaze! The sensitive plant is ideal. Grow from seed. Try Moonflower (Ipomoea alba) and Mesembryanthemum ‘Magic Carpet’, both open or close their flowers between day and night.
9. Gone Potty: Get children to draw designs on pots, then paint them with cheerful colours. Use non-toxic waterproof poster paint from local art shop, or online. Or give them lumps of clay to mould into creative curios or bamboo cane caps.
10. Shoe pots: Raid the wardrobe for old shoes and boots. Fill them with compost then plonk in colourful bedding plants. Just don’t wear them afterwards!
11. Sit pretty – on a grass sofa! Heavier clay soil which holds its shape is ideal. Stack cardboard boxes to the rough shape of an armchair or sofa and pack each one full of soil to help the seat keep its shape. Mound soil over the top and compact it with your feet until the boxes are thickly covered. Now get the kids to sprinkle grass seed all over. It should germinate in 14-21 days if watered well. Once the grass reaches 5cm (2”), cut half off with shears; repeat each week.
12. Worm’s eye view: An old fish tank makes a great wormery. Alternate 2-5cm (¾ to 1½”) layers of soil and washed silver sand in the tank. Put shredded leaves on the surface and add a few earthworms. The worms will drag down the leaves, slowly mixing up the coloured layers as they travel. Keep the soil damp.