The end of this month sees the kids on holiday for a week or two. Here is a selection of gardening-related activities to entice them away from the electronics for some of that time and to encourage their appreciation of our plant world. Whether you’re wanting instant results or the joy of learning to wait and watch the growing over the period of a few months, everything needed for these projects can easily be sourced from a one-stop, accredited gardening centre.
What better way of learning to love gardening than by growing your own favourite ‘junk’ food? March is still time enough for the kids to plant up a few seed potatoes (healthy potato tubers for planting and growing into whole new potato plants) in a special above-ground potato bag that can even be sited on a sunny apartment balcony. Regular watering, feeding, and top-ups of potting soil as the green shoots emerge and grow, will ensure a bumper crop of potatoes for frying up as chips. The long green stems of potato plants grow quickly enough to hold the interest of young gardeners until it’s time for harvest.
We’ll soon be heading into the lean winter months when garden birds really appreciate a generously stocked bird table. Encourage the kids to select, place, and regularly maintain a bird table or hanging bird feeder in the garden with, perhaps, an all-important bird bath too. Daily visits from more and more feathered friends as bird-word gets out will be reward for the work. Youngsters might also like to draw or photograph these visitors and learn to identify them from a birding guide.
Wormeries or worm farms are available in many different, easy-to-care-for, shapes and sizes and worms make great pets too! It’s fascinating to watch veggy peelings disappear as the worm population fattens and multiplies. Worms also produce a supply of worm castings, called vermicompost, as they eat and live and which makes an excellent additive for the compost heap. Ensure wormerys are kept in a cool shady area of the garden and that they don’t dry out in hot weather. Cover with old sacking or empty potting soil bags if your area gets very cold in the winter.
A terrarium, or miniature garden in a controlled environment, can be created in any number of fully or partially enclosed and see-through containers, depending on whether your child prefers to recreate a small desert or mini-jungle. Pebbles, sea-shell treasures and favourite plastic toys all help personalise the landscape of the tiny world, and then there is the fun of plant selection! Rock roses and other succulents, ferns, peace-in-the-home, crotons and creeping fig species are all easy growers for the beginner gardener.
It’s never too soon to try the magical art of bonsai, and plants like Ficus Microcarpa are great for older kids to begin with. These and others in the Ficus family are attractive and lend themselves to being wired and pruned and trimmed. They’re also very forgiving of beginners’ experimentations. For something really weird and funky, spare a few large seed potatoes from the bag destined for late summer veggie gardening and let the kids have a go at potato bonsai. A shallow dish, a little potting soil, a few pebbles, a pair of kitchen scissors are all you need. Check out images on the Internet for design ideas.
Wacky garden friends
Grab a selection of plain cement or plaster plant containers and paint and let the kids design and create faces or fantasy people on the sides of the pots. Then help them choose plants to complete their creations. The pony tail palm, carex, liropes and the ornamental grasses are all easy, attractive, evergreens to make great hair for the pot people. Use trailing plants like ivy or hen-and-chickens for longer ‘hair’ that can be cut and even styled; use small succulents to create trendy cornrow hair styles.
Succulents come in such a wide variety of shapes and colours, and are so very easy to grow, that they’re ideal for generating an interest in gardening in kids. Try cute projects such as living fridge decorations made from a small magnets glued to corks that have been carefully hollowed and planted with teensy bits of epiphyte or ‘air plants’. Moisten the plants regularly with a small spray bottle filled with clean water. Or help your child choose a wide, flat, succulent dish (or tin foil pie dish) and enough plants to create a unique living design. Some brightly coloured aquarium gravel will add real zing to this type of creation.
Give over a secluded corner of garden area, perhaps outside a bedroom window, to allow children to let loose with their imaginations. Screen the space with fragrant shrubs or creepers – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow or star jasmine are great if they can be protected from heavy frost – to create a glade. Bring in a selection of easy-going, pretty flowered plants like hebe, cuphea, dianthus, foxgloves, snapdragons and fuschias with, perhaps, a plaster gnome or two. Free-standing solar lights that switch themselves on at night will add to the magic. Placement and care of all these items helps give a child an understanding of landscaping and of gardens as personal space.
For this you’ll need a dozen or so 2 metre long sticks and a couple of square metres of sunny garden space. Children can help construct a small wigwam from the sticks and to prepare the ground for planting. At this time of year, you can buy a pack of pea or sweet pea seed (not both together – sweet pea pods and seeds are not edible) for the kids to sow and care for through the winter as they watch the plants climb and twine up the frame and complete the covering of the outdoor play house. During summer months, the wigwam can be clothed with a crop of runner beans.
These make a wonderful kids project! Grass seed and potting soil mixed together and stuffed into an old stocking or tied into a hessian or other loosely woven fabric bag, make up the basics. Imaginations, artistry, and items to hand will give the spiders legs, eyes, feelers, and body shape – maybe even craft them into a caterpillar or imaginary animal instead. Site the completed creature in a sunny garden or balcony spot and water it daily to get its grassy hair to grow.
You don’t have kids? No matter – these projects are all just as much fun for adults too!