I’m not sure what incited my passion for gardening. Perhaps it was the special times spent in my great grandmother’s sprawling garden with its tasty fruit and vegies, and delightful flowers at every turn. Or the array of potted succulents and flowering perennials at Grandma’s back door that cheerfully greeted me on arrival. Or joining my dad in his vegie plot when I was just a wee one. Maybe it was the little vegie and flower garden that my first-grade classmates and I created in primary school. Probably ‘all of the above’ is how I came to be a green thumb. Growing plants (especially edible ones) has excited me for as long as I can remember and I have many fond memories of being amongst them.
I totally agree with Australian gardening legend Peter Cundall, that gardening is super beneficial to our health – not only from a physical aspect, but also for the mind. And there’s the bonus of nourishing your body with a bounty of fresh fruit and vegies from the edible garden. Whether you’re four-years-old or eighty-four, the merits of gardening hold true. Encouraging kids when they’re small will help to start them on this wonderful journey.
Here are some ideas on how to pass on the gardening bug to kids:
– Garden with your kids from their very beginning. My daughter joined me in the garden as a newborn – carried in a sling, resting in the pram or on a blanket.
– Provide child-sized tools and gloves. Miss L has shown a heightened interest in gardening since receiving some lovely gardening tools for Christmas last year!
– Give your child her own garden area, whether it’s a small pot or an entire raised vegie bed. Making a sign for this, eg, ‘Sophie’s Patch’ can also be a fun activity to do together. With some gentle guidance and depending on her age, allow her to choose what is planted and to do the planting herself (again with some help if needed). Try to avoid the urge to take over. For younger kids you might let them pick from a selection of seeds that you’ve chosen based on season and ease of growing, show them how to sow the seeds and help them to do it. Older kids could be given the task of choosing suitable seeds and then planting these themselves.
– Try to keep gardening sessions short. Take your child’s cue – if he tells you he’s had enough then it’s time to stop.
– Develop their sense of wonder for the natural world. Whenever you or your child sees something noteworthy in nature, even if you’re just walking along a suburban footpath, take the time to stop, examine closely and show interest and amazement: ’Wow! Look at that caterpillar! I wonder why it’s covered in all those hairs?’…’Can you see that bird over there? The one with the white cheek and red face. What other colours can you see on its body?’…’Oh fabulous! Look at all these worms I’ve uncovered! They are doing such a wonderful job keeping the soil healthy for our plants to grow!’…’Come and see! Our beans have sprouted!’ You might feel that you’re sounding a bit like the late Steve Irwin, but your kids will pick up on your enthusiasm. (I’ve no doubt Steve converted thousands of viewers into serious nature-lovers with his contagious passion)! This helps kids learn to appreciate and even love, the many critters they might come across whilst gardening, that might otherwise incite fear or disgust and also keeps them interested in the biology of what is happening in the garden.
– Avoid pressuring your child to garden…if they don’t want to garden at a particular time, that’s fine. And try not to worry (at least pretend you’re not concerned) when the seeds aren’t in perfect little rows and neatly spaced, or they are planted a little too deep, or your child pulls out a young vegie seedling thinking it’s a weed!
– Read about gardening…together…no matter how young (or old) your kids are. We especially like The Australian Women’s Weekly Kids in the Garden, by Mary Moody and The Little Gardeners Guide, by Niki Horin. But even your regular gardening books, magazines and catalogues can capture children’s attention as they are filled with lovely, colourful and often fascinating pictures.
– Harvest and eat your produce together. Allow kids to help with the preparation, even if it’s just washing the carrots or lettuce. Little hands are also ideal for fiddly jobs like shelling peas!
I’m pretty sure my daughter, at four years of age, has caught the gardening craze. Miss L chose The Little Gardeners Guide for us to read this morning. On our walk she noted our neighbour’s lawn still hadn’t grown properly over a little defect that they’d filled with soil recently. When we returned home Miss L insisted she go outside and water the plants, even though the soil was still wet from this morning’s downpour. Then Miss L asked if she could plant some seeds. Which she did. Not before gathering her entire gardening tool collection and donning gardening gloves and hat…and treating the soil to lashings of home-made compost. I’m pretty stoked that my daughter loves gardening. But what made me smile tonight was that Miss L not only devoured all of her vegies at dinner, but she also ate the little mound of mint leaves on the side. And declared them to be ‘delicious’. I shouldn’t be surprised. She grew them herself!