Monday, 26 May 2014

Gardening with children

This spring half term is the perfect time for gardening with children, in fact if you have a sizeable garden or allotment it's almost essential.  I thought I'd share a few tips that I've picked up (the hard way) and that I'll be using this week to entice my three down to the plot.



1.  Realistic expectations

The most important thing to remember is to have realistic expectations.  If you're looking for a beautiful fine tilth, perfectly neat rows and immaculate edges, well, don't take my children.  You may find that in fact you have more work after they've "helped" than you did before, in tidying things up and putting things right.  But producing little gardeners is a painstaking process, and there will be mud and tears (probably yours) before it is done.  Be prepared for rows of onions to be trampled while carrots are being sown, for flowers to be pulled up instead of weeds and for your best hazel sticks to be thrown on the bonfire.  Keep your eye on the end result - so long as they have some fun and maybe produce a little food or some flowers, you have succeeded.

2.  Grow something they like

Lettuce is a very easy thing to start with.  But it's an exceptional child who will be thrilled with a lettuce.  So think of the things they love to eat.  Strawberries are one of the best for beginner gardeners.  If you know someone who already has some you can beg some of the runners or little plantlets that strawberries produce in abundance.  Then really it's just a case of digging a hole, putting them in, filling the soil back and watering them.  Perfect for little helpers.   When the plants produce more little plantlets they can watch these grow and form new plants.  In autumn they can cut all of the leaves off with a pair of not-too-sharp scissors, and really, that's pretty much all of the maintenance needed.  If space is an issue, strawberries can happily be grown in pots.

My lot grow the things that they each enjoy.  This year one is growing radishes, one is growing sugar snap peas and one is growing sweetcorn, which can be tricky, but even if we don't get many usable cobs, he's had a go.  Novelty items are fun too.  We bought a packet of strawberry popcorn the other day.  The cobs are like small sweetcorn, but in various shades of pink.  When it's ripened you can put it on a plate under a glass bowl in the microwave and turn it into popcorn.  They can't wait.  And never underestimate the power of a little competition.  We've also got sunflowers growing, each pot carefully marked as to whose it is.  The growth of these will be taken very seriously I promise you.


3.  Make it fun

Your plot may need weeding, it may need nothing doing other than weeding, but they will probably only manage that for about ten minutes (or in some cases two) before they've had enough.  Again, you can introduce a little competition, but really, weeding's not much fun and that's that.  I ask mine to clear the bit of ground they want to plant in, which they're usually happy to do, but be prepared that very shortly they'll want something else to do that involves clipping things or hacking at things or just something with a little more action.  I've found that scissors are quite popular.  If you need the edges cut, someone might be prepared to do a (really bad) job of it.


4.  Let them wander off

Sometimes I need to just spend a bit of time doing something (usually weeding) and the children have done their bit of planting, their bit of cutting and have finished arguing over the rake and well, they're bored.  I let them explore our bit of the site.  The rules are no running (there are lots of short pointy sticks and poles sticking out of the ground everywhere) and no touching anyone else's plot.  Finding bugs is endlessly popular with small boys.

This is a little hazel copse in the corner of the site.  Full of possibilities and spiders.


5.  Don't spend too long there, and take snacks

If you're gardening away from home, you'll need snacks and you'll need drinks, otherwise there will be a constant chorus of "I'm hungry, I need a drink".  Take a mini picnic, and if you have chairs let them set them up and have a sit down and something to eat.  If I'm honest, this may be the main attraction of going to the allotment for my three.  And leave before they get completely fed up.  Do this, they'll happily go again.  It may mean getting very little done and leaving halfway through a job, but remember point 1, realistic expectations.

6.  Let them do the good stuff

Planting, digging (even needlessly) and playing Harry Potter with the Dutch hoe as a broomstick are all acceptable gardening pastimes.  Cuttings things (anything) with secateurs (bigger children only, and mind those fingers) or blunt scissors is always a winner.  If you have room, take a little sandpit or let them dig a small (washing-up bowl) pond.

Watering is popular, especially with a hose.  But be warned, at the very least the waterer will get wet.  Very possibly you will be drenched too.  You may prefer to limit it to a small watering can.



I just asked mine what the best thing about the allotment was.  The two biggest came instantly back with a chorus of "planting", while the littlest boy shouted "eating".  Right now is a perfect time to sow loads of seeds - radishes, french beans, squashes and pumpkins, peas and carrots, to name but a few.

It's also a good time to put in little plants from the garden shop, such as sweetcorn and tomatoes.  You can plant things in a theme, for example, grow your own pizza toppings.

Soon the "eating" time will come, and picking the produce is definitely something they all love to do.  If you have soft fruit, such as raspberries, strawberries or blackcurrants, picking can keep them occupied for quite some time.  Peas are another favourite.  I grow sugar snap peas "Sugar Ann", so they can eat the pods, or if some are missed they can eat the peas.  And when the plants are tall enough we pinch out the tops and eat the pea shoots as well.  Much of the eating is done at the plot, straight from the plant, and this is just as it should be.  Where else will they have a chance to eat food with maximum flavour and freshness?  I'm hoping that one day they will remember the food we grew and how fantastic it tasted and that they'll want to do it themselves, with their children.

If you get the chance to do some gardening this week, with children or without, enjoy.

34 comments:

  1. Well, you've enthused me and I'm 48. Your allotment looks like a lovely place to be.

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  2. I think the most important thing is to remember not to expect too much from them, or from yourself when you have them with you. It sounds like you're making gardening such an enjoyable experience for them and I'm sure it will pay off in the long run when they enjoy gardening themselves.

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  3. Great post! Now only I need to find an allotment. There's not a lot of those in Istanbul... I enjoyed reading it anyway, who knows where we'll end up before the boys are all grown up!

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  4. Excellent advice. Boys like to dig, cut, spray and wander as well as play Harry Potter. If you allow them to do all of that while you do the work, you can stay a bit longer at the allotment. Hugs to you, Meredith

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  5. I just wanted to say hi, I've popped over Leanne's blog and just spent a lovely couple of evenings reading all your old posts. I really enjoy your writing, and your photos are fantastic - I think you've even convinced me of the beauty of winter! I'm looking forward to reading more, and I'll keep your allotment plot advice in mind for future. Antonia x

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  6. Great tips. Definitely saving these for when Lyla is a little older.

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  7. ....and you are raising children that know where food comes from and just how much work it took. I think they'll grow up with an appreciation of fresh food, more than food from a box.

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  8. Such great ideas CJ! I can see why your children like gardening and allotmenting with you as you obviously put a lot of thought and effort into making it fun and not getting too stressed about it! I hope that you have a team of willing and keen gardeners in the future. xx

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  9. What a great post, funny and helpful. My two love to help in the yard but we aren't able to grow food so much as flowers and other ornamental things. Still, it's nice to able to bring my own flowers inside instead of always buying them in a store. I never noticed that your boys all have different hair colors. Do they look alike otherwise? Mine might as well be boy-girl twins, it's really weird, especially since they mostly look like my husband as if I had nothing to do with it. :)

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  10. This is a wonderful post, thank you. I have always found gardening with my two quite stressful. They want to dig random holes and muck about. I want focus and precision. I must keep point 1 in mind more often I think! xx

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  11. Have a great week, with lots of gardening being achieved !
    Kate x

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  12. CJ I am pinning this! This is such a great post especially for people who are just thinking of starting a garden with their kids! SO many good points....keeping expectations in check is such an important one and I am glad you mentioned it!! You are wise and your kids are lucky to have you!!! A beautiful week to you friend! Nicole xo

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  13. I enjoyed your story of how to get kids to enjoy gardening.. you're spot on with it all! Our little guys have some sunflowers growing that we need to plant in the ground now. They also have a raspberry plant. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

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  14. I think having their own little parch of earth where they can choose what too grow - guiding them t easy things - is always a winner.

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  15. Wonderful advice and it's lovely to see the pictures of them enjoying their time at the allotment! Sarah x

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  16. It would be hopeless if I had an allotment I don't think I would ever get anything done! At least my garden is a few yards from my house and I can wander in and out as I choose or rather they choose. Perhaps you could send one of them up to do a spot of weeding in my patch, it is looking a little neglected! Great post CJ thank you for sharing :)

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  17. Great advice, although last time I gave my nephew the hose I ended up drenched, never again, ;0) enjoy the half term,
    Clare x

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  18. This is great advice CJ, and I will make sure to remember next time James and I spend some time in the garden together. I am sure your gardening time will be remembered later, the Harry Potter moments and the weeding, too. Cx

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  19. Such sound advice & your plot looks idyllic! Hope you have a super half term & you get some nice gardening weather.

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  20. Lovely post. I don't even have 3 young boys, but I know that what you said is true! And I think that snacks work to entice adult gardeners too! I filled the watering can for my little babe the other day, showed her where to pour it, and she promptly turned it upside down so all of the water came out of the top hole, not the spout. And of course she turned it towards herself, so it all went on her shirt. So I understand the water bit completely!

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  21. I think it's so lovely your kids garden/grow things with you... I never did when I was younger... and now I really struggle to do anything out there.. unless it's reading a book and drinking Pimms!

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  22. Hello lovely CJ, I have missed you! What a fabulous post and one that I would love to be putting into place if it wasn't for all this grim weather we are having up north. I did however managed to do a little over the weekend, but mine weren't that keen to get involved, they were far more interested in playing their games. I completely agree, food is a primary need no matter what we do with our kids and it is usually the one thing mine Love the most, they are funny! Hope you have a lovely half term xoxo

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  23. Well done, this really is a delightful post by a caring and thoughtful mum. Happy gardening! Flighty xx

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  24. I'm sure your boys will look back on their time gardening with you as some of the best times:) I like your tips on how to make it fun for them--to pick a theme of what you're planting (like pizza) and choosing things they'll be excited to see grow. Can't wait to see all the fruits of your labor. Hope you're having a wonderful day, CJ!!

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  25. I think you have hit the nail on the head--don't expect perfection when gardening with little boys :) I remember being sent out in the heat and mosquitoes to weed our huge garden when I was a kid....no wonder it took me 30 years to get interested in trying it again! I think it is important to teach kids that they can produce their own food, and in order to get them interested it must be fun and not forced. Mine circulate between the swings, the garden, the garage, and the rain barrel. They bring in pockets full of little rocks, and they like the snacks the best. I think they would like your boys quite a lot!

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  26. Hey CJ,
    What a wonderfully inspiring post. Yes, it's all about realistic expectations when you garden with small children. I have learnt that too. My older too are completely uninterested, but they do like to eat some of the produce. That's fine by me. I have bought some sweetcorn seedlings after reading a post of yours. I though they'd look suitably impressive for a four year old. Your allotment looks amazing. Mine is scaring me, because it's a virgin plot. I am avoiding it if I'm honest, but looking at the pictures of yours has strengthened my resolve. We go tomorrow!!
    Have a lovely half term week. I hope the weather stays fine and dandy for you and your lovely boys.
    Leanne xx

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  27. CJ, you seem so cool and down to earth. I think your approach to kids in the garden is one us parents can apply to multiple aspects and topics and "chores" in parenting, eh? I know if I don't freak out and take the time at least once in some kind of activity to make it more interactive and less lecturey it benefits us all down the end. It's nice to have something to appreciate together, and yet sometimes I'm so impatient to nurture it. Thanks for the reminder. Salad toppings in the garden, brilliant.

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  28. Totally agree and very realistic. Mine love scissors and strawberries too. Purple carrots and golden raspberries etc have also been a hit! Pretty plot btw.

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  29. It must be so funny to do gardening with our children. So much fun. Your garden looks so stunning.
    Enjoy your week and happy gardening!

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  30. I love the way you interact with your kids. It's so lovely. Orlaith chose to grow strawberries in my mum's garden this year but when asked if she would eat them she said no. Haha. So we negotiated and chose a sunflower instead :)

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  31. You are so right, so good that your children join you on the allotment and are happy to be there. You must work very hard on it, everything looks (and sounds ) super! I expect all this rain is helping things grow, including the weeds!

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  32. Brilliant post, and much of it sounds familiar from when my lot were younger - we gardened but we didn't have an allotment, more's the pity. Actually 1. could be a description of my husband, heavy digging, watering and 'dead heading', are all he's good for gardening-wise, and don't expect any flower buds to survive the latter!

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  33. I found this both amusing and helpful. I pinned it to my pinterest board so I can reference it when I have my own garden helpers. I love the way your write about your kids. Such love, such truth. I can picture your day at the allotment perfectly with beautiful surroundings, lessons being learned, memories being made and also the expected amount of bickering over funny little things.

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  34. Your children are very lucky - not only do they have access to space for growing things to eat, they have a very understanding mum to encourage them. I love the football strip and wellies combo for visiting the allotment!

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