We all know gardening has many benefits for our general health and wellbeing – whether that’s physical or emotional. There’s a definite “feel good factor” that comes from getting your hands dirty, together with all the planning, creativity, physical activity, fresh air and, often, companionship that comes from working on a garden or allotment.
With young people and even very young children facing pressures and difficulties that were generally unheard of before many of us reached adulthood, it makes a lot of sense to sow the seeds of a love of gardening from an early age and reap the benefits as soon as possible. As well as getting them away from the TV, their mobile phone or tablet or gaming, gardening brings science lessons to life, teaches the benefits of fresh food and puts them in touch with nature on a fun and very practical level. It can also be a much needed creative outlet for those whose talents are not painting and drawing!
Small children are not known for their patience and ability to wait for things to happen. While most kids love getting muddy, splashing water around, digging holes and finding worms (or was that just me as a child?), maintaining their interest once their hands are washed and dried can be a bit more challenging.
Quick sprouting seeds are a must to capture and keep their imagination and interest. Sunflower, cress and salad seeds are easy and quick to show results, and are a great first step in explaining to young minds the process of planting seeds and waiting for the first results to begin to show.
Sunflowers can be planted straight in the ground where you want them to grow. They love sunshine and well-drained soil. As the shoots start to emerge, the young gardener’s job is to keep them safe from hungry slugs and snails and they might like to make a protective cover from a soft drinks or water bottle with the top carefully cut off (here’s another useful lesson for young minds about finding new uses for old plastic objects).
If the budding gardener is a small child, the sunflower will soon grow taller than them. Just be careful if there is more than one child involved that it doesn’t turn into too much of a competition as even with the best care provided they can’t really control just how tall their plant will end up!
Salad seeds are another exciting first venture into gardening for very young children, mostly because they eventually get to eat the results! There is probably nothing more delicious than an egg sandwich sprinkled with cress you have grown yourself. Because cress is such a fast-growing seed (it’s ready to eat in under 10 days!), it’s perfect for kids who are keen to see the fruits of their labour as soon as possible.
Probably the most fun way to get a child started is to grow a cress head. Cress heads are a fantastic way to encourage both creativity and recycling – anything from egg shells, yoghurt pots or even old tights can be used and children can draw funny faces on the head to keep them occupied until the hair (cress) begins to sprout! Cress heads are also a great introduction to growing for children who live in flats and don’t have access to their own outdoor space.
If the child is inspired and you have room in the garden or allotment, then you can look at working with them on a larger grow your own salad project to give them a real sense of achievement when they begin to serve up their own greens!
Kids love having their own stuff that is sized especially for them and a set of mini, child friendly gardening tools, such as a watering can, rake and trowel designed for little hands, can really encourage their independence, natural sense of helpfulness and help them to develop their finer motor skills and attention.
It also gives relatives something nice to buy or even make for gifts as they build up their collection to include child sized wheelbarrows, overalls and colourful wellies.
While older children and teenagers can have a lot of conflicting interests to deal with, either an early love of gardening or a brand new interest can be sown more easily than you might think by tapping into some of the main concerns that young people share.
Children are usually as – and quite often a lot more – concerned about waste and damaging consumerism than the adults they share their lives with. How often does your teenager lecture you about wasteful packaging in the supermarket or your lack of real recycling?
The garden or allotment can be a testing ground for them to try out a more environmentally friendly lifestyle – whether it’s exploring greener methods of pest control (for the budding scientist), recycling household food waste on the compost heap, finding new uses for old plastic or growing your own vegetables and fruit with zero packaging to recycle. Okay, so you might have to prise them off the sofa in the first instance but the garden is an area where real results and a sense of achievement are part of the harvest.
For kids with a social conscience, helping out with gardening tasks can be a great way for them to support older or more vulnerable people or to help improve the local environment in their own communities. There will almost certainly be existing schemes in your local area and a good first port of call is your local council or voluntary services organisation. The Royal Horticultural Society also has a raft of resources to help people who are interested in starting up community garden projects.
Getting green fingered can also be an attractive career path. While mum and dad may have been more than happy to potter around the flower beds on their day off work, an increasing number of savvy young people are seeing a real future in horticulture.
Agricultural colleges, such as Askham Bryan in York, are seeing more and more young people apply to join their horticultural courses (an increase from 20% of students to 80% in the last five years).
Gardening is definitely becoming a lot cooler, with some notable young garden designers making their mark, including exhibiting at Hampton Court and presenting on Gardeners World.
Whatever their age, it’s definitely time to start planting some seeds.