I am delighted to be hosting some Guest Bloggers on The Pink Wheelbarrow this month to give you some new ideas and fresh takes on gardening and growing your own food. First up, I am thrilled to welcome Andrea Blackie, an RHS-qualified gardener, garden designer and writer based in Teddington. Andrea has chosen to share some lessons learned about gardening with children and if you have ever had your own, or a group of children, attempt to do some gardening, you will appreciate that it is highly rewarding, generally chaotic and infinitely amusing!
Five things kids taught me about gardening
If you fancy a bit of anarchy mixed in with your gardening, there’s an easy answer – get some children involved.
For the last few years, I’ve helped run gardening sessions for children during the summer holidays at Osterley Park National Trust gardens. We’ve grown soft fruit, vegetables in raised beds and potatoes in big bulk bags. Families drop in and the children help with whatever gardening is going on that day. After three years of gardening with these kids, here’s what I’ve learnt.
1. Always plant potatoes
Potatoes are fun for newbie young gardeners to plant – there’s selecting your spud, snapping off unwanted shoots, and the chance to dig deep holes and bury things. But the real joy of growing potatoes with young children is the harvesting. Once they realise there’s potatoes to be dug up in them there bags, it’s like watching a gold rush. Best to stand well back.
2. Creepy-crawlies are good
Every gardener knows the killer instinct that rises up when we see our bean plants black with aphids, or cabbage white caterpillars devouring our kale but, kids don’t feel that. When they find a bug, they shriek for their parents to come and see, they get down and scrutinise it through a magnifying glass, they want to take it home as a pet. A gentle reminder that maybe even garden pests have the right to be here.
3. But hoverfly larvae are gross
Obviously hoverflies are A Good Thing. But some hoverfly larvae are just revolting. We discovered this when a tub containing cardboard for the compost heap filled with rainwater and then sat covered over for a few weeks. When we opened it, it was squirming with – well, there’s a reason some hoverfly larvae are known as ‘rat-tailed maggots’. Apparently what looks like a tail is actually a snorkel, allowing the larvae to breathe while underwater. Fascinating, but disgusting.
4. You can make a flute from a courgette stem
There are many ways to get kids interested in gardening, and it turns out one of them is to use the stem of a courgette leaf to make a flute. Although to be honest, the noise that comes out of it is less rippling golden notes and more sat-upon whoopee cushion or didgeridoo. If you’re curious, google ‘Zucchini flute’ for hours of fun.
5. Seeds really want to grow
If you’ve ever forgotten to follow the instructions when sowing your seeds, don’t worry. After watching toddlers chaotically sowing everything from carrots to sweetcorn, I’ve come to the conclusion that most seeds haven’t read the instructions either. Just keep sowing. Things will grow.
Gardening with kids – chaotic, messy and breaking all the rules. But with luck, a few of those children will go on to become the horticulturalists of the future. Or at least they’ll always know how to plant potatoes.