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Children’s gardens

Why it’s vital we get kids into gardening

Malformed leeks
A patch of malformed leeks somewhere in the North yesterday

There’s a crisis in the horticultural industry – not enough young people are coming forward to enter the industry, so there’s a massive skills gap.

So, why aren’t kids wanting to be professional gardeners? This my view, so don’t get upset, but the problems are deep-rooted (sorry), institutionalised and part perception.

THE MEDIA’S PORTRAYAL: Those most respected in the horticultural media tend to be older, upper-middle class and southern – hence gardening is portrayed as a ‘hobby’ for the retired in the Home Counties.

Obviously, up north, we scratch a living off rocks and only grow malformed leeks in our allotments.

Mandy back yard
Get a proper job Mandy – me circa 1970, in the back yard I would eventually grow an apple tree from a pip and other such wonders

CAREERS ADVICE: I’d like to think it’s got better, but I was told I was ‘too clever’ to try for a career in horticulture. I do applaud companies like Homebase for their Garden Academy – they’re in the eye of ordinary people and offer a proper career path for those who don’t want to, or can’t take a degree in garden design.

PUBLIC PERCEPTION: People view gardening as a hobby, not a career, with the only options being a low-paid, seasonal job or a celebrity presenter/designer. The invisible middle-ground jobs are not shouted about enough.

EDUCATION: It’s great gardening’s on the National Curriculum, but on a packed syllabus – parents need to step up, get their own gardens in hands and work alongside their kids.

SNOBBISHNESS: Full marks to stores like Poundland and Wilkinson for their good-value products which lets anyone have a go. Hopefully, they’ll go on to buy for local independents or mail-order specialists. Zero marks to snobby gardening presenters who only plant in hand-thrown terracotta pots and pleach avenues of limes.


10 top tips for a kids’ garden patch

  1. SOWING SEEDS: Start off broad beans, peas, sprouting veg, sunflowers and nasturtiums on a windowsill – little ones will be fascinated by life coming from a tiny seed.
  2. GIVE THEM THEIR OWN PATCH: Let them grow what they want to – chances are, they’ll want wildlife to visit (make sure the plants are non-poisonous).
  3. MIXED PLANTING: Put together plants that are beneficial to people and wildlife, such as fruit, vegetables and herbs mixed with shrubs and herbaceous perennials. Sunflowers, strawberries, thyme, herbs and firethorn (Pyracantha) offer nectar, seeds and berries.
  4. THINK OF THE BIRDS: Buy (or make) a bird house, feeding station, or a bird bath, placed in the open so cats can’t ambush it. Keep feeding birds once you start – they come to rely on specific sources of food.
  5. WILD MEADOW FLOWER BED: Sow a mixture of wildflower and grass seeds in a sunny area – you will attract insects, birds, bees and butterflies by providing food and shelter.
  6. PLANT ROSES: People love the fragrance and if they get aphids, this is a food source for birds and ladybirds. Birds love hip-bearing varieties, such as Rosa glauca, in autumn/winter.
  7. HEDGES: Mixed native varieties create a natural habitat for birds. These plants grow quickly and can be planted in single or double rows.
  8. LOG STACK: Piles of wood/logs are home to some and a larder for other wildlife. Place it in a shady spot so that it remains cool and damp.
  9. INSECT BOX: To make one, screw together four lengths of wood and fill with hollow canes of various diameters. Place the box in a sheltered area, and on a fence so the insects can find it.
  10. CREATE A MINI POND: Have safety in mind here – all you need is a tub of water about 40cm deep. Fill it with aquatic plants like Nymphaea pygmaea (pygmy water-lily) and Callitriche verna (water starwort) which will attract frogs and other amphibians. Use aquatic compost. Place secure fencing around the pond or metal caging on top. Put logs and pebbles around the pond to give access for wildlife.

Garden projects for primary children

Gardening’s in the National Curriculum framework, so it’s vital that children understand plants – here’s some fun ways to get them growing.

Green-fingered skills are popping up in design and technology, science and geography – turn a hobby into a better school report.

PRE-SCHOOL/RECEPTION: Root veg volcanoes. Make your own country! Fill a seed tray with a 2.5cm layer of compost – let the kids shape the landscape.

Slice the tops off carrots, swede, turnips or parsnips and plant them. Decorate the with stones or shells. Place on a windowsill and keep damp – the tops will soon sprout green ‘lava’.

YEAR ONE: Ready, steady, sprout!

CURRICULUM FOCUS: Identifying plants’ basic structures.

seeds
New life – all this from one packet of seeds

Suttons’ Microgreens Rainbow Bright kit, £3.99, has shoots ready to eat in a week. Check twice daily with a magnifying glass. After germination, list the structures – seed case, roots, stem, leaves – then eat them! Available from www.suttons.co.uk or garden centres.

YEAR TWO: Meadow flower monster.

CURRICULUM FOCUS: Growing – plants’ need for water, light and a suitable temperature.

A project for school, the garden, even a large container. Buy a meadow seed mixture (Thompson & Morgan, £5.99 for 1g, £14.99 for 5g – 1g covers about 1sqm, www.thompson_morgan.com).

In spring, on a weed-free sunny site, rake the soil, then water thoroughly. Mark out the outline with sand. Thinly sow the seed inside, then rake in. After germination, it needs to be watered, tended and thinned out.

The first varieties should bloom by June. Others will flower next spring through to autumn, creating an ongoing project and a wildlife haven.

YEAR THREE: Magic carnations.

CURRICULUM FOCUS: Plant structure – transportation of water.

An old florists’ trick – slice 2cm diagonally from a white carnation stem. Place in a vase of water, which has had 10-20 drops of food colouring added. Leave 12-24 hours. As water travels up the stem, the flower changes colour (red and blue work fastest).

YEAR 4: Habitat study.

CURRICULUM FOCUS: Changing environment.

George cat fence
Ruiner of habitats – George behind bars (well, the fence)

This is best started around February half-term in school, the garden, or a park. Decide on a manageable area and do a wildlife hunt, listing what you find, where and when.

Think how the environment could be improved – planting for insects, bird feeders, bug boxes – log stacks provide overwintering sites. Do this monthly and see if biodiversity changes. Note negative effects – litter, pollution, cats!

YEAR 5: Cuttings.

CURRICULUM FOCUS: Reproduction.

Broad bean seedlings and geranium cuttings
Broad bean seedlings and geranium cuttings

Growing Pelargoniums (geraniums) from cuttings. Cut a 5cm long shoot and pinch off leaves except for the top two. Plant 1.5cm deep near the edge of a 13cm clay pot in damp compost – five or six will fit. Place in good light indoors. When roots poke out of the bottom, pot up individually.

YEAR 6: Ordering their world.

CURRICULUM FOCUS: Classification.

Put a 1sqm grid over a patch of land. With a magnifying glass, list the plants and animals you find. Classify them according to observable characteristics, similarities and differences.

For more ideas and teacher resources, visit http://apps.rhs.org.uk/schoolgardening.