How to get a child interested in gardening

Wifey and I have been working in the garden trade throughout our children’s lives. They have never known anything different. Our elder daughter used to come to work with us as a baby, spending happy hours in a little high chair thing we would clip onto our counter. With such an early start, you would think gardening would be in their blood, but it is not quite that simple.

Children working on their new garden
Children working on their new garden

In due course, our second daughter arrived and, as they progressed from toddler to child, they would “help” me as I carried out my chores around the garden. As this usually entailed making every job take a mere 10 times longer to complete, we started to give them projects to carry out with their own responsibility.

We would usually earmark a little area of the garden where they could do very little damage to grow a few strawberries or perhaps sow some seeds. With clumsy little fingers in mind, peas and beans were particular favourites. With easy to handle size and rapid germination to reward them with quick results, they were always a winner.

An obvious choice is the popular Broad Bean Bunyards Exhibition, which is safe to sow from early March, yielding six to eight white seeds per pod, very sweet and tasty when eaten young and straight from the plant. The variety “red epicure” has attractive red seeds.

To sell it to the kids we also used to grow runner beans as Jack-and-the-beanstalk plants. But you have to watch out for frost, so I do not plant these out until May at the earliest. But with supports to build they are better left to the adults.

Another good choice, however, for helpful little hands are peas. Early varieties such as “meteor” are very hardy and safe to plant now and produce short well-filled pots on dwarf plants only 2ft tall. They need some support and you can use canes and horizontal strings but the children preferred to stick in twigs trimmed from the old buddleia for them to clamber up. I cannot remember any ever reaching the table as they were stolen by the same little helpers who planted them.

Those happy days came back to mind the other night. I had been busy till late and had forgotten I had agreed to help our youngest collect (and install apparently) a second hand washing machine from a friend. So it was out into the night once more.

While baby girl stood under a brolly to stop her hair being messed, Muggins was left dragging a washing machine across her back garden and through her back door as the heavens unleashed a torrent seemingly directed especially at me.

Stood dripping in her kitchen as the rains thundered down, her back garden was illuminated by her security floodlight. Apparently, she told me, she is keen to get started growing stuff. She already had some herbs growing and fancied this and that to set her up for the season.

It really sounded nice and I was pleased all those hours planting peas and beans with her had paid off. She had been bitten by the gardening bug and was keen to get stuck in. “So,” she asked. “When are you free?”