Kids 'n Gardening

Gardening is an activity everyone can enjoy whatever your age, where ever you live.  Bev boorer has written these articles.  She has lots of ideas to start children gardening. 

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A fun activity

Why not make gardening into a family fun activity?  Encourage your kids to help out, or give them their own little plot.  Most kids love to play in the dirt.  Give them a trowel and a square metre of earth to call their own and you will be surprised at what they accomplish.

Keep pre-schoolers close to you so they donít get into trouble. Dirt in the eyes and mouth is not good. What you choose to allow your children to do in the garden will depend partly on their age. Here are some ideas:

  • Point out the wonders of nature while teaching them to take care around bees and spiders.

  • Give them a tiny watering can of their own.

  • Donít worry if they slop and spill water.

Plan your garden with the children in mind.

  • Create a Ďcubby-houseí from a semi-circle of sunflowers or other tall growers.

  • A pathway of stepping-stones will keep children from treading on your flowers.

  • Small edible treasures like cherry tomatoes or strawberries near the cubby will delight them and be a healthy treat as well.

  • Older children can safely decide what they want to plant in their own spot.  Suggest seeds that germinate quickly so they donít lose interest.

  • Seedlings are a good. Hardy flowers like petunias, daisies, sunflowers and nasturtiums are good choices.

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Growing vegetables

If your garden is large enough, your children might like to grow vegies for the table, or to sell for a bit of pocket money.  The neighbours may be happy for the chance to buy freshly picked beans, corn or tomatoes. You could even offer to buy them yourself. 

Competitions are fun.  See whose flowers or vegetables grow first or fastest or bear the biggest crop. A gardening journal to record their plans, sowing date and results of their hard work will also keep them interested. They could have a special tape measure to keep track of the height of those sunflowers.

Container Gardening for Kids

Get your kids away from the TV and into the real world. Let them have a go at container gardening. It is a great holiday project, and let them do their own thing right from the start. They can go with you to buy a large black plastic pot and some paint to brighten it up. Maybe theyíve collected shells from the beach that will look great glued to the outside of the pot. Thick string wound around the pot and glued is another idea for decoration. Not much room? Go for a smaller pot. Once decorated and planted it will look terrific on a sunny windowsill or patio. A foam box or an ice-cream container is just as good to decorate. The children can paint a different picture or pattern on each side.

Buy the kids their own set of tiny tools and a small pair of gloves for when they are working with their container gardens. If you use potting mix in the container, gloves will be a safety precaution. Find a suitable plant Ėa hardy one that wonít die if watering is forgotten for a few days. Choose seeds that germinate very quickly if they want to go for seeds, but the younger child may not understand that the soil needs to be left undisturbed after planting seeds. Older children may enjoy growing something that they can eat, like cherry tomatoes.

To make things more interesting while they wait for the fruit of their labours to flower or fruit, they can have a windmill or insect on a stake to poke into the soil. Or decorate the top of the soil with pebbles or small ornaments. If you donít want your kids to dabble in dirt, use sand and let them create a fake garden with a fishpond made from a lid. They can make a pretend underwater scene with any tiny toys they might have. Kids love shiny pebbles and these can be bought quite cheaply at two-dollar stores. They can be glued to the outside of the pot or used to make a pathway through the world theyíve created.

Discarded fish tanks, make lovely indoor gardens.  Help your children choose miniature plants with attractive foliage. Add an edging of marbles or coloured pebbles, and make a fence by gluing discarded Popsicle sticks together.

Provide the opportunity and youíll soon see your childís imagination and creativity blossom.


Gardening in the classroom

Here is a fun and easy project to teach children about seed germination. It can be done in the home or classroom. Ask the children to bring a clean, empty container to class. It can be something like a yoghurt or margarine container. They could also save a seed to bring. Suggestions are apple or orange seeds; rockmelon, watermelon or tomato seeds; pumpkin or cucumber seeds. Alternatively, the teacher could bring some, as well as potting or seed-raising mix.

The children could have a show and tell session about their seed, then they could all plant them in the containers and place them on a tray. Depending on the age of the children, records could be kept to see how long each seed took to germinate and what the first two leaves looked like compared with the other leaves. Height (or length) and rate of growth could be noted and the children could even draw their plant at various stages of growth.

Each child could be responsible for watering their own seed, or they could form groups for this job. To prevent over-watering, let them use a medicine measure or a spray bottle. If possible, find a spot in the school garden to transplant the seedlings into, or allow each child to take theirs home.


Kids and bonsai

If you are looking for something a little more unusual in the gardening line to interest your kids, maybe they would like a bonsai tree, or a bonsai kit so they can grow their own. While children are often impatient for results, an older child may have the patience to become interested in bonsai growing, especially if they have grown out of the liking dirt stage. Just think, there is no weeding to be done with bonsai!

Unless you know a bit about bonsai yourself, a small handbook or ebook on the subject would be useful to make sure the tree doesnít die from the wrong kind of care. Bonsai trees are so attractive with their wonderfully twisted and gnarled trunks and tiny foliage, it would be a shame to lose it.

Bonsai could be the very hobby for the child who is interested in growing things, but doesnít want to spend a lot of time looking after a garden.

For the beginner bonsai grower, you would also need basic tools such as concave pruners for cutting branches and bud scissors for dealing with leaves and more delicate parts of the plant, a pot especially for bonsai, the right kind of potting mix and of course the tree are other components of your bonsai kit gift. When choosing the tree, decide whether it will be for indoors or outside, as some trees are more suited to outdoors than others.

Wire and wire cutters are also necessary for the bonsai kit. Get plenty of wire, as your child is sure to make a few mistakes and will need to cut it off and start again. You child might like to go with you to the nursery to choose and purchase the bonsai tree and pot.


Growing donkeys

One great way to help save the environment and have fun at the same time is to grow a donkey! No, not the four-footed variety, but a donkey orchid. These are Australian natives that almost became extinct in the wild; until scientists found out they needed a special kind of fungus to grow with them before they could survive.

This fungus was fast disappearing due to pollution and disease, but those clever guys found out ways to grow it, saving 800 species of orchids in the process. In fact, each kind of ground orchid needed a different kind of fungus as a companion to help it grow, so there are 800 different types of fungus to match the 800 species of orchid! Some of the orchids are called cowslip, leopard cowslip, blue fairy and blue lady.

Growing a native ground orchid is as easy as growing mushrooms. You can buy a special kit with the fungus and some seeds in it for about $9.95. Mail-order details can be had from (08) 9480 3600.


Getting Creative

There are many ways in which kids can get creative in their own bit of garden. They could set up a birdbath. To do this they could borrow a small log left over from the winter set it in the middle of their garden on its end and place a flat dish on top. The saucer from under a plant pot would do. A rock in the middle of it would ensure that the wind didnít tip it over. Small plants all around it would look very attractive.

If you donít have a log you could use several bricks piled up, an old stool (wonderful with a plant twining around the legs), a chair, a box (at least until it rained) a pile of rocks or a pile of dirt. The idea of getting it up from ground level is so that the birds can see any danger like lurking cats. If your area is cat-free, it could go on the ground.

If your child has a larger receptacle, e.g. a bucket, they might like to bury it in part of their garden and use it for a miniature rock pool. However, birds could still use it and if the water level gets low, they may be unable to fly back out and so they will drown. To prevent this possibility, always leave a thick stick in the bucket. It should be slightly longer than the bucket so that it reaches up to the top. Any bird in trouble can then simply climb up it instead of trying to fly out of a confined space with wet wings.


More creativity

If you are at your witís end to know how to entertain your kids, why not let them get creative in the garden? Give them their own corner, or a special piece to call their own, then suggest that they use an old toy to decorate it with. A bike, dinky or pedal car will look fantastically rustic with plants twining through the wheel spokes or over the seat.

Potted plants can be hung from the handlebars or sat on the seat. Ivy geraniums are hardy plants that will climb and twine beautifully. Even a rusted bicycle wheel propped up near a plant would make an unusual support for plant tendrils.

If you have no garden, find an old pair of boots for them to stuff with potting mix and plant with any number of small plants. Cacti, succulents, or even annuals like pansies or petunias are all good. An old teapot or saucepans can be pressed into service as a pot for plants, though if there is no hole in the bottom, be sure to keep them out of the rain.


Kids Going Nuts in the Garden

Kids Going Nuts in the Garden For a change, why not get the kids interested in growing a tree in the garden? Nut trees are a bit unusual and would appeal to kids who love nuts, or just like something a little different. Almond trees are not hard to grow and the pretty blossom resembles that of the peach tree. The fruit also could be mistaken for a peach when it is small, as each almond is coated in a furry pod. This will split open when the time comes to pick the nuts. And just imagine what you - ahem, the children -will save by growing almonds. Almonds thrive in cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers, but they donít like humidity. They donít take up much room in the garden. If youíve more room, hazelnuts are even easier to grow, not caring if the climate is cool or warm. The trees are somewhat untidy; they grow to seven metres tall and spread out quite a bit too, hence the need for room. Youíll also need two for pollinating purposes.

If you like nuts but not trees, try growing peanuts. Unfortunately, unless you live in the tropics or can provide shelter from frosts, itís a bit late to start one off now. You can buy raw unroasted peanuts from the health food shops suitable for growing. They have to be shelled carfully as if the nuts split, they will not germinate. They like well-drained, sandy soil. Sow the kernels about 50-100mm below the soil surface and water in well. If growing in a pot, cover the soil with a few sheets of newspaper and place in a sheltered spot. Do not water the peanuts again until they have sprouted about a week later. After that, be careful not to overwater, as peanuts dislike water close to their roots for long periods Kids would be intrigued with these Ďupside-downí plants. Once the flower is pollinated, the stem turns upside down and grows underground, where the nuts are formed.


Growing fruit trees

Most kids like fruit, so why not suggest they grow their favourite fruit on a tree? They could experiment with growing a seed from a piece of fruit they just ate, or they could purchase one from the nursery. If they grow their tree from a seed, it may not turn out the same as the one they just ate, since most are hybrids. However, they can still have fun growing it and finding out what the base of the hybrid was like.

Of course, certain trees may not grow in your area, but the kids can still have fun experimenting, and to save disappointment, you could get them a tree that does grow well in the area. Citrus seeds usually germinate readily and could be placed in small pots on the windowsill until they germinate.

Orange and lemon trees grow readily in a wide variety of climates and donít take up too much room. Peaches, plums nectarines and apricots are others to consider if your climate is right for them. Measuring how quickly the trees go can be made fun when they compare it with their own growth rate. Allow them to measure their height on a nearby fence and mark in the date with a waterproof pen. Then let them do the same with the tree. Of course, once the fruit is ripe the fun will really begin.


Kids 'n bamboo

We often see those wonderfully curly lucky bamboo plants growing in pots. Bamboo are hardy plants and are in the kid-proof range, so why not get your kids growing them, or some more unusual bamboo plants?

Black bamboo starts off green, grows quickly and the stalk changes to a deep, glossy black over a few months, while the leaves remain deep green. During the change its mottled appearance is quite fascinating. Black bamboo will grow in full or partial sun and needs to be cut back each year to control it.

If grown in the garden, the roots need to be contained so it does not become invasive. It may be better off kept in a pot. One plant is quite enough - it will eventually grow to 5 metres high and spread 3 metres across. Black bamboo is very hardy and definitely possesses the wow factor.

Growing walking sticks

For something totally unusual try getting some rare seeds from the seed man. This rare plant from the cabbage family will grow into a walking stick in a maximum of 300 days. In fact people have been growing walking sticks from this plant for some centuries.

It is Brassica oleracea longata. Plant the seeds 40 inches apart early in the spring. With good growing practices, the slender stem grows straight and strong. Allow it to harden in the garden. In late winter pull the plants, cut off the roots and crown, and hang inside to dry. When it feels as solid as a cricket bat it is ready. You get 15 seeds per package $2.15.

You could also encourage the children to eat healthy by letting them grow a bright orange cauliflower.  The colour is not affected by cooking. This cauliflower is called the cheddar Hybrid Cauliflower and is available from the same website as the walking stick. See  


Toddlers in the garden

Toddlers love the outdoors and playing in the garden while you are weeding is a great introduction to gardening. It is always necessary to supervise as they may want to taste the earth or plants, and some of the creatures that live in our gardens are dangerous. Always look for spiders, centipedes and other bitey creatures and make sure your garden doesnít contain areas that will harbour something nasty. Water left in a watering can or a bucket can be a drowning hazard and will not be clean enough to drink.

Here are some suggestions for toddlers in the garden.

Toddlers can

  • learn to pull up small weeds

  • put weeds into a container for the compost

  • water with the hose

  • smell flowers

  • look for butterflies, snails, caterpillars and ladybirds

  • put mud into small pots

  • pick up leaves

  • pick dandelions and clover flowers

  • make mud pies in a mud patch patch 

  • jump in puddles


A Garden Makeover 2

If you want to let the kids loose in the garden with the idea of creating a garden makeover but youíre afraid of the result, let them think what they would like and then submit a plan to you - or someone else whom you trust. In this way it can still be a surprise for you and you could have them copy the ending of those popular TV makeovers by having a special celebration complete with blindfold.

Some ideas for simple makeovers with a low budget would be the addition of pot plants under trees or hanging pots from low branches; adding purchased stepping stones; edging an existing garden with bricks, rocks or bought edging or adding outdoor wind chimes and/or statues. A birdbath will add both coolness to the garden and give a place for birds to cool off.

Any kind of shallow container could be used for a water feature. Simply setting a found container in the garden, filling it with water and planting some flowering annuals of perennials nearby would enhance the garden and give your child a great deal of satisfaction. If your child is big on enthusiasm, but short on ideas, bring home some books from the local library, or take them walking past other gardens for ideas. The local nursery could also be a place for ideas.


Kids Growing Giants

Kids love to grow seeds that germinate quickly and giant red mustard is one of the Asian greens that will not only poke its shoots out quickly, but continue to grow well in the cooler months of autumn and early winter. It is so attractive that it can take a place in the flower garden as well. If planted in the hot weather, Asian greens will bolt to seed, so April and May are the ideal time.

Choose a place that gets full sun, dig and rake until the soil is not lumpy, adding some compost along the way. Make some straight furrows by pressing a long stake into the ground. Sprinkle the seed along the row and cover it over with seed-raising mixture. Water with a fine spray and keep it moist for 5-10 days until the seeds germinate.

To keep them growing quickly, fertilise with liquid fertilizer once a fortnight. Asian greens include bok choy, pak choy, tatsoi, kailan and Chinese cabbage as well as giant red mustard. Many can be found in the same packet and can all be planted together.

They can be thinned out as they grow if they seem to be too close together. Those that are removed can be transplanted or eaten. Donít sow the whole packet all at once, but keep some for another two or three weeks so that youíll have another crop coming on.

Watch out for slugs and snails, as they simply adore Asian greens. Protect the plants with bait - but be careful that little children and pets donít get near the poison. Also try placing a barrier of thick sawdust around the garden. Snails donít like trying to slide over that. Growing them in a pot or box on a sunny patio can solve the snail problem.


Kids growing Broad Beans by Bev Boorer

Broad beans have lovely big, fat seeds that kids will delight to plant in the garden. They can be planted in May in climates similar to Sydney and Melbourne. Broad beans love lime and potash. The first should be mixed in with the soil when digging and raking while the latter should be sprinkled over the top after planting and watered in. this will help to keep them free of disease.

Choose the broad beans that have red flowers. Why? Just because kids love bright colour, so they will enjoy seeing their broad beans with brightly coloured flowers. Broad beans are ideal to grow in the garden because they actually put nitrogen back into the soil. So the next crop you grow can be something that loves lots of nitrogen.

Broad bean seeds can be planted out 15-20 cm apart - but if they are closer it doesnít matter. You can make a furrow, or simply push them into the soil to the depth of your finger. They will take two or three weeks to germinate, so push a small stick in next to each seed. Then youíll remember where you planted them.

There are two ways to eat broad beans. Pick them when young and eat them as you would ordinary beans, or let them grow a bit more and shell them. You then discard the pods and only eat the seeds.


Growing sprouts

When the weather is freezing cold and kids simply cannot get out into the garden, itís the ideal time to introduce them to growing sprouts. What are they? Sprouts are seeds that have gone through the germination process and are just beginning to show their first set of leaves. Seeds that have been sprouted in a controlled and clean environment are extremely nutritious. We often see sprouted alfalfa (lucerne) seeds in the sandwich shop, ready to go on top of your salad sandwich.

Showing kids how to sprout their own seed will teach them all about germination and also provide a nutritious - and cheap - supplement to the family diet.  Use seeds from a health food shop, not those marketed for planting out in the garden. These often have fungicide or pesticides added.

Equipment needed for sprouting seeds: -

  •  A big coffee jar

  • A piece of pantyhose big enough to cover the top

  • A rubber band to hold it in place

  • Scissors to cut it with

  • Seeds

  • Water.

Place 1 tablespoon of seed into the jar and half fill with tepid water. Fix the pantyhose over the top of the jar. Let it stand overnight or for 2-4 hours, then drain off by tipping the jar up. The pantyhose will keep the seeds in, but let the water out. Swish the water and seeds around the jar so that they stick to the sides rather than clumping at the bottom. After this pour water over the seeds twice a day and drain if off immediately. This will wash away any toxins and keep the seeds moist.

The jar should be kept in a warm dark place such as the kitchen cupboard near the pipes, which have warm water draining through them. It could also be kept on the cupboard and covered with a cloth. If the jar is kept on its side, the seeds will be less likely to clump together and not sprout.

After 4-5 days or when the sprouts are about 2 cm long, place the jar on a sunny windowsill for about 4 hours. The light will make them go green and they will then be ready to eat. If you want to wash away the brown seed shells, submerge the sprouts in water and most will float to the top. Kids will be fascinated to watch the process of germination and eating their own sprouts will keep them healthy. Other sees that can be sprouted are mung beans, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, barley, rice and wheat. After sprouting, keep them in the refrigerator.


Kids Making Seed Pots

When spring is in the air we start to think about planting seeds in the garden, but some seeds are only small and need special care to germinate and grow a little before they are put out into the garden. Without this extra care they will either fail to germinate due to the soil drying out, or they will germinate only to have snails or some hungry insect gobble up the tender shoots. So to save your seeds grow them in pots first.

The only trouble with growing seeds in pots is that they sometimes suffer transplant shock when you remove the plant from the pot. This is because the delicate roots have been crushed or broken when trying to get them out of the pots. You need a magic wand to make that pot suddenly disappear. Or you could plant them in special pots that will disappearÖ

You can get a pot that will last just long enough to grow seeds until they are ready for the garden by making one out of newspaper.

You will need:

  • A drinking glass with straight sides.
  • Newspaper.
  • Scissors.
  • And perhaps some sticky tape.

Do this:

  • Measure the height of the glass.
  • Cut the newspaper sheets into long strips 2-3 cm wider than the glass is high - and much longer.
  • Wrap 2 strips loosely around the glass several times with the excess at the bottom.
  • Fold in the excess like you would wrap a present.
  • Carefully slide the glass out just a little way.
  • Pinch all around the edges of the folded part. This will help your paper glass to stand and help to stop it unfolding.
  • Take the glass out.
  • Carefully fold down the top of your paper glass about 2 cm to the inside.
  • If the bottom unfolds you can secure it with one strip of sticky tape, but be sure to remove this before planting, as sticky tape will not rot down.

If you make several paper glasses you will have enough seed pots to place one seed in each. Stand them together on a tray and fill them with potting mix very carefully. When your plants are ready for the garden, simply pop the paper cup into a hole the same size. It will soon rot away.

Hint: Just before planting cut or tear slits in the sides of the paper glass to help the roots escape.


Making Snail Traps -Bev Boorer

No matter what kind of seeds you plant, there will nearly always be a hungry snail or slug ready to start chomping as soon as it is dark. You can sprinkle snail bait around, but pets will sometimes nibble on this and may die because it is poisonous. Rather than take the risk of losing your pet, make your own snail and slug trap - with stale beer. It is quite simple.

You will need:

  • A margarine container or something similar.
  • Stale beer.
  • A trowel to dig a hole in the garden.

 Do this:

  • Ask Dad or Mum for some stale beer.
  • Dig a hole in the garden just big enough to hold your container. The top of the container should be level with the top of the ground.
  • Place the container into the hole and smooth the soil around the edges so the snails can slide right up to the edge.
  • Fill the container up with stale beer. The snails and slugs love the smell. They will fall in and drown.
  • Empty the container and snails out every day, or it will become very smelly.

Hint 1: Place the container near your plants so the snails will go to it, instead of eating the plants.

Hint 2: If you cannot get stale beer, ask mum to save up all the eggshells. Dry them out in the sun for a few days, and then crush them into eggshell grit. Sprinkle this around your plants to keep off snails and slugs. They donít like sliding over the sharp pieces of grit.

Hint 3: If you use commercial snail bait, hide it under rocks or a short length of timber. Slugs and snails can still get it, but pets wonít be able to. Always wash hands after using it, even though you have sprinkled it from the packet.


Growing carrots by Bev Boorer

Carrots are not that easy for kids to grow in the garden because the seed is very fine. This means that the top layer of soil where they are planted tends to dry out too quickly to allow successful germination, or get washed away if the kids are too enthusiastic with the hose. But donít let this stop you getting those kids to grow carrots. They can do it in a container much more easily.

While it is possible to grow carrots in a foam box, using a deep pot can also be a good alternative. A pot is easier for those little fingers to handle and light enough for them to carry it off to a sunnier position after the seed germinates. So choose a small pot, but make it deeper by inserting a roll of waxed cardboard, or several layers from a glossy brochure catalogue. The paper in this kind of catalogue is stronger than newspaper. Make the pot twice as deep in this way.

Once the paper has been fixed in, fill the pot up with potting mix, reserving the last several centimetres for a finer seed-raising mixture. Donít fill it right to the top of course, or your water Ė and seed Ė will just run off the top.

Carefully put one or two carrot seeds in the pot, following the directions on the packet. Keep the pot in the shade and spray it carefully with water in an old spray bottle such as you get for cleaning products. Twice a day is not too much if it is hot. You can also place a small plastic bag over the top to shorten the germination time.

Once the carrot has germinated it can be carried to a sunny position. Carrots have feathery tops, so your child will be able to identify the shoot easily from any weed seeds that may have blown into the pot. Donít stop at just one pot of course, but do a whole line-up. Once the carrots are a decent size, one can be pulled for eating raw, while the other can be left to grow bigger.


Growing Squash

Kids love to see quick results when they plant things in the garden and vegetable seeds are both easy to germinate and quick to grow. Yellow or white bush squash are fascinating plants that grow quickly into a fairly large bush that flowers and sets the squash in the middle of the plant.

The squash can be harvested quite quickly too, because they are picked well before they grow to any large size. If you have bought them from the supermarket youíll notice they are only as round as a small childís palm.

Children will find them fun and easy to grow simply by digging a small circle and placing three seeds in a triangle inside it. Show them how to sprinkle a little organic fertilizer over the circle first and rake it in. Or they can be purchased from the nursery ready to plant out.

It wonít be long before the plant starts to flower and these will be in the centre of the bushy shape. The stalks and even the leaves are covered with stiff hair that can be quite prickly, so encourage the children to wear gloves when they are investigating their squash.

They will be interested to see that some of the flowers will form fruit at their base as they die off, while others will not. These are the male and female flowers, but you can choose whether you go into that explanation or not. If the child is very young, they will be more interested in seeing the squash form that any explanations. And once the squash is big enough to pick they will be proud to see them on the plates at tea time.


Kids Growing Coloured Lettuce

March is the ideal time to grow lettuce. As the days become cooler it will not be so inclined to bolt into seed. Lettuce seed usually germinates quite quickly so it is a good plant for kids to grow as they wonít lose interest before the plants show up. It also transplants readily so buying the seedlings may be preferred.

For added interest, why not encourage the children to grow several varieties of lettuce. There are: -

  • Leaf Lettuce varieties.

  • Romaine or Cos lettuce.

  • Butterhead lettuce

  • Crisphead lettuce.

        The leaf lettuce comes in various reds and greens that look very attractive grown next to each other. Ruby and New Red Fire are two leaf lettuce varieties that are coloured. Children will enjoy making little plant markers to indicate which seed they planted where. The best thing about leaf lettuce is that it can be picked sooner than lettuce that grows into a head.

Lettuce seeds can be started in a small pot and planted out when large enough to handle. To save root damage during transplanting, try one of those newspaper pots that you can make yourself.

When planting, follow the instructions on the packet. Romaine and Butterhead lettuce take up less space than other kinds of heading lettuce, while the leaf lettuce can be grown in an even smaller spot. Lettuce can also grow in semi-shade, unlike most other vegetables.

Never water lettuce plants while the sun is hot as that will burn the leaves. Watering them in the late afternoon is best. Lettuce needs plenty of water and will be improved by an application of soluble fertiliser every so often. Snails love lettuce, so make sure they are protected from such pests.

Copyright Bev Boorer 2010


Sprouting seeds

Sprouting seeds is a fun thing to do even if you donít want to eat them. The most popular seed for sprouting is alfalfa seed, otherwise known as Lucerne in Australia. But why do we sprout seed? Usually, people sprout seed because they like to eat them just after they have germinated and before they have grown leaves. The root is still short and fat and the stem is there, but no leaves.

People like to eat sprouted seeds because they are extremely nutritious. You might see bean sprouts in Chinese or Indian food. Buying sprouts can be fairly expensive, but growing your own is really cheap. It is easy and doesnít take very long; 2-3 days, usually. So how do you sprout seed?

Things you need: A largish glass jar with a wide mouth, seed, a piece of cheesecloth or clean pantyhose and a rubber band.

What to do:

  • In the evening, place one or two tablespoons of alfalfa seed in the jar and half fill it with water that is just lukewarm.

  • Cover the mouth of the jar with the cloth and fix it in place with the rubber band. Leave overnight.

  • Next morning tip the water out. The seed will not come out due to the cloth being in place.

  • Add some more water and swirl the jar around so that the seeds stick to the sides.

  • At breakfast time tip the water out carefully. Place the jar and seeds into a warm, dark cupboard. Under the sink is ideal.

  • At lunch time repeat the rise and tip process.

  • At teatime do it again and leave the seeds and jar in the cupboard until next morning.

  • Repeat the rise and tip steps all the next day.

  • By the third day your seeds should be sprouted enough to eat.


Growing Cress and Mustard

The great thing about growing cress and mustard is that it can be planted at any time of the year and it is ready to harvest in four to six weeks. For kids who like quick results, these are the plants to grow.

Prepare two or more boxes or pots so that the seeds can be grown separately. Use a good quality seed raising mix or soil and mix in some general fertiliser. Sprinkle the seeds liberally on top, covering them with a fine layer of compost or vermiculite. They should be kept damp until the seeds germinate Ė about a week in winter, but much more quickly in warmer weather.

Donít worry about thinning the seedlings when they emerge, just place them in a sunny spot to grow. A spray bottle is good to water these seedlings with Ė you can also use it to keep the soil damp while they germinate.

Once these little plants measure 10-15 cm you can cut them off just above ground level with a pair of scissors and add them to sandwiches, salads or stews. If you want to have a good supply, plant pots of them successively Ė at about two weeks apart.

        Copyright Bev Boorer 2010


Itís Great to Grow Herbs

Children might like to start their own herb garden. This can be anything from a couple of square metres to a few pots placed on a sunny step or balcony. Many are suitable to grow in the rockery or as a border to the flower garden. However, others are quite invasive so should be kept for pots.

Herbs are generally small plants that are either annuals or perennials. They germinate easily and are low maintenance, making them ideal for children to grow. They can be used to flavour the food we eat, nibbled at in their raw state or made into tea or used in many other ways.

       Copyright Bev Boorer 2010


Growing orchids

Orchids are not that hard to grow and will reward you with beautiful blooms often for three months duration - much longer than annuals bloom for. While they do have rather different needs from other plants, it is not impossible for kids to grow them, especially if there is an area of dappled shade such as under a tree. The requirements for orchids really only concern four things:-

  • Light. Most orchids need to be grown in dappled shade such as is found under a tree or on the patio or veranda in strong light but not direct sunlight.

  • Humidity. In areas that have low humidity, this can be addressed by placing the orchid container on rocks over a saucer of water. The roots must not be allowed to stay in water or root rot will be the result.

  • Watering. Orchids like water, but it must drain freely and the media they are in should be quite dry right through before each watering.

  • Media. what orchids grow in is important. Soil from the garden or standard potting mix will not do. Using commercial potting mix is the easiest way to pot them up. Most orchids prefer to grow in bark or pebbles.

Many orchids take their nutrition from the air and water. these can be found growing on trees or rocks in their natural habitiat. Be sure to choose a variety of orchid that suits your area.


Kids Ďn Dirt

Most kids love messing around in dirt and this makes it very easy to encourage them to become gardeners. But they also like to see fast results for their efforts so growing vegetable seeds that germinate quickly is another way to get them to stay motivated. If they can also harvest those vegetables and eat them right off the plant they will surely be hooked on gardening. It will be play to them rather than work.

Some parents tend to discourage their kids from playing in the garden due to the fact of getting their shoes and clothes so dirty. This can be minimised by getting rubber boots for them to wear, or else let them wear their oldest joggers that can simply be hosed off and let dry in the sun. Gardening clothes can be kept for those times in the garden and to keep their good clothes clean. And since kids tend to wipe their hands on their clothes a gardening apron might be even better than special clothes.

Kids should have their own patch of dirt to play in whether it is for growing stuff or just for play. However, if Mum or Dad encourage them to grow plants it wonít be long before the habit is established. You may be surprised at just what results can be obtained by kids messing around with dirt.


Kids Ďn Pots

Kids often love to grow things in pots, but why not let them decorate their own pots first? This will give them an added interest in creating a thing of beauty. For younger children, pot decorations can be as simple as slathering paint over the outside in any kind of pattern, or gluing shells or pebbles into a pattern on one side.

An older child might enjoy winding thin rope right around the outside of the pot and gluing it on with a hot glue gun. Or they could use the rope to create an interesting shape on one side. Pots that are going to be kept indoors or on the veranda can be wrapped in foil or have coloured paper glued onto them, or stickers made from contact paper shapes placed around them.

In fact, small pots decorated in such ways can often be used for storage of toys. The holes in the bottom of the pots can be closed over with coloured tape or left if larger toys are going to be placed inside them. Decorating pots is a good way to keep kids busy on those days when they are bored or it is too cold to play in the garden. Decorated pots will look attractive when placed in a row on the veranda and filled with herbs or flowers. Make sure there is a saucer under each one to catch the drips though, or that muddy water will stain the floor.


Kids growing rockets

Not the kind that blasts off, or course, but rocket, the salad herb. Since kids mostly like to see results quickly, rocket is an ideal plant for them to grow as it will be ready for picking within a few weeks, so long as it is given plenty of water and liquid fertiliser. Some children may even develop a taste for the peppery leaves which can be mixed with other salad greens. Rocket can be sown by seed into finely raked, damp soil or into pots with seed-raising mixture. Or it can be planted out from seedlings purchased at the nursery. Sometime even supermarkets have a seedling stand.

Rocket is not the only quick growing plant of course. You can also try growing other salad greens such as mizuna, baby spinach and lettuce, endive and chicory. In fact you can buy a packet of mixed salad green seeds and it is exciting for kids to see what comes up.

Lettuce does prefer spring to summer, when they may tend to bolt, or go to seed quickly in the heat. But if you live in a cooler climate lettuce of all different colours will fascinate children and they are easy to grow too. These can be grown by seed of seedling too, but you will have to watch out for slugs and snails.

 Copyright Bev Boorer 2010


Autumn  - Gardening with Helen

Autumn is just beginning here while in other parts of the world spring has sprung. Both seasons are good times to be out in the garden. Here the weather is generally pleasant Ė not too hot, cool, rainy or windy Ė just right for parents and kids to join forces in the garden.

Weed pulling and bulb planting are great jobs for children. Flowering annuals that are past their prime should come out too to make room for autumn plantings. Cosmos are an example. Mum or Dad can loosen the plants if necessary and the kids can follow behind to pull them out. The taller the plant they remove, the more satisfaction the kids get. Even very small children like wheeling a barrow. Load it up with weeds for the compost and let the kids wheel it for you.

While shopping, let the kids choose some bulbs from the pictures on the packets. After you have loosened the soil, allow the kids to dig the holes and plant the bulbs. Many bulbs can be grown in pots too.  This is a good way for your child to have his own special bulb and to keep an eye on its progress.


Jobs before the weather is too cold- by Helen

Even toddlers can be involved in the garden. Autumn is an ideal time for pulling out spent plants. Toddlers who can be frustrating plant pullers when you are trying to weed, come into their own when allowed to pull up the tomatoes that have finished fruiting or the marigolds that the first frost has ruined.

Pre-schoolers can

  • rake leaves and weeds into piles

  • push the barrow

  • spread compost

  • water with hose or watering can

  • gather bark in a basket for the fire inside

  • gather pinecones

  • be sent on a creature hunt to be your eyes for snails, caterpillars and other bugs.

When all this is done, theyíll love to dig holes and plant seeds. ABC gardening personality Sophie Thomson suggests Sweet Peas which germinate quickly and will grow tall. They bear colourful, sweet smelling flowers in spring.

Older children, under your guidance, will love to prune with secateurs. They can cut off pieces of grape vine or trailing plants that have got out of control. Gardening is so much more enjoyable when your kids are involved.

Copyright 2009 (Bev Boorer)


Gardening with Helen

The Garden shed

The garden shed is a great place for kids to learn. Pegboards for tools are the way to go in the shed. Kids will love to trace the outlines for you and will also like replacing the tools on the board. This will help them to sort, see the relationship between shapes -  an aspect of maths -  and can also give  counting practise. Language is another learning area. There are the names of the tools themselves, their uses and the safety measures necessary. Where I live, Bunnings regularly gives kids workshops on all manner of things from craft to planting, to using tools. If a service isnít available where you live, take on the job yourself. It will be fun and worthwhile jobs will get done at the same time.


Gardening with Helen

A tree to climb

As a child my favourite place in the garden was up in the pussy willow tree or under it collecting some of the pussies or picking leaves. This tree was so loved that I determined to grow one for my own children when I had a family. I did grow the tree, but it didnít fulfil my expectations as it clumped too densely whereas my original one had great trunks and lots of branches ideal for sitting on. Climbing trees are a great addition to a family garden and winter is a good time to plant. Elders and pistacias grow quite quickly and will be available bare branched in nurseries now. However, in my reading up on climbing trees, I discover that the absolute favourite is a mulberry tree which grows quickly. It will have fruit within three years and also leaves to feed silkworms Ė an added bonus if you have a school aged child. Wattle trees are also quick to grow, easy to climb and will be loved by birds for the nectar the wattle blooms provide. 


Gardening with Helen

Photos in the garden

Last year I talked about kids taking digital photos themselves  (Kids and cameras). Winter time is a great time for them to take some more photos. Bare trees are particularly beautiful with their lacework of branches against a sky of grey or blue. Other  interesting photos can be of the wood heap, frost on the grass, magpies finding worms, pools or dishes of water that have turned to ice, dogs or horses wearing rugs, the family rugged up and working in the garden and of course any winter blooms that brighten your place.

19th August is Daffodil Day to support cancer patients. Why not plant daffodils on that day or take a photo of the daffodils in your garden if you already have some planted?  

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Gardening with Helen

Spring is around the corner

Where I live it is still very cold but I made the effort in the past week to begin preparing the vegetable garden for spring planting. The days are getting longer and the willows are bursting into leaf and soon winter hibernation will end. There was some rain too so pulling weeds was quite easy. Children like to be involved in real jobs so digging with tools, spreading manure from buckets, raking it over and spreading leaves or hay as mulch will be jobs even pre-schoolers can do and will help them to feel important. They should wear their boots, and gardening gloves are a good idea. Then a visit to the nursery to select a couple of punnets of plants for planting into pots for the time being will be fun too. Many nursery plants will grow quite quickly if planted into individual pots and put in warm spaces, ready to plant out when frosts have gone and the root system has developed.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Gardening with Helen

An easy bonsai

Willow trees herald the spring each year as they are the first trees to burst into leaf. They are quickly followed by wattle and blossoms. After the drabness of brown grass in winter, spring is a feast of colour with flowers appearing and the first good rain brings green to the grass.  Spring is an invitation to get children outdoors and engaged in the garden both looking at and doing things. Sprigs of willow set in water take root quickly and children will take an interest in watching for the roots to appear.  Once rooted let the children plant the small willow pieces in pots to make their own  bonsai tree. Keep the water up to the pots or stand them in a pool where they can provide shade for tadpoles and fish. Let children experiment with different lengths and circumference of willow stick to see how long they take to grow roots and which ones make the style of tree they like best.


Gardening with Helen

Kids Ďn Forests

The year is drawing to a close and this year has been the international year of forests. Over 80% of the ancient forests on earth have already been destroyed so talking is not enough, we need to act to prevent further destruction.

What do your children know about forests? Is there a forest near where you live? Ask your children to think of ways they can help look after a forest. If there isnít a forest that you can visit, help your child to buy and plant a tree either at home or at school or in a park or community area. You may need to get permission from the land owners e.g. the council.

One thing we can do as home gardeners is to make sure that we donít let feral plants escape into the bush. Help your child to identify plants that fall into the feral category, such as lantana and privet and remove them. When buying plants at a nursery, choose ones that donít threaten the indigenous bush in your area.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Gardening with Helen

Christmas Plants

Many seeds germinate very quickly and a potted seedling makes an excellent Christmas present. So many of the Child Care centres have vegetable gardens now, and the children take a real interest in growing plants and would love to take one home. A small pot is ideal for a tomato seedling, or a bean or two or a zucchini or cucumber. There is still time for the children to get a seedling started before Christmas.

Another idea is to allow the children to choose a packet of seeds to give as a gift to parents. Purchase seeds suitable for summer planting in your area, and let the children choose from the pictures on the front of the packets.


Starting little kids in the garden by Bev Boorer

Often it is what we learn as a child that stays with us through our adult years and gives us great pleasure. If you want your child to develop a passion for gardening the best time to start them off is as soon as they can toddle around. They can do delightfully messy things such as watering potplants or scuffling in the dirt with tiny gardening implements.

If they are started young, by the time they are two, they will have a good idea of planting, watering and growing plants. However, some parents think that before two is far too young to allow a child to mess with the garden. But by the time they are two years old they can really understand what you say to them, so it is far easier to teach them the basics.

Of course they are still too young to dig up a garden from scratch, but once the earth has been dug and big lumps broken up, you will be surprised what your child can accomplish Ė with a little help from you, of course.

 Allowing them to see a large seed germinating in a jar will help them to understand what happens when they plant seeds. Letting them then plant larger seeds in rows and cover them over will have some meaning and they are not so likely to go back later and try to find the seeds.

They will probably forget about them after a few days, but then when quick germinating seeds such as beans show through they will be amazed and delighted.

No matter what age your kids are, make sure that they understand safety requirements such as wearing boots or sturdy shoes and washing their hands afterwards.


Gardening with Helen

Garden fun with dogs

Winter is a great time to have some fun in your garden with the family dog. With holidays starting, give the dog some extra attention every day outside. Begin with a brisk walk around so the dog will have a chance to toilet himself and to sniff out any interesting smells. Then prepare to play.

Dogs like to run, roll, fetch and carry, wrestle, jump, catch and chase.

Have a selection of toys such as balls, frisbees and chewing toys, ready to throw. Get the kids to set up an obstacle course so both dog and child can go under, over, around and through things. Dogs also like to play tug-a-war with ropes or plaited material. Some like to play at catching bubbles.

Play time can vary according to the age, size and fitness of the dog. Itís important to stop if the animal seems tired or too hot. Remember to have drinking water easily accessible. Slow down activities should follow after vigorous games, just as an athlete slows down. This would be a good time to groom the dog . Check the paws too, especially if some of the games have been on rough surfaces or there are prickles in your garden. Encourage the kids to take photos of their pet in the garden too.


Plant for the spring.

The weather in August has ranged from snow to almost summer temperatures in some regions. The first of September is the first day of spring and people who live in the cold regions will be hoping that winter is really on the way out. Look for something really bright to plant. Pansies are lovely and will flower right into summer. Get some that have buds forming and it won't be long before the kids will see the flowers. Pansies do well in pots as well as the garden beds.

First of September is also wattle day. Buy a wattle tree or some wattle seeds to plant in the garden. Pick some sprigs of wattle and help the kids to press them between paper sheets with a heavy book on top. They can use the pressed sprigs to make lovely gift cards


The threat of magpies

Last week when I arrived at one of the pre-schools, I was just in time to see a magpie swoop above a parentís head. He hadnít even had time to read the notice outside the gate warning of this type of springtime behaviour. Inside the playground, children all wearing their hats, were not swooped by the bird at all. There are 6 magpies who patrol the land at my own place. They never attack the family, but have been known to swoop unknown people in spring. It is always safest to wear a hat at nesting time, when walking past parks or areas where there are tall trees. Magpies are intelligent, beautiful birds and I love their melodious warbling. It is only a short time each year when they can be dangerous and I am always sad to hear that a bird has been killed because it has defended its territory too well. The magpie near the pre-school will be respected, and its behaviour is interesting and informative for the children and their parents. Staff and kids look forward to seeing the young when they take flight soon from a nearby tree.


Growing sweet peas

Sweet peas have a wonderful perfume so are rewarding for young and old alike.

1)      Help your child to make a tee-pee of bamboo or garden stakes big enough to creep inside

2)      Rub the sweet pea seeds on light sandpaper at the side, not where the root will grow. Then soak in water overnight so the seed swells.

3)      Plant the seeds at the base of the tee-pee about 2 cms deep and 10 cms apart.

4)      Water gently then cover the framework with netting to protect the shoots as they emerge.

5)      When plants have about two or three sets of leaves, the netting can be removed.

6)      Gently help the plants to wind around the tep-ee. In spring, your child will have a fragrant tent to sit inside.


Smelling and seeing the spring

Although the wattle trees have been a delight for a month in many areas, September 1st is the first day of spring in Australia.

It isnít too late to plant for spring. Buy packets of alyssum seeds and cosmos seeds for your kids to plant. These will grow quickly, smell sweet and bloom over summer too. Take your kids to the nurseries where you live to see sweet peas, lilly-of-the-valley, and pansies which also have sweet perfumes. If you have room for a climber get some wisteria or some jasmine and plant it over a trellis to make a kidís cubby house that will have a delightful perfume as well as giving shade.

If you live in a capital city take a trip to the botanical gardens. Sydneyís Royal Botanical Gardens have a special spring walk. There you will see masses of tulips, pansies, bulbs, rhododendrons, wisteria, roses, other flowers and blossom trees that will take your breath away and inspire you to get into your garden even if it is only a balcony size. The herb garden too is a mass of flowers  and scents in spring and butterflies abound there.

With warmer days and more sun it is a perfect time to pack a picnic lunch and enjoy it on the lawns in a park somewhere. Go home inspired to get your own garden blooming.


Pizza gardens

Many pre-schools have raised garden beds now and  teachers help the children to plant seeds or punnets of seedlings. They watch them grow then eat the harvest. If your centre has a number of raised beds, this coming term would be a good time to plant each bed with plants that will be used on pizzas. One bed can have tomatoes, another basil and parsley, and the third onions or shallots and capsicum. Children will love to water with a watering can. At the end of the term help the children to make pizzas for their lunch using the tomatoes, the onions and herbs, plus cheese. Of course the same idea can be used in home gardens.


Copyright Helen Evans 2011/12








Click here for more on gardening for children.

Copyright 2008


GARDENING 2 has articles on: 

Kids and   Seeds


The easiest flower

Kids with disabilities

Kids 'n Popcorn

Growing butterflies

Growing caterpiialrs

Growing snakes

Growing elephants

Growing carrots

Garden makeovers

Jobs before cold weather


GARDENING 3 has articles on:
A kid's garden
Hanging baskets
Autumn bulbs
Winter gardening
Cold frames
Growing ponytails
Sweet Alice
A treat for kitty
Quick growing vegetables
The garden shed
A tree to climb
Photos in the garden
Spring is around the corner
An easy bonsai
Kids 'n forests
Christmas plants
Starting little kids in the garden
Plant for the spring
The Threat of Magpies
Growing sweet peas
Smelling and seeing the spring
Pizza gardens