Helping children to grow green fingers can kindle a hobby that lasts a lifetime. In a world that’s dominated by smartphones and computer screens, gardening holds the key to sparking an interest in the natural world and caring for nature. For youngsters, there’s no activity as fascinating as sowing a seed, waiting eagerly for it to spring into life, and then nurturing it into a flowering plant or home-grown feast.
Growing flowers and veg from seed is a healthy hobby, too, as it encourages kids to venture out into the great outdoors, get their fingers dirty, learn about wildlife, witness the joys of the turning seasons, and take an interest in healthy eating. It’s a great way to prevent cries of “I’m bored” during the school holidays! Competitions, such as growing the tallest sunflower or biggest pumpkin, encourage a competitive streak in youngsters and remind growers of all ages that gardening is a fun and rewarding hobby.
Don’t worry if, as a parent or grandparent, you lack green-fingered skills. There are flowers and edibles that appear to be almost tailor-made for youngsters to grow and will guarantee great results, even if the weather over the school holidays is far from ideal. Even better, sowing seeds with children is an inexpensive activity that won’t break the bank. Here, we’ll guide you through everything you need to know to get youngsters started on their horticultural adventure of a lifetime.
What seed-sowing kit do I need?
Good news – there’s no need to spend a fortune! A few pots and seed trays are a must, along with a bag of quality seed and cuttings compost to get started. A propagator, comprising a rigid tray and clear plastic lid, costs less than £10 and speeds up the process of coaxing seeds into life by creating a warm, humid atmosphere. There’s no need to splash out on a fancy heated propagator, as most child-friendly seeds will germinate happily in a basic, unheated propagator if placed in a warm, bright room.
Plant labels and a waterproof pen are vital, as even the most experienced gardeners will forget what they have sown if a pot or tray isn’t labelled! Labelling seeds and young plants is a great way to encourage children to develop their hand-writing skills, and learn the names of plants in the process. A hand mister (a bottle with a spray trigger) is ideal for moistening seed compost with tap water before sowing – and can double up as an excellent water pistol! Once you have this small collection of basic kit, you’re ready to get sowing.
What flowers are best to grow with children?
- Sunflower. The ultimate ingredient for competitions to see who can grow the tallest! Fast to germinate and reach for the skies, Unwins Little Growers ‘Sunflower Sunshine Giant’ can soar to a height of two metres or more. It’s a great choice for sparking interest in wildlife gardening, as spent flower heads can be left in the garden where birds will feast on the seeds. Kids will love watching, counting and learning to identify the birds that visit to devour the sunflower heads.
- Snapdragon. Learning to spell the Latin name Antirrhinum may take a few attempts (for children and adults alike), but they’ll have no trouble growing these cottage-garden classics. Flower spikes fill borders and pots with colour over summer and youngsters adore playing with the flowers’ little mouths, which can be opened and then snap shut without suffering any damage! Try Unwins Little Growers Snapdragon for a riot of easy-to-grow, colourful summertime blooms.
- Pansy. Pansies are so easy to raise from seed and create a kaleidoscope of mesmerising colours in pots, window boxes and hanging baskets. Unwins Little Growers Pansy ‘Happy Faces’ is a winner for a summer of smiles, as their cheerful, multi-coloured blooms look as if they are smiling up at you.
- Poached egg flowers. Packed with vibrant yellow and white blooms, Limnanthes douglasii flowers resemble cooked eggs – guaranteed to capture the imagination of kids. You won’t even need a propagator, as seed can be sown where it is to flower, once the soil has warmed up later in spring. Unwins Little Growers Poached Egg Flower ‘Sunny Side Up’ is a children’s classic with a proven reputation for attracting bees and beneficial pollinators: perfect for teaching youngsters about the joys of wildlife-friendly gardening.
Which edibles are great for growing with children?
- Carrot. No room for a veg plot? No problem! A window box or deep pot will introduce kids to growing buried treasure, and they’ll grow perfectly in well-prepared garden soil, too. A sowing of Unwins Little Growers Carrot ‘Nantes 2’ will soon have children pulling vibrant orange, tasty roots. Rich in flavour, this is a carrot that’s unbeatable for eating raw or adding flavour to salads.
- Cress. Many gardeners have fond memories of growing cress at school. Quick and easy, this tasty ingredient for egg and cress sandwiches makes an excellent school holiday growing project. First, grab a packet of Unwins Little Growers Cress ‘Curly Top’ then have fun painting a face on an empty egg shell before filling it with damp cotton wool. Sprinkle a few seeds on top and watch a mass of green hair rapidly grow! You can sow and harvest at any time of the year.
- Pumpkin. Get into the fun spirit of Halloween with no need for any trick or treating! Unwins Little Growers Pumpkin ‘Mammoth’ will yield heavy crops of enormous pumpkins that are just the ticket for carving as Halloween lanterns. Why not have a competition to see who can grow the biggest or heaviest pumpkin? Remember to keep plants well-watered while crops are swelling.
- Runner bean. Who can grow the tallest beanstalk? From planting the large seeds individually into pots to measuring the height of bean plants weekly and picking the first tender pods of the season, runner beans offer a long season of fun-packed activity. Tried-and-tested selections such as ‘Scarlet Emperor’ will delight with beautiful red flowers and masses of long, straight pods. For parents without a garden, dwarf runner bean ‘Hestia’ is perfect for growing in pots, where kids can compete to see who can grow the most pods and marvel at plants’ beautiful red-and-white flowers.
- Tomato. Packed with sweetness, cherry tomatoes form a summertime treat that’ll help to keep kids away from junk food. Try Unwins Little Growers Tomato Cherry ‘Sweet Million’ which thrives in pots or greenhouses and can produce up to 50 tomatoes per truss. Plants have a long cropping season, bearing an abundance of fruit between July and September, so there will be plenty of healthy snacks for everyone to share!
- Pea. Having trouble encouraging your kids to eat their greens? Home-grown peas such as Unwins Little Growers Pea ‘Lincoln’ are the answer. Simple to grow, fun to pick and tasty to eat, this compact pea is packed with curved pods that each contain six to nine sweet, tasty peas. When eaten straight after picking, the flavour is out of this world.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I urge my child’s school to teach gardening? Ask teachers to take part in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Campaign for School Gardening. Schools, groups and individuals can find out more and register by visiting https://schoolgardening.rhs.org.uk/home
Should kids wear gloves when growing plants from seed? Sowing seeds is a safe activity, but wearing gloves when handling compost is advisable, especially where little ones suffer from allergies.
How much supervision do children need when sowing seeds? Kids should be supervised at all times and taught that seeds must never be eaten. It’s good practice to encourage children to wash their hands after handling compost and gardening, but they shouldn’t be afraid of getting their hands dirty in the process!
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