5 fun ways to get your children into the garden this spring
Lee Connelly, aka the 'Skinny Jean Gardener', says encouraging green fingers is all about making it fun. By Hannah Stephenson.
As the weather warms up, it's time to don coats and wellies and fire up the imagination to encourage your kids to get into the garden, with fun projects to stimulate their interest.
Podcaster, former Blue Peter gardener and RHS social media host Lee Connelly, known as the 'Skinny Jean Gardener', is creating a children's garden at this year's Ideal Home Show (idealhomeshow.co.uk).
"A study by the National Trust has found that our children nowadays are spending half the amount of time outdoors as we used to when we were younger," says Connelly. "Getting outside is all about creating memories as a family. Just getting out there, playing games and stimulating the imagination is what it's all about."
Fancy getting your youngsters outside for some green-fingered fun? Here, with help from his four-year-old daughter, Olive, Connelly offers five tips on how to encourage kids to get off their screens and into the great outdoors...
1. Give them their own space
Let them have their own patch in your vegetable bed or allotment. If you have limited space, use an old washing-up bowl, putting holes in the base for drainage and then creating a mini-allotment for them.
Good crops to plant include salad leaves and other fast-growing vegetables, so they can see the results quickly. "If you have an allotment, give them their own space to do what they want," says Connelly. "It gives them a sense of responsibility. Just be there for guidance."
2. Encourage them to grow their own
"My daughter didn't used to like eating vegetables much, until she started growing them," says Connelly. "But start them off growing something they like eating, or they won't care about it as much.
"Tomatoes, lettuce and peppers are a good bet. My daughter loves going to our allotment and picking the tomatoes and the strawberries and eating them while we're down there. Pumpkins and runner beans are also good to sow."
3. Encourage wildlife
Children will be engaged when they see butterflies, beetles and other bugs. "We have a hedgehog home in our garden and we often see them in the evenings," says Connelly. "Make your own hedgehog home - it's cheap and easy and you can use things you have around the house. Use a plastic box that you can cut holes out of and put up against a fence line. Cover the box with natural materials such as wood. Everything needs to be accessible and easy."
4. Make wildflower seedballs
"If your kids like getting messy, this is a lot of fun," he says. "You get clay, compost, water and wildflower seeds, mix them all together and you make these small wildflower seedballs.
"Dry them on the windowsill and then find a spare area of the garden, throw the seedballs on there and lots of wildflowers will pop up in the summer, attracting bees and butterflies."
You can also make butterfly fizzy pop by mixing a sugary drink for them. Get a plastic bottle, put a water and sugar mix in the bottle and give it a shake to dilute it, then stuff a sponge into the neck of the bottle and hang it upside down in the garden with string. The sugary mixture will seep through the sponge, creating a magnet for butterflies.
5. Make a runner bean teepee
Children love to make dens in the garden, but this one could have added interest. Create a wigwam out of bamboo, leaving a space for the entrance. You can then dig a trench around where it needs to be placed, ready to plant runner beans at the end of May or in June.
The beans will grow around the wigwam and provide shelter for the children, as well as some delicious beans. You can move it each year around the garden. Line the floor of the den with bark, gravel or matting for the kids to sit on.
Connelly's children's garden at the Ideal Home Show features ideas from schoolchildren, as well as his own designs. He will be hosting gardening workshops at the Ideal Home Show, open from March 22 until April 7 at Olympia London. For tickets, see idealhomeshow.co.uk.