Little Man loves to be outdoors; the park, the farm, the forest. He loves the fresh air and the freedom of being outdoors. He has started to show some interest in gardening as he does a little at nursery and it is something that I really want to nurture in him.
I am not the best gardener in the world however, and I have a hard time knowing my perennials from my annuals. So I looked for advice. Today I am chatting to Alistair who is a Horticultural Trainer & Business Development Officer and blogs over at The Humble Outdoorsman. He is going to tell us how to make a Square Metre Garden with our kids and most importantly what to put in it!
Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us today. First off, can you tell us a little about your job?
I train people with a wide range of learning disabilities in horticulture, woodwork, healthy living and the environment. We provide for them a market garden with which to learn the process of seed to sale of produce.
Can you tell us what a Square Metre Garden and the idea behind it?
The principle is to create an area or raised bed of one square metre and to produce a wide range of salads, vegetables and herbs in it. Restricting yourself to one metre (at first!) will mean it can be kept manageable and children can easily grasp the concept and get involved.
What are the best types of things to put in this garden to keep the kids interested?
I recommend going for a range plants, I would suggest choosing things that have a different range of germination times (the amount of time between a seed going in the soil and starting to grow) as these can range enormously. Some microsalads will start growing in less than a week whereas a courgette will take a couple of weeks to start to grow but several months to fruit. If you grow a mixture of things you can hold your child’s interest across a long period of time. It also means you will have a wide range of seed shapes and sizes which I for one find interesting! The bigger ones like pumpkins, courgettes and cucumbers all have big seeds for little fingers. I would recommend mostly growing things you already eat, but also throw in something a bit different to pique interest. I have a rather large soft spot for sunflowers too, so I would definitely recommend a sunflower growing challenge.
There are several plants that will sprout and grow from leftovers from the kitchen; carrot tops, celery ends, ginger, lemongrass, basil, garlic, and spring onion ends will all start growing again if you put them onto wet kitchen towel on the windowsill.
Is there any prep that needs to be done before unleashing the kids onto it?
Not really, support and supervision are key, and help with the digging over or making the raised bed if you’re going to use them
Can this be done with kids of any age?
Absolutely, there are therapeutic benefits from the touch of different textures, the sounds of wind in trees or grasses and the smell of herbs. It is a full sensory experience and over time children can interact more and then can take more control and ownership, as they develop and become more able. There is a task/job for everyone you just need to find it!
Where is the best place to shop for the seeds, plants, etc?
I try and get them free where possible; look out on freecycle or some of the Facebook groups about gardening to see if you can get anything from there. Look out for local seed swaps, plant sales and allotment open days. Also if you need tools then I would higly recommend your local car boot sale. The most straightforward option is to go to a garden centre for all your bits but be aware this is usually the most expensive option too. However, it has the added benefit of you being able to ask for advice. Do check out Wilkinson’s if you have one near to you as I find they are the best value. Homebase/B&Q are good for value bedding plants. EBay can be an excellent place for seeds, and top tip is to use Martin’s Local eBay Mapper to find things that are close to you that you can collect and save on postage.
Why do you think being out in the garden and learning the skills that come with it is so important for our kids?
Every stage of cognitive and physical development can be enhanced by being in the garden and enjoying the outdoors. The garden is a natural place for children to explore and learn about their environment, come to understand the cycles of development which in turn teaches them patience and helps them to improve themselves. Using a square metre garden provides children with ownership over a small space and the plants they have grown. They will also love to eat what they have grown!
Take sunflowers for example, you plant the seed and watch them grow, you can relate this to how your child grows . They can enjoy the flowers which will attract insects (so there’s a whole new education there), you can then eat the seeds or leave them for the birds, and keep a few to plant next year and see how they grow. So many opportunities from just one plant, and as long as you water it, it’s easier to look after than a hamster!
What are your top 5 tips when it comes to kids and gardens?
- Be ready for questions. To help you with the answers I would recommend the books British Wildlife: A Photographic Guide to Every Common Species & The New Vegetable & Herb Expert. You can find both of these on Amazon.
- Don’t be scared to let the kids get dirty; they are hardier than you think!
- Be sure to make it clear they only eat what you give them, while lots of weeds are very edible not all are and to a little one, one green leaf is the same as the other.
- Make sure tasks are achievable and have a clear beginning, middle and end. Fostering early good behaviour when keeping tools clean and tidy may have benefits later on.
- Enjoy it!
So there we go, lots of great ways to get your kids outside this summer. For me the idea of Little Man having his own little area in our garden is a winner. I will be starting Little Man’s Square Meter Garden soon and will be sharing pictures along the way. We would love to see anyone else’s pictures of their kids gardening or if you have tried a Square Metre Garden. Share them with me on Instagram and for more inspiration take a look at my Pinterest board.