Instil the joy of gardening in your children

2010-02-08 00:00

JEAN Mitchell’s father grew vegetables to feed his large family. It was a pastim­e that nurtured in his daughter a life-long love of flowers and growing things, and it is this enthusiasm that organisers of next week’s demo garden in the Botanical Gardens hope to encourage in young Maritzburg residents.

The talk on “Gardening with children” will be given by environmental educator Jeanette Stewart.

“In a garden a child will learn so much,” says Mitchell.

“There are different shapes and sizes, hiding places, frogs, fragrances, nipping ants, friends and foes. They will see the miracle of a tiny seed growing into a flower or a crunchy carrot. They will learn about patience, discipline, achievement and disappointment.”

Celma Croudace of Msunduzi Municipality, organiser of the demo garden programme and mother of nine-year-old triplets, is also an enthusiastic proponent of gardening with kids.

“It is a wonderful opportunity to have one- on-one time with a child. They are relaxed and talkative and feel important because they are helping and having ownership or part ownership of a patch of the garden. They also have the follow through of the product, whether it is a visual impact, fragrant or edible.

“Sometimes the kids earn some money from their gardening. My daughter, Katie, took her hamster’s sunflower seeds and planted them. She sold the plants at her school market day and made a whopping return on her input cost.

“It also teaches them that they have to nurture and feed the plants. And it gives them a huge boost when they show others what they have created or helped to create.

It also introduces them to a gentle aspect of life where everything is not rushed and about how fast you can swim or how good you are at maths. Gardening is a fantastic alternative for the child who is unsure of him or herself.

“My Jessie has a patch of about two-by-three metres, Katie has seeds in various pots and strawberries in many places. Daniel’s gone off gardening at the moment as cricket and tennis have preference. He will, however, quite gladly walk through the garden with us and have a look at how much the mielies, or whatever, have grown.

“For him the garden is a place to build hide- outs, play cricket and make ramps for his bicycle. For the girls, it is a place to pick flowers, make fairy gardens, drink tea and grow things, and make it look nice. Katie has the added thing of catching frogs, looking for chameleons and finding the odd snake and other bugs.”

Stewart advises using children’s love of creative play to encourage their interest. “The trick is to be prepared. Invest in some children’s garden tools, seed packets, wellies, watering cans, their own pots, spades and a rake.

“Encourage children to have their own patch of garden in which they can do as they please. It might be planting veggies or annuals or their own tree that they nurture and learn from. Share with them all the triumphs and disasters that the weather, insects, snails, worms, grubs, or the dog digging up the garden have to bring. Children will learn about too much or too little water and about soil fertility. All these can turn into positive learning experiences.

“Gardening takes patience — after all seeds don’t grow overnight. The love of gardening will be a gradual thing but there will be plenty of ways of seducing them to go outside — dig for worms, prepare beds, compost making, weeding, filling pots and bedding plants, collecting natural objects for crafts (seeds, feathers, pine cones, snail shells, leaves, twigs) — or even just to do things with you even if this is the least help you want. Things that you can do indoors is to grow plants from pips — avos (very ripe), carrots and radish tops, onions, mustard and watercress, broad beans, mielie seeds — watch these sprout and germinate.

“If you have a child who hates eating veggies you could encourage him or her to plant vegetables, which will probably taste better raw than cooked. There is nothing better than picking your own beans and eating them raw.”

It’s important for parents to remember that gardening time should be fun. “There should be no reprimands for wet shoes, grubby hands or muddy clothes,” says Mitchell. Croudace agrees. “The one thing that I must constantly remind myself of is that time in the garden is not a time of conflict and that one must bear in mind that a child’s attention wanders off and they lose concentration and cannot stay weeding or planting for too long.”

The reward according to Mitchell? “Joys galore. In a garden there is a spiritual awareness.”

• The demonstration garden will be held in the old restaurant at the Botanical Gardens on February 13 at 10 am.



• You could record everything by taking pictures, especially of the children working and playing in the garden. You could encourage them to keep a diary in which they can draw and maybe write a story or some poems.

• Sunflower bed or pots using bamboo poles to keep them upright. Show them the sunflower painting by Vincent van Gogh and encourage them to paint or draw their own masterpieces.

• Plant annuals in a bold and simple motif depicting letter of their names or words such as “home”, or numbers. Use some tape to set out the words.

• Ivy hearts or other shapes using a pot and some wire.

• Rainbow flower beds. Form a rainbow arch and plant the different colours.

• Scarecrows — these should be sturdy for all kinds of weather.

These are just some of many ideas that Jeanette Stewart has for inspiring children. She’ll be sharing more of her ideas at her talk.

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