Some of my earliest memories are of playing in our garden, which was quite large and backed onto a field as we lived in the last bungalow at the edge of a remote Shropshire village. My parents were keen advocates of grow your own, following in the footsteps of Tom and Barbara Good (this was the late 1970s, early 1980s after all). They gave me a small patch on which to scatter a selection of child-friendly seeds, mainly consisting of Candytuft, but other than that they left me to my own devices. I have always thought this was a good way of encouraging me to love gardening without too much pressure. It was not until my early 30s when I had children and a home of my own that I took up gardening seriously.
At last week’s Garden Press Event, I was delighted to meet some homegrown companies who have come up with different ways in which to involve children in gardening. The first of these is Mud + Bloom who have designed an ingenious box packed with gardening and nature activities for little people. They were kind enough to send us a free sample through the post. It is designed for three to eight-year-olds, and it definitely got the thumbs up from my four-year-old son, but I was pleased to see that it also captured the imagination of his ten-year-old sister who is normally rather scathing about gardening (she does love a DIY).
After tea, they were about to start arguing about whose turn it was to choose what to watch on television, so I whipped out the Mud + Bloom box and they were both instantly distracted for over an hour, making a painted wind chime out of sticks – the four-year-old is an avid collector of sticks. Everything else we needed – acrylic paint, twine and metal eye hooks – was in the box.
As a veteran of children’s garden projects, I was pleasantly surprised by the activities in our box, which include growing wild tomatoes in egg boxes (I had never heard of wild tomatoes), making a pot covered in twigs, and sowing my favourite cornflowers outside. There is also an illustrated Spring bird-spotting quiz. Plenty to keep my Little Weeds occupied over the coming month.
I also met Lauren, a former global fashion buyer and mother of two boys who has set up Muddy Fingers, which runs hands-on gardening classes for pre-school and primary school aged children in Basingstoke and the surrounding areas. She believes that encouraging children to spend time appreciating the beauty and importance of the outdoors is more important than ever in our screen-based culture and that helping them to engage and re-connect with the natural world provides a welcome break.
Seedball is a fantastic company, which is not aimed specifically at children, but I know my three would just love their recent collaboration with the Natural History Museum to produce tins of seeds specifically designed to help birds, beetles and bats. They describe their unique product as “a new twist on an ancient technique for increasing seed germination rates”. They solve the problem of native wildflower seeds being slow to germinate and hence often eaten by ants, birds and mice before they get the chance, by encasing seeds in a protective ball of clay, compost and chilli.
I took away some of their ‘Bee Mix’ for my kids to try out, which includes fox glove, wild majoram, red clover, birdsfoot trefoil and viper’s-bugloss (this last a favourite of the late Derek Jarman is one of my very favourite wildflowers which grows well on our chalk downs). Now we just have to decide on the best place to scatter our seeds.