Getting kids to love gardening
Kids love seeing their little garden grow before their eyes and, chances are, if they grow it, they’ll eat it.
Think of the best gardener you know. Chances are they had a mentor – a parent or grandparent – who showed them the ropes, taught them respect for the natural world and the cycle of the seasons, and the consequences of good, or not-so-good, care of plants.
Gardening with children, whether they be toddlers or teenagers, is an opportunity to inspire a lifelong love of the outdoors and nature, and create resilient, resourceful adults.
In winter it’s a bit trickier to get into the garden. But the cold weather doesn’t need to keep us inside or reaching for the remote. Bundle up the kids and get them outdoors. Or, if the weather is really grim, bring a bit of garden inside.
Did you know that kids involved in gardening are more likely to try new vegetables? You don’t need to wait for spring. Plant a winter garden now. Divide off a little piece of your existing garden for the kids to claim or fill a planter box with earth.
Even toddlers can get involved in the garden. To start their learning, set up an activity beside you to keep them busy while you’re gardening. Try this one: fill a glass dish or bowl with earth from the garden and ask the kids to see how many life forms they can find. Provide a few spoons. You might want to sneak in a few larger specimens like earthworms, slaters and centipedes ahead of time, but there will be plenty of smaller critters in the soil to keep them busy. Buy them a pocket microscope to bring the micro life of the soil alive.
Windowsills or pots work just fine for urban dwellers to start a winter garden. All you need is a sheltered spot on the deck or front porch that gets lots of sun. Salad leaves, kale, spring onions, parsley and cabbages are just a few winter vegetables you can plant now.
On a stormy day, bring the gardening inside, or to a more sheltered spot. Our covered deck sees a lot of garden project action in autumn and winter.
One of my all-time favourite windowsill gardens is the ‘pantry garden’. The rules are simple: go through the pantry, and plant anything that will grow. Chickpeas, lentils, rice, beans, avocado stones, sunflower seeds, carrot tops and pumpkin seeds all work well, and it’s an education for children to realise much of what we eat are actually the seeds for new plants.
Experiment with growing sprouts at home. Sprouting seeds are readily available from natural food stores or online. Alfalfa is a good mild option for children’s tastebuds. You don’t need to buy special sprouting jars, any jar with holes poked in the lid, or a mesh top, will do. Google up a tutorial and you’re away. Fresh home sprouts will enliven your salads and sandwiches in days. Check out wrightsprouts.co.nz – which stocks 11 different kinds.
Salad microgreens are another foodie craze which works well for children. Get the kids to sow a window box of them. Sprinkle the seeds liberally, cover with a few millimetres of soil and keep them moist and harvest them when the first leaves appear 2-3 weeks after sowing.
One of the best lessons for children is to complete the cycle by making compost. Show them how the nutrients from your food waste provide the fuel for the next crops, and how worms and other organisms break down the food and return it to the earth. The same is true of allowing a plant or two to go to seed. Children will be astonished with the abundance of seed produced from each plant and you can enjoy their dawning realisation of just how much can be produced next year. Anissa Ljanta is an Auckland writer. She makes, bakes and blogs at
“One of my all-time favourite windowsill gardens is the ‘pantry garden’. The rules are simple: go through the pantry, and plant anything that will grow.”
Anissa Ljanta and her son gardening at home. Photos: Photos: Ted Ted Baghurst Baghurst