It’s the summer holidays and a great time to get the kids interested in plants. You can’t force-feed anyone to love gardening like you do, but you can introduce children to a few of the joys to inspire them. Plants are perfect for this. The plant kingdom contains some amazing specimens that grow in extraordinary conditions and in phenomenal ways. You might think that it’s difficult to show children the extent of the plant world; after all there are no plant zoos. Well actually there are, just take a look at any botanic garden, and there are a few in the UK and each one has a smorgasbord of delight from the plant world.
But you don’t even have to go that far, your garden, your greenhouse and your veg patch each provides excellent opportunities to share with youngsters.
As a very small child I had a pot of sedum acre given to me by a great uncle. I have no idea why he chose that plant; perhaps he thought I wouldn’t kill it. I called it my flowers in the dirt, but it sowed a glimmer of interest in me and I suppose it was the start of something more. He never knew what an effect that terracotta pot of succulents had on me. But he wasn’t the only adult whose passion for plants rubbed off, or maybe it was already deep seated in my psyche, I just wanted to be outside and if I could potter in the garden or on the allotment I was as happy as could be.
We didn’t have a greenhouse, so everything we grew had to endure the weather and whatever that brought. In fact I don’t remember anyone in our family having a greenhouse at all. But it was always something I hankered for. I had a miniature child’s play greenhouse where I could propagate a few seeds and I had a toy garden that had a beautiful greenhouse/orangery as part of the kit, I have no idea what happened to that, but I loved playing with it. These days computers and digital games fill the lives of most little ones and sometimes it’s hard to drag them away from their consoles. Don’t make an issue out of it; simply involve them in something green and growing. Take them to a plant zoo to picnic and play, buy them a plant of their own to nurture, something that they won’t kill. Cacti are good and great for the kids’ rooms; they can endure mass neglect, but won’t tolerate overwatering, so monitor things. If you have a child that is keen on caring for their plants then choose something else, if you have a youngster that may water it once a year then a cactus is a good choice.
Growing up there were plants that fired my imagination. I simply adored the sensitive plant, Mimosa pudica and still marvel at how the leaves close up and the stems drop when touched. You can grow this from seed, which is a great way to get the kids interested and of course means you have more plants to share.
I was fascinated by the Cycads, though my pocket money wouldn’t stretch that far, but I remember saving up for weeks to buy a Venus flytrap. It was fascinating, but I worried that it didn’t catch enough flies and so one day I fed it corned beef and it died. I still feel guilty about that.
August is a great time in the garden and greenhouse. Look out for children’s workshops at your local garden centre and take them along. Choose a pack of bulbs or some seeds to grow together and look out for interesting ranges of seeds for kids. Buy a girl a pink moth orchid and show her how to keep it flowering by pruning the flower stem when the current flowers have gone over, buy a boy a blueberry bush and teach him about the importance of soil and compost. Take notice of what interests them when you visit a plant zoo and harness that glimmer until it sparks the flame.