Easy Gardening Activities for Kids With Diarmuid Gavin
You might be green-fingered or the complete opposite of a garden aficionado (like me), but now that you have kids you feel the necessity of getting them out into the fresh air.
Not to mention a garden that's looking for some tender loving care beckons you forth. If you're a bit stumped as to how to get your children interested in gardening - don’t worry kids and gardening can go together. Celebrity gardener Diarmuid Gavin is here to help!
For those parents who think they have 'death fingers' what's the best type of plant to start cultivating that's foolproof?
Potatoes! From mid-March until mid-May is planting time. Go to your local garden centre and buy some seed potatoes, they're little seeds with stalks coming out of them. Just put them in the ground and as they begin to grow you put soil up around the stem. Make sure they don’t dry out, give them loads of water and it’s remarkable, how easy they are. Then in the summer you have wonderful new baby potatoes.
But also get children growing things like sunflowers, get an old yogurt carton and stick in a few drainage holes with a knife or scissors and pop some compost in. Press the seed down and water it. Watch it germinate. If you want something to grow really fast, and see the wonderment on a child’s face, cress or mustard seed can grow really easily on damp kitchen towelling. So, just dampen a piece of kitchen towel and sprinkles some seeds on them. Within 24 to 48 hours they’ll be fully grown.
With so many families living in apartments who may not have access to gardens or the outdoors, what would you suggest is a way to introduce kids to gardening?
Both container gardening and vertical gardening are definitely options. If you have a wall on your courtyard or on the balcony of your apartment you can get kits that will allow you to grow plants up the wall. You can even have full herb gardens growing in incremental steps up a wall, which look great all year round, but most plants can be grown in pots and containers.
Ireland’s most well-known gardener, Diarmuid Gavin has created informative videos and a low-pollen plant guide to encourage people with hayfever back into the garden this summer. Many hayfever sufferers tend to avoid outdoor activities at this time of year to escape common symptoms such as a stuffy, runny nose and red, itchy eyes. So the Summer Ease with Cetriz campaign is providing practical steps and tips on low-pollen plant options to help hayfever sufferers’ enjoy gardening too. Diarmuid is pictured at the launch, with wheelbarrow full of low-allergy plants. Log on to the Cetriz Ireland Facebook page (www.facebook.com/CetrizIreland) #SummerEaseWithCetriz to watch a series of videos, featuring Diarmuid Gavin, showing viewers how to garden with hayfever, how to garden in an urban space and how to grow their own food. Pic. Robbie Reynolds"
Just this morning I was looking at some lovely magnolias and viburnums, both of which are low allergy plants and they were planted in containers. Bamboo would be another plant, as long as you don’t let these plants dry out and you change the top bit of compost once a year; rake out the top inch. It’s very easy.
Do you think herbs are a good way of teaching children about cultivating a plant within their home, and perhaps helping to teach them how to cook?
Yes, because herbs are so easy to grow. A lot of the herbs we use are mediterranean in origin, so they don’t need very rich soils, they can be treated a little badly in a way. If you can place them where they can get the sun that’s optimal. And if kids taste, let’s say rosemary baked into potatoes or with lamb, rosemary is the easiest herb to grow. Or sage, it’s another fantastic and easy one. They can help you make stuffing with fresh sage. Small children really like permission to go out and get their hands dirty in the garden. They love the freedom of running around and making mud pies with the soil; or with your guidance to plant anything really.
Also, I talked before about sunflowers and that idea that a sunflower can grow as high as a house. You could set up a competition for them to see who can grow the tallest sunflower, with a number of kids. Starting once the fear of frost is over, with a name tag to see how fast they grow. If we get a nice summer and the sunflowers are ripe you can take out the seeds, roast them on a tray with a bit of olive oil and salt in the oven, and they’re delicious.
What simple tasks can you recommend to get children interested in gardening; to foster a lifelong interest?
The fast growth of plants like mustard and cress, and definitely herbs. Show them what can be grown in 24 hours. Kids also love growing carrots. They’re obsessed with carrot plants. Growing things in drills. Look for heritage varieties, carrots were originally not orange at all. Explain to kids that they were always purple and it was the Dutch who wanted the carrots orange and who bred the orange colour, which was their national colour. So, little facts like that makes gardening fascinating to kids.
Would you recommend that children get involved in building ponds or rockeries?
If carefully supervised, a pond is an absolutely wonderful thing to build in a garden. It will attract wildlife instantly; you’ll have birds that will bathe there, frogs who’ll come along and lay their spawn. You can also get dragonflies and other insects that interest children. But ponds can also be quite dangerous. So, if it’s in a controlled environment where you have to open a gate to get to it then that’s a better option. It will give them hours of fun watching newts, frogs and dragonflies. A rockery, yes, why not? They can imagine Enid Blyton’s ‘The Magic Faraway Tree By creating this mountainous landscape with little miniature plants. They can imagine that it's their own kingdoms that they’re creating. I left them behind in the ‘70s myself, but they might make a comeback some day!