Spring has finally arrived and the longer days means that we’ll finally have some quality time to spend in the garden.
We moved house last winter so as a family we have not yet had much time to dedicate to our new garden. Usually by now we would be growing all sorts of veggies to put in our veggie patch and flowers to plant around the garden. But this year, we have only managed some salad and a few random wildflower seeds that my eldest daughter found in the mess that we currently call shed. Not a good start!
Despite the lack of sowing and growing, I am being positive as I think this is a great opportunity to see what the garden is like in its current state and then next year we’ll be able to put our own stamp on it as a family. In light of this, I have started trawling the web and Pinterest to find ideas for next year. One of the things that I am looking for is a garden that works for both us adults and our two daughters. I am a big fan of minimalism, cold colours and scandi design, which is probably as far removed as one could be from my daughters’ style. I am also keen to keep their interest in gardening alive during this year of planning and adjustment.
These two challenges have stressed me out a little lately and it is not until I had a text exchange with another gardening mum from school that I think I might have found a potential way forward: creating something that captures their imagination. I would not need to create a whole play garden for my kids but I can easily focus on specific smaller projects that will have their imagination running wild and engaging them at an emotional level as well as physical.
Like all children, my daughters’ imagination is pretty wild but their characters and interest are very different so while the youngest is crazy about fairies, my eldest is fascinated by adventures and magic (Harry Potter type of magic). However, I think that no matter what sparks your child’s imagination, there is something that can be incorporated into your gardening to keep their interest alive and make them enjoy more the time they spend gardening.
While I still need to finalise what our new garden will look like, I thought it would be fun to share four ideas of gardening activities that can capture children’s imagination which I have come across during my searches.
Build a small imaginary world
From fairies to dinosaurs and anything in between (farm animals, LEGO, Barbies, Smurfs etc.) it is easy to come up with a simple but fun design for a small imaginary world where regular plants seem enormous, paths lead to small houses or enclosures and random everyday objects take on a new identity. This is also a great option for those that do not have an outdoor space and such creation can be done as an indoor planting and creating project.
We have made many fairy gardens over the last couple of years and the instructions are on one of our past blogs (https://www.minigreenfingers.com/blogs/news/mini-fairy-garden). It can easily be adapted to other imaginary worlds and designed by your kid’s imagination.
Plant herbs and flowers for potions
From a young age I have always had an interest in the medicinal properties of plants and getting to know what properties plants have can be a good way to inject some fun in kids gardening.
Younger children are naturally drawn to making potions and mixtures from what they find around so it will not be hard to get them intrigued and hooked. What would they like to put in their potion? What would they like it to smell like? What colours would they like to be in it (at the end they all end up kind of brown, I know, but it is nice if they could start with some striking colours like those from blue cornflower)?
Sowing or buying the plants they use for their potions allows them to have some input, stops them from ‘live-heading’ (not a word probably but the action of taking off the ‘live’ heads of flowers) your favourite flower and picking plants that might cause irritation or are poisonous.
Any older child with a love for Harry Potter will be keen on a bit of ‘Herbology’ and an opportunity to create a potion with flowers, roots and leaves that they can find in their garden. Plants for their potions can be chosen based on what type of properties they have and with adult supervision they could be turned into balms or tinctures that can actually be used. Note: before attempting to use any of the plants in your garden please make sure that they are safe and not poisonous.
Image taken from 'Growing a jeweled rose' website.
In a world of pretend play having a garden with plants that create a hideout can lead to endless adventures. Hideouts might be already existing, like a space inside the hedge, or can be created with clever planting, like using giant sunflowers or making a bean tepee. It is space for kids to relax, get their imagination running wild and from a practical perspective to keep them out of the sun during hot summer days. It is also fairly easy to achieve an ‘upgraded’ look by adding bunting or other colourful decorations and little touches of comfort inside the space using cushions or everyday objects. Sowing beans or sunflowers is usually quite straight forward and an easy activity for children of any age as both types of seeds are quite easy to pick up and handle. The plants can also be kept in pots if you are not keen to dig up a part of the lawn or prefer the base of the hideout to be harder or drier like a patio or pebbly area.
In many of my previous blogs I have mentioned the fun associated with using flowers and leaves to create artwork. Plants can be used fresh or dried to create beautiful pictures, flowers and leaves can be used as brushes and stamps and the chlorophyll in leaves can be rubbed out of a leaf to colour a drawing. All the above activities are great for unleashing our kids creativity and imagination. Picking the right material in the garden is an essential step of this process and an ideal opportunity for children to learn the name of the plants in their garden and which ones should not be touched. Art does not have to be long-lasting so it can simply be created by placing leaves and petals in a particular formation on the grass or path and it can be reflective of the seasons as well as the favourite colours of the artist.
I hope you enjoy trying some of these suggestions out and feel free to share your experience or any other fab ideas on how to spark kids imagination through gardening.