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Seeds of a new generation

Catherine Burgess provides some tips for successful wildlife gardening with children

Gardening with children is a wonderful inexpensive way to have fun at home and introduce your child to the wonders of the natural world. Close encounters with wildlife at an early age often plants the seed of curiosity which if nurtured will grow into a lifelong love for nature.

Research suggests that children who garden regularly even perform better at school and many children will develop a long- term interest in healthy eating if they grow their own fruit and vegetables.

Unfortunately, evidence suggests that there is a long-term and dramatic decline in children’s relationship with the outdoors. In his Natural Childhood report Stephen Moss identifies a need to tackle the rise of ‘Natural Deficit Disorder’, a term to describe the growing dislocation between children and nature. Following on from this the National Trust launched a campaign, ‘50 things to do before you are 11’, a list of outdoor experiences to encourage children to discover the natural environment.

Many activities on the list can be ticked off whilst you are enjoying your garden with your children, especially if you are lucky enough to have a large tree to climb or a wildlife pond to explore. The activity ‘Plant it, grow it, eat it!’ orders you to do just that!

When growing fruit and vegetables with children it is always best to let them decide which seeds and plants they would like to grow and not try to encourage them to grow the ones you think they should be eating! Strawberries and raspberries are always a great favourite. But planting a fruit tree is also a great way to teach a child about the seasons.

Easy vegetable plants to grow include runner beans, lettuce, pumpkins and marrows. Why not also try the colourful swiss chard ‘Bright Lights’ or the courgette ‘Eight ball’ which looks just like a pool ball. Children always delight in being able to eat the flowers


that they grow, sweet tasting day–lily Hemerocallis and peppery nasturtium are easy to grow and are also good for insects.

If you do not have a garden you can still grow plants that will be attractive to wildlife in pots or on window boxes that you can decorate with your child before planting. Easy flowers to grow from seed include sunflowers, marigolds and sweet peas, or you could try growing some trees from acorns or nuts gathered together in the autumn. To encourage insects all year round it is best to plant a range of flowers that should include an early nectar source from aubrietia and lungwort through to summer flowering globe thistle and foxglove and later flowerers such as echinacea, sedum or buddleia.

Children will be fascinated by the variety of insects that they discover in these wild areas. Providing them with a box that they can place their mini-beasts in without harming them before setting them free, a magnifying glass and a notebook will help to encourage a young nature detective and provide a useful, lasting journal of the wildlife in your garden.

Children explore gardening with all their senses. Try smelly plants that are easy to grow such as Chocolate Cosmos, lavender, curry plant and mint. Poppy heads and the seed heads of Love-in-the- mist make wonderful rattles and no child can resist stroking the furry leaves of lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantine). Growing honesty in a wild corner or within a hedge bank not only provides insects with an early nectar source, but children can discover miniature 'pixie windows' containing seeds for them to replant. A great favourite of my children is snapdragon (Antirrhinum) and the more delicate ivy-leaved toadflax, which you can even make ‘talk’ by squeezing the individual blooms.

Children make natural gardeners as their attraction to mud and water can be carefully steered towards digging and watering. If the gardening bug is caught at an early age your child will blossom in the outdoors and they will grow into a fine healthy specimen who thrives in their natural environment.

Catherine Burgess works for Natural England, but she spends much of her spare time in her own wildlife garden.

Devon Wildlife Trust is an independent charity working for the conservation of land and marine wildlife. If you would like to help it in its work then become a supporter at or call DWT on 01392 279244.

Country Gardener


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