The Back Yard

Justin Newcombe's tips for creating a gorgeous and productive garden

Little green fingers

By Justin Newcombe

Justin Newcombe shares top tips on how to get the kids into gardening.

Jasper Newcombe gets busy in the garden. Photo / Supplied
Jasper Newcombe gets busy in the garden. Photo / Supplied

There are many, many programmes available in and out of schools designed to get your kids excited about gardening, and spring school holidays are a great time to get them started. Programmes like Garden to Table are proven internationally to get kids involved and engaged in the food they eat and where it comes from. Although this is a school-based programme, one of the research findings was that the increased enthusiasm generated in the kids at school followed them home. In the age of the internet, game box, TV, mobile phones and a myriad other electronic distractions, introducing kids to gardening and keeping them enthused sounds like it could be pushing the proverbial uphill.

But I've found that's not quite the case. Kids are naturally inquisitive and enjoy trying new things. However, they're also impatient and though gardening offers new worlds for them to explore, it takes time for a garden to grow. My kids have spent a lot of time in the garden and garden fatigue can set in. But here's what I've noticed gets them going and what turns them off.

Firstly, kids want gratification - instant gratification so keep your gardening sessions short. Colourful planters and pots create a lot of interest, especially in the initial stages. I've found a colourful watering can seems to encourage the habit of watering, while a bright broom encourages sweeping. Positioning the garden close to the house or main living areas will encourage more interest as changes in the garden will be noticed and it will become more relevant (out of sight, out of mind). Make sure your kids' gardengets the most favourable conditions with lots of sun and good soil. It is tempting to try to hide their efforts away in case it all looks a bit messy but poor conditions will only lead to poor results and a poor experience. Make the garden look exciting with bold signage they've painted themselves, brightly painted stakes and tools and plenty of plants.

Plant things that will introduce insects, like swan plants, for example, which attract monarch butterflies. You could also add a bird bath and bird feeder.

Start with simple plantings like strawberries or peas, something they'll really enjoy eating. Sunflowers offer gratification in bucketloads as they grow so quickly and to fairy-tale proportions, plus there's the old wives tale that when the flower first opens you get to make a wish. Tomatoes are usually popular. Get your kids to scratch their names into juvenile pumpkins then watch their name grow as the pumpkin does. Berries are another great crop for kids with a massive range of colours, tastes and textures available.

I've found it harder to keep the home fires burning when it comes to crops like potatoes but they are still worth the effort. Kids will enjoy planting these and a kids' potato harvest is like watching them unwrap Christmas presents. But because most of the action happens underground potatoes are not all that interesting during the in-between stages - that's where you come into the equation. Kids' gardening still requires a lot of input from Mum and Dad, or Nana and Grandad.

Watching your kids interact with the natural world these holidays is a fulfilling way for you all to spend some quality time doing something together. And you get to eat the results this summer.

Be in to win

To celebrate the launch of their new online shop, Awapuni Nurseries is giving away two fantastic gardening prize packs valued at $250 each. The packs include herb, vegetable and flower seedling bundles, a great selection of Tui garden products and a $100 Bunnings gift card.

To enter, go to nzherald.co.nz/weekend, enter your details and Awapuni Nurseries as the keyword by midnight, Wednesday October 19.

- NZ Herald

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