When the sun is shining it's time to get the children outside away from the screen. The more interactive your garden, the more they will enjoy it.
Younger ones will probably like to get more hands-on with the vege plot, sowing seed for sunflowers, or feeding fish in a pond, whereas teenagers could help design a hang-out space complete with social fire pit or pizza oven. Whatever the age, gardens are great for getting everyone together.
There's no reason parents shouldn't involve their kids more in choosing plants, visiting garden centres and helping to make decisions in the garden. There is an element of trust involved when including children in decisions and they love to feel like you value their opinion.
Giving your kids some responsibility - getting them to do a little research and asking for advice at the garden centre is also a great way to get them upskilled for life.
A fun gardening memory for me as a teenager was being allowed to choose some plants for part of our garden that was very exposed, facing the Manukau Harbour. The colour of the Coprosma repens cultivars I chose was in vogue during the 1980s with apricot-hued shiny leaves and they're still going strong. It's great to have such obliging parents.
Living fun for the younger kids
At our environment centre, we are often visited by school groups. The younger ones are in love with living things. They gravitate to worm farms and enjoy handling tiger worms, admiring their stripes. You can tell your child they are getting their very own farm and will have the important task of feeding them. You'll turn the chore of putting out your kitchen food scraps into a fun job for the children.
Add butterfly plants to your garden such as swan plants for monarchs and a nettle patch for the yellow admirals. Kids can make a "skull and crossbones" sign for this spot.
Sensory Gardens - Taste, Touch, Smell, See
Our herb garden is also a hit - children are invited to crush and sniff leaves then guess what they're smelling and what it could be used for in the kitchen. Chocolate mint, lemongrass and pizza thyme are favourites.
Choose plants with soft textures, such as lamb's ear, which children love to run their hands through. Seek out plants with inviting scent, bright colours or unusual forms. Give your kids a patch of good soil in the sun so they have every chance for growing success.
Gardens to Tables Trust is a project that gets schoolchildren growing veges. They then make meals using ingredients from their own garden. It is well proven that getting kids growing veges means they'll eat them too.
Fun plants for edible gardens include Jerusalem artichokes, which have bright yellow flowers and edible tubers; sunflowers (birds love the seed); pumpkins; rainbow chard; carrots (fun to pull up); peas (tasty, fresh off the vine).
Older children might like to earn extra spending money selling their produce at the local farmers market or making a street stall for lemonade in summer. Let them show some initiative by trading with neighbours.
Make it safe
Let your kids get dirty, have fun in the outdoors and climb trees. They'll learn to love nature.
Some plants can be toxic for young ones who are experiencing the world by putting everything they see into their mouths, so do your research. If you live in an older suburb, it's likely there will be lead in the soil from house paint scrapings. Take soil tests in play areas. Build raised vege beds from untreated macrocarpa and fill with organic vege mix.
Avoid tanalised timber in regularly touched surfaces such as hand rails and seats or keep them painted. Use durable untreated timbers such as eucalypt, totara and macrocarpa. Kwila in decking is durable, but not necessarily sustainable. Destruction of Indonesian rainforests and orangutan habitat will not impress your switched-on child. Look for the FSC mark when choosing exotic hardwoods.
The sound of water, mysterious plants and living creatures in a water feature are winners for children, but make sure you lock steel mesh on top if you have littlies around.
Think social when designing for teens. Get your teens involved designing chill-out zones. Simple summertime additions such as waterproof bean bags and a shade sail can transform a space.
Make dinners interactive by integrating a pizza oven into the garden. Budding pizza chefs might like to grow ingredients such as tomatoes, basil, onions, and mesculin greens - there's an element of cool making pizzas for friends, picking fresh ingredients straight from the garden.
A fire pit is also a great spot to hang out. Rekindle relationships with great stories and fun times.