How to: Get Kids Into Gardening

Wild about gardening

You don’t need exotic animals to encourage a love of wildlife in your children – just step out of your back door.

Unlike status-driven grown-ups, children are remarkably egalitarian when it comes to wildlife. They’re amazed by the antics of an orangutan, but can be just as enthralled following an ant trail or unearthing a giant worm. So your garden is the ideal spot to coax out their love of animals.
It’s good to know who is already resident in your domestic zoo, so why not kick off with a simple bug hunt? Turn over soil to find wriggling earthworms, hunt in dark and damp spots for slugs and snails or peer under old logs to find woodlice. A magnifying glass will help children investigate their finds and get them into ‘bug hunter’ character – just remind them that looking, rather than touching, is best.

Wildlife magnets

This is only the beginning of the adventure, because there’s plenty the children can do to encourage more wildlife. Planting and sowing favourite species for bees (see box, right), hoverflies, butterflies and moths will guarantee that more fly in to visit. They can also take old logs and pieces of wood and simply stack them up in a quiet corner. Before long this ‘stumpery’ will be attracting woodlice, beetles and spiders.

Water is a wildlife magnet, but ponds can be a safety worry with small children about. Instead, you can build a mini version using an old plastic storage box – 45 litres is ideal – sunk into the ground and surrounded by plants for cover. If you add old bricks, stones and tiles to create a ramp for access and then fill it with rainwater – or even better, water from a friend’s pond – this will be colonised by water creatures within weeks. You may even find a friendly frog takes up residence.


Bring in the birds

For budding ornithologists, why not set up a bird snack station in the garden? Children can thread apple slices onto a piece of garden wire to hang from a branch, or make their own bird feed mix of one part bird seed, one part room temperature lard and two parts oats. This messy, squidgy mixing is best done outside where they can also use their creation to fill small plant pots, which can then be hung from a tree.

For added interest the kids can also pack old fruit net bags with bits of moss, dried grass and short lengths of wool: all perfect nest-lining materials. String this up near to their tempting bird food and it will be a twitchers’ paradise, with birds popping in to pick up all sorts of supplies. Finally, don’t forget there’s a lot going on after dark. Night-time is great for moth spotting – just hang a white sheet over the washing line and angle a powerful torch in its direction to draw them in. 
Lucky night-time patrollers may even glimpse Mrs Tiggywinkle out foraging. To increase the chances of this happening, you could set up a covered hedgehog feeding station with a bowl of cat food to tempt them in. Before you know it, your young nature lovers may even choose a visit to their garden over a trip to the zoo. Just be warned: they may start charging you entry.

Bees are best!

Pollination is vital to the lifecycle of flowering plants – without pollen moving from the male part of one flower to the female part of another, we would have no fruits or seeds. And when it comes to pollination, bees are undoubtedly the best. Their hairy bodies are perfect for pollen to hitch a lift on and as they visit up to 2,000 flowers a day, just imagine how much pollination work one bee can do. In fact a third of all our food is pollinated by bees – everything from blueberries and apples to strawberries and tomatoes, as well as many of our favourite garden flowers.


Plants that attract bees

There are lots of bee-friendly plants that children can grow from seed. Just remember to choose a sunny spot as bees prefer to forage in the warmth. Good seeds to try are borage (Borago officinalis), cosmos, cornflower (Centaurea cyanus), love-in-a-mist (nigella), poached egg plant (limnanthes), sunflowers, phacelia and honeywort (Cerinthe major). You could even sow a mini wildflower patch using a bee-friendly seed mix.

Many herbs are also popular with our buzzy friends, including lavender, rosemary, thyme, chives, marjoram and sage. These tend to be robust enough to cope with children’s planting techniques as well as being useful for that classic childrens activity: creating garden perfume.

Take a look at our guide to making a butterfly feeder and give it a go with the kids. 

Credit: Illustrations by Vicky Scott