Spring is in the air! A sunny sky is the ultimate pick-me-up and there's nothing quite as invigorating as a few hours spent in the fresh air (especially after being cooped up indoors for a while). If you are lucky enough to have some outdoor space – even the tiniest balcony or yard will do – now is the time to get your kids out there and help them get their green-fingered groove on. Everyone always says there's nothing more satisfying than growing your own plants. Is it true? Now is the perfect time to find out. You don't need to be an expert gardener by any means. Even beginners can grow real plants, including herbs, flowers and vegetables. So turn off the TV, grab your gardening gloves, trowels (or order then quickly from Amazon), and your kids: let's head outside.
It's probably been a while since your gardener last came, right? So you'll need to do something about those weeds. But have no fear, weed-pulling is quite therapeutic as long as you're wearing protective gloves. Actually, it can be turned into a fun game for everyone. How about a competition to see who can fill up their bucket or bin bag the fastest? Or who can pull out the weed with the longest roots? Weeding is hard work, too, so embrace it as your daily workout. Maybe turn on some music and have a zumba weed-a-thon!
We're Going On A Worm Hunt
If you have younger kids, turn your gardening ideas into an adventure. Use this opportunity to teach your kids about garden creatures. Fun facts: the segments of an earthworm are called annuli; slugs have four tentacles – two for seeing and smelling and two for touching and tasting; snails have about 14,000 teeth. You can print off a checklist of things to find in the garden to keep their interest or turn it into a mini scavenger hunt.
Shopping for Plants
Heading to a garden centre is a trip in and of itself, especially if the garden centre is anything like Van Hage, which has an amazing range of plants and flowers for sale as well as a farm, miniature train ride and zoo. But as it's not possible to go to one currently, why not do it online. Let your kids pick out a certain number of seeds to plant. Getting to choose their own seeds will make them much more motivated to get involved in the planting and caring for it, not to mention how excited they will be when it grows. Purple carrots anyone?
Recycle Your Seeds
Did you know you can start your vegetable patch using using kitchen scraps, such as celery bulbs, old potatoes, spring onions, garlic and pepper seeds? There's something so satisfying to grow an edible product from a scrap you were just going to throw away. Check out this video for inspiration.
Pots of Fun
It's recommended to plant seeds in small pots before eventually transferring to a vegetable patch. There are lots of lovely pots available to buy online, from hanging pots to window box planters. You can also plant your baby seeds in a variety of recycled objects, including old yoghurt pots, small teacups, plastic water bottles (cut the bottom off and plant in there), plastic milk bottles, lemon rinds, egg cartons and even egg shells. Here are some fun ideas. Make an activity around preparing your pots: who can find the funniest? Who can find the most clever recycled object? Or even getting your little crafters to decorate them themselves.
Now it's time to get seeding. Read the back of your seed packets for instructions or have a look on the Royal Horticultural Society website. In general, you want to make sure the soil is damp but not sodden, and lightly packed in the pot. Fill the pot about 2/3 full, sprinkle the seeds on top and then cover with another 1cm of soil. Keep in a warm place until the leaves begin to grow. Replant in your garden when they start to outgrow the pot. It's fun for kids to get a bit messy, so let them explore the soil with their fingers and be prepared to clean up the mess afterwards. Even better, do the seeding out in the garden!
What to Grow When
Although you might be able to grow your plants without any knowledge of the optimum seasons for growth, here's a handy guide to let you know what to grow when. Discussing this is a nice way to engage your kids with the idea of seasonal produce and to talk about farming and changes in weather. It will also help them appreciate how much thought actually goes into farming and gardening.
January is generally too cold for planting vegetables. If you want to plant cabbages to harvest in the summer, you can seed cabbages indoors in for planting in March or April.
February is too cold for most plants, but broad beans can be planted in February or March.
Broad beans, brussels sprouts, carrots, leek, lettuce, onion, garlic, parsnips, potatoes, radishes and spinach should all be planted in late March or April. So should summer blooming flowers, such as dahlias and lilies. Now's the time to start getting your garden summer ready. Get the kids outdoors with you and start thinking up what you will plant, where you will plant it, and make a start on weeding your garden.
April is traditionally potato planting time. Also plant your peas and beetroot anytime from April to July. As the weather gets warmer (hopefully!), encourage your kids to spend more time in the garden. Give them the responsibility of watering the plants if there's been a dry spell, or checking and removing rogue weeds. Now's also the time to plant flowers, such as nasturtiums, calendula, lavender, agapanthus and cornflowers. Ask your kids to choose flowers based on their favourite colours or football teams. Perhaps each child can have their own section of the flower bed so they can claim full ownership. Get the footballs out and start enjoying family time outdoors again.
Winter cabbage and broccoli are good for planting in May so they will be ready for the winter. Also May is warm enough to plant strawberries and tomatoes too. It's also time to think about your herb garden. You can encourage your kids to choose their favourite herbs (oregano for pizza lovers, basil for pesto fans, and mint for mint ice cream aficionados) and tend to them themselves. You can buy most herbs already grown in pots, although of course it's more fun to grow your own. Plant rosemary, thyme, mint and parsley in your garden in May. More delicate herbs, including dill, basil, coriander and tarragon should be planted indoors and only relocated to the garden at the end of the month. If you're lucky with the May weather, it's also the time for more frequent garden play. Turn a planting session into a morning of family time with a treat-filled picnic as the reward for all your hard work.
Now is the time to get any vegetable seedlings planted in your vegetable patch. Test your kids' gardening skills by asking them to sow the plants in straight lines or pleasing patterns. It can also be fun to start coming up with salad recipes and other ideas for cooking your produce. It's also a good time to plant flowers. If you're buying ready-to-plant flowers, now is the time to plant them: begonias, geraniums, marigolds, petunias, verbenas and nasturtiums.
The harvest begins! Let your kids check up on their plants and see which are ready to harvest. You can place bets on which vegetable will ripen first, or which plant will yield the most in a set amount of time. Make the most of summer days with lots of garden activities punctuated by snacks of fresh veg. You can build obstacle courses for the younger kids, or start a water fight, which has the added bonus of watering your plants at the same time.
This is the last month of harvest for most of your vegetables and when your summer flowers will be in full bloom. Make the most of your garden with your family. Spend time exploring your plants and discussing which grew best and why your kids think that happened. Let them collect fresh vegetable and encourage them to have a go at cutting up a salad or even cooking a meal with them. Go mad with water play: water slides, paddling pools, water fights, blowing bubbles, sprinklers, water tables; there's no excuse for not enjoying your beautiful garden.
September is when the last of your produce will harvest. Onions and potatoes will be ready now too. Get picking! It's also time to start thinking about planting winter flowers, such as daffodils. You can still have plenty of fun in the garden, raking weeds, or making lovely leafy piles for your kids to play in. (Just get them to rake them afterwards – two fun activities instead of one!)
It's probably too cold to really enjoy being outside in the garden now, but you can still involve your kids with planting pansies and violas to flower next spring.
Plant tulips. There's not much else to be done in the garden in November unless your kids are such football addicts that no amount of cold or rain can stop them.
Now that your newly green fingers have done all the hard work, enjoy your beautiful outdoor space. Bring out your stuffed animals for a teddy bear picnic; set up an obstacle course for your active little ones; go camping; plan a treasure hunt; take family photos; build a maze; enjoy a family sports day; have a bubble blowing competition; eat your breakfast outdoors.
Shari is a Londoner and mum to four inquisitive and energetic boys. She looks forward to the weekends, which are about sparking joy, igniting curiosity and burning off energy in equal measure. Shari loves going on family adventures that make the most of our amazing city, and takes extra delight in discovering someplace new.