1. Watch a Seed Sprout
This is a good project to do first with new little gardeners, so they have an understanding what’s happening with the seeds they can’t see under the soil. Fill a transparent plastic cup with potting compost and push a large seed, like a pea or bean, into the compost right at the edge of the cup so it’s clearly visible. The seed should be about 4 cm deep. Give it a little water each day, and observe the changes to the seed. After a few days it will swell as it takes up water, then a root will come out and grow downward. Finally a shoot will come out of the seed and grow upward to the light. The whole process takes about two weeks and really helps reduce the tendency to keep digging up planted seeds to see what’s happened to them.
2. Fool proof Seeds to Sow
Forget radishes, which are so often recommended for kid’s gardens. Sure, they come up and grow quickly, but most children don’t like the taste. Instead, try peas (mangetout varieties are usually considered yummier by the kids I know) and beans (both French and broad). Potatoes are easy too, but are planted as tubers instead of from seed. (And if you think your children will never eat vegetables, you may be surprised to find that they will try vegetables that they have grown themselves.) Easy flowers to sow and grow include sunflowers, marigolds, and nasturtium – all edible as well, so no worries about accidental grazing.
3. Runner Bean Tipi
Source 8-10 long poles or branches, such as pruned tree branches or small saplings, or if you live in a city look for wooden dowels at a DIY-type store. They need to be fairly sturdy – cane isn’t strong enough to support the plants. Dig up an area in the garden about 1 metre by 1 metre and fork in some compost. Stick the poles well into the soil in a circle, leaning inward at a slant. Leave a gap which will be the entrance to the tipi. Tie the poles together near the top with twine. Plant 3 runner bean seeds (Scarlet runner beans have beautiful flowers and are very tasty as well) at the base of the each pole. The beans will grow up the poles, and by the end of summer the tipi will be completely covered with vines. My daughter and I did this for the first time when she was four, and the tipi was planted year after year and became the centrepiece of her garden, which eventually featured a little stone patio in front of the tipi and flowers all around it.
4. Boot Garden
A great way to recycle old shoes and boots. Just fill them with potting compost and plant with smaller plants like lettuce, marigolds, herbs, or rockery plants. One of the most charming little garden displays I’ve seen at shop entrance was a collection of worn-out leather boots, colourful wellies and old worn out handbags all planted up with herbs and annual flowers
5. Pizza Garden
A fun and visual food garden project. Dig up an area about 3 x 3 metres. Layout a perfect circle using a stake and string. Plant the circular garden so it’s divided into ‘slices’. Each slice of the pizza garden represents an ingredient used in pizza – you can grow tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, oregano and even wheat in a pizza garden!
6. Container Gardens
You can grow just about anything in a container, provided the size is appropriate for the plant. Small plants like salad greens, herbs and most flowers can be grown in small to medium containers. Large-rooted plants like tomatoes need a large container. Look around your house and sheds for things that can be recycled as planters – old washbasins, milk cans, wooden crates, etc. Just be sure there are drainage holes, and use a good quality potting compost supplemented with organic fertilizer to keep the plants healthy. They will need more watering than plants grown in the earth.
7. Soft Fruits Garden
Most kids like fruit, and soft fruits (strawberries, raspberries, currants, blackberries) grow really well in Ireland’s moist climate. Designate an area in your garden as the soft fruits area, as all of these plants come back year after year and need a fair amount of space. These fruits all freeze really easily – just pick, rinse and throw into zip lock plastic bags, then take out in the winter when you have the time to make jam, tarts and fruit pancakes – yum! Another great thing is that these plants can all be grown in containers. Use medium size pots for strawberries, and large tubs for the fruit bushes.
8. Four-Square Garden
Raised beds have similar advantages to containers but they are a more permanent feature of the garden. A four-square garden is ideal for older children who are more serious about gardening. Build a raised bed with untreated wooden boards and fill with compost and soil. Hammer a small nail at the halfway point on the top surface of each board, then stretch a string from top to bottom and side to side to divide the bed into four equal quarters (geometry skills used here!). Now each quarter can be planted with a different vegetable, flower or herb. It’s fun to choose plants with contrasting foliage or different colour flowers for each square to create a patchwork quilt effect.
9. Three Sisters Garden
The Native Americans relied on three different crops that grow really well together – corn, beans and pumpkins. These plants like heat so this works best in a polytunnel. Make soil mounds and plant a few sweet corn seeds in each one. When they have sprouted and are growing along well, plant some climbing or runner beans in each mound. The will twine up the corn plants for support. Finally, plant one pumpkin plant in each mound – it will sprawl around the base of the corn and bean plants and provide a natural mulch. When you harvest, try making succotash, a traditional Native American dish using all three crops.
10. Tower of Spuds
This is a brilliant way to grow a lot of spuds in a small amount of space. You don’t even need a garden as you can do this right on a paved surface. Start by making a cylinder of chicken wire, approximately 1 metre tall and half a metre in diameter. Secure with wire and make sure there are no scratchy bits sticking out. Stand the cylinder on end on soil, lawn or pavement, and shovel a few scoops of soil, compost or aged manure into the bottom. Next layer in some seed potatoes, then another thick layer of soil or compost and more seed potatoes. Keep layering like until the cylinder is full. The potato leaves will sprout through the gaps in the chicken wire. In the late summer or autumn, you simply open up the wire cylinder and harvest the spuds inside – time for home-grown chips!