Last week I had a lovely time chatting with Shedstore about family gardening. My interview was for the ‘Garden Life’ section of the Shedstore website, which shares articles from throughout the gardening community. Here’s what we covered.
When did you first form an interest in gardening?
When I was about 7 years old; my dad gave me my own little patch at his allotment and I was hooked. I remember loving how hands-on it was, and finding the whole process of planting a seed and watching it grow completely magical. I liked getting grubby too!
You used to spend a lot of time around your father’s allotment, trying the fresh produce out. Now that you have your own allotment, what would you say are the biggest challenges in running one and how do you overcome them?
Time! With a young family it’s a bit of a juggling act, and sometimes the allotment gets a bit neglected. I’ve found that little and often is the best way to cope; half an hour here and there is better than waiting for the day when a few hours are available, because it may never come! Getting the kids to help is great too, we have regular family trips to the allotment and they love getting stuck in.
Do you think that more could, or should, be done to encourage children to be more involved with gardening and outdoor activities from a young age?
Definitely. Getting kids outdoors and gardening has so many brilliant benefits, as well as just being great fun. I think schools are really restricted on the amount of time they have available for this kind of activity, and I’d welcome that changing. There are lots of organisations getting involved to help encourage outdoor play – The Wild Network, The RHS, Wildlife Trusts and RSPB, to name but a few – but at the end of the day it’s parents who need to make it happen.
Don’t assume you can’t do it; gardening doesn’t have to be on a huge scale. Start small with some container plants, and expand from there if you’re enjoying it. I’m a big believer in gardening for pleasure, so I’d also say don’t aim for perfection; family gardening is about spending fun time together, not creating something worthy of Chelsea Flower Show!
What sort of outdoor activities do you find your family enjoy the most? Do you have any tips for other families looking to start doing more outside together?
We love exploring our local parks and nature reserves, because they always stimulate really creative play. I think the less structured a venue is, the more scope you have to enjoy it; kids need to be a bit wild sometimes. It’s well worth checking out your local country parks and Wildlife Trust or RSPB nature reserves, you’ll probably be surprised how much there is on your doorstep – and it’s usually a very low-cost day out too.
Do you ever take wildlife into account when gardening? For example, planting specific crops to encourage birds to come into your garden.
We’re currently working with RSPB to make our garden more wildlife-friendly; so far we’ve planted wildflowers to attract pollinating insects, and grown flowers that butterflies love, and we’ve got more projects planned over the next few months. We also feed wild birds and have a bee hotel. My children absolutely love hunting for wildlife, it’s a great family activity and a lovely way to connect them with nature.
Having classed yourself as a gardening enthusiast, what would you say your favourite part of gardening is? The growing, the result of your work, or the general benefits of being outside perhaps?
My favourite part is the calmness that gardening creates in me. Family life can be pretty hectic, and for me gardening is the best way to clear my mind and relax. I do love seeing plants thrive too though, that’s really rewarding.
Do you have a favourite recipe for using up some of your home-grown crops?
It has to be veggie risotto. I make it with just-picked broad beans, peas, dwarf green beans, spring onions and garlic, and it tastes like freshness on a plate! That’s what makes growing your own produce so wonderful; you just can’t get the same fresh taste from anything you buy in the shops.
Do you tend to plant all year round, or are you more of a seasonal gardener using the best growing months to your advantage?
I’m probably more of a seasonal gardener than a year-round gardener, but I do garden throughout the year. In the colder months I spend much less time in the garden, mainly because there’s less work to do and it’s cold! Having a greenhouse at my allotment has allowed me to extend the growing season, I’m still working out how best to use it though.
How important do you think it is that more people, families, and communities get involved with growing their own food and working together to make their local area more sustainable?
I think understanding how your food grows and where it comes from is really important; it’s part of living a healthy lifestyle. Community gardens can have an amazingly positive impact in this area, especially with children. I’d love to see more of them, particularly in urban areas.
You can check out my article on the Shedstore website here – and do take a look at the other features too, there’s lots of inspiring topics being covered!