I have very vivid childhood memories of seed planting – down on my dad’s allotment, eagerly pushing broad beans into little pots of earth and being let loose with the watering can, then immediately asking “when will they grow?”. It was so exciting, being trusted with such an important job whilst being allowed to get grubby in the process. And I really wanted to care for those plants, because I was the one who planted them. When you think about it from this perspective, it’s no surprise that children love planting seeds and helping them grow.
Now that’s all well and good, but in little, impatient hands some seeds are more co-operative than others. Here are my top five for growing successfully with children.
Sunflowers are a classic for growing with children for good reason. The seeds aren’t too small, which makes them easy for little hands to handle, and the plants aren’t too fussy, as long as you water regularly and provide support as they grow taller (bamboo canes are strong enough). You can introduce some family competition too if you each grow a plant and see whose is the tallest. Great also for a bit of maths, we always create a little chart for the kitchen wall where we record our measurements.
You can really introduce texture with sunflowers too – we often grow a dwarf variety called “Teddy Bear” (pictured), which is very compact and has wonderfully soft, fluffy flower heads which are low enough for children to touch.
You can really let kids go to town with the seed catalogue on sweet peas, there are so many to choose from in a huge range of jewel and pastel colours. Medium-sized, easy-to-handle seeds and obligingly easy to grow, sweet peas don’t need much space and will be happy in a container or border. They are a climbing plant so will need support, and they are thirsty plants, which suits heavy-handed watering. The more flowers you cut, the more will grow, so fill the house with little jars of them and they’ll keep blooming all Summer long. And their scent is incredible.
Cosmos is a real showstopper; it’s easy to grow and produces masses of daisy-like flowers with beautiful frondy foliage. This photo is from Lily’s patch at the allotment last year; there are only two cosmos plants in there and look at all the flowers! Cosmos is a brilliant plant for bees and other pollinating insects too, with it’s plentiful open flowers. Lovely in the garden but equally at home in a vase indoors, keep cutting the flowers and they will obligingly produce more for you to enjoy.
You need a bit of room for pumpkins as they like to ramble around the ground, but seeing the pumpkins form and grow is so exciting, and obviously there’s loads of fun to be had carving your own homegrown pumpkin for Halloween. Here’s our effort last year, Sam wanted “a scary face” while Lily insisted on “a smiley happy pumpkin”!
It’s also great for children to see the seeds as they hollow out the pumpkin, and make the link to the ones they sowed earlier in the year.
Sam wouldn’t entertain salad on his plate until he grew his own, I just wish I’d tried doing it sooner! My advice would be to start with a variety that interests your children, be it because of the name, shape or colour. A trip to your local garden centre where they can choose their own packet of seeds is a great way to spark enthusiasm. The seeds tend to be small, so you will need to supervise sowing, and encourage children to practice taking little pinches of seeds before they start. Salad leaves are quick growers and should be ready for eating within a few weeks, perfect for impatient little gardeners.
What are your favourite seeds to grow with children?