I'm a gardener (I might have mentioned this once or twice before?!), since I was a child plants have fascinated me, here are my favourite non-welly shoes, inspired by flowers. I first got interested in flowers and gardening by helping my grandfather in the allotment; digging ‘tatties’. I can still smell the mud, remember my dress being all dirty and my wellies all sticky. Putting potatoes into sacks was the job of the day although I probably put more back on the ground, I do remember it being fun and my wellies being thick with mud. I am glad he had the patience to let me ‘help’ him, I am sure it would have been a lot quicker and less messy without me. My favourite job when I was with him was picking strawberries, raspberries and taking in Grannies favourite flowers; she loved carnations and my Grandpa grew lots especially for her. The smell of carnations and the tastes of the odd berry that found its way into my mouth is still with me. I experience it each time I sneak a strawberry from the greenhouse or sniff carnations in my own garden or on a flower stand. It’s special when the little things stick into your head from experiencing something wonderful when you're a child. I'm often in wellies now, most days infact, generally covered in mud!
Those experiences helped to shape my love of the garden, nature and flowers. I picked my first herbs from his patch of mint, which grew, in the pot outside the greenhouse door. I must have been a little over zealous and as I pulled a little too hard I got a bit of the roots too. I realise now I had been a little over enthusiastic but instead of scolding me he helped me to pot it back into a new pot telling me that there was far too much of it anyway and would I like some for Mummy’s garden? And did I realise it would need a suitcase? I was puzzled? Why would a plant need a suitcase? "Well" he said as he scraped a little soil from the pot my new mint came from into the new pot "you wouldn’t want to leave home without your suitcase, would you?"
From my experiences with him I have learnt many things about plants and gardens. I have many pairs of wellies, all muddy which matches the dog! Each time I pull up a little piece of plant for a friend I make sure it has its own ‘suitcase’, a little soil from where it was growing to help it settle into its new home. When I caught myself telling my friends to do the same, I had to smile; I was probably 5 years old when he told me that. Having studied plants I now realise why this is important; there are many more complicated associations between plants and the organisms that make up the soil than we still realise or have the brain space to deal with! It makes perfect sense then to incorporate these ‘bedfellows’ with a plant that is moving to a new site. And, thinking of a suitcase full of what a plant needs, is more fun than reading countless soil books!
Someone told me about fairies kissing the daisies; but I had to invent the dinosaur plants. It was quite fun though I must have been about 6, but I still think of fairies kissing the petals when I see a pink tipped daisy! I'd never pick it though, whatever would the pixies have to do if I took the flowers away? My own favourite silly story is about dinosaurs laying their eggs under the leaves of the giant rhubarb (Gunnera) so we have to creep past them. This story still lasts now and the plant is often referred to as the ‘dinosaur egg plant’ (picture of a Gunnera below) I managed to get chocolate eggs under it at Easter once, the reaction was amazing!! As we are surrounded by trees, shrubs, herbs and flowers its not too difficult to get their attention; especially if there are dinosaur eggs involved! By keeping it fun, a little silly and interesting it’s an enjoyable way to learn.
When summer was here we were in the garden often, there’s lots to do and the children often wanted to help. Hazel would spend many days collecting caterpillars and snails (and slugs, of course are merely snails which haven't found the right house yet). Good news for me, I feed them to the chickens later; please don’t tell her! Jamie would always head straight in the direction of the hose; beyond all else he likes to water everything into oblivion. With the right attachment he is fine and I go away content that the most damage he can do is to either his sister, the dog or me; the plants should be fine. I use to help him to water the tiny seedlings, the tactics he uses would water them into extinction, apart from that he does a great job! I think he takes after me, even just a little bit, there's me doing my favourite pastime as a child, mucky as always!
After all the caterpillars are collected, I am delighted and steer my daughter towards a packet of seeds to be sown, there is absolutely no point in telling her where in the garden to sow them as she loves to make her own mind up and let me know when she has decided. Seeds seem to be the most fascinating things to her; that you can fit a whole flower inside one tiny seed she decided was just great. I let her sow all of the old flower seeds and she goes about it chattering happily and then gets her watering can. The fact that sunshine, water and mud make plants grow from those seeds she finds amazing; I still do too. After five minutes soaking when they haven’t germinated or she has washed them down the garden path a little over-enthusiastically, she’s off to draw a picture of her flowers, which will be pink, purple, red, orange and bright yellow; they are always a rainbow of colours in her world. If all of the seeds she has ever sown actually germinate the combinations of colours will be fantastic, the design inspirational and a secret part of me would be delighted at the effect on my borders. But, sadly many of them haven’t didn't come up, but we read a lovely book recently about planting a rainbow, (from over the pond) - it's a good inspiration! There is also an 'eating the alphabet' book, truely lovely, there are so many lovely books availabe to get kids interested in the garden and plants.
The kind of fascination that children have when they are learning about new things is amazing and often it shapes the way that they themselves are nurtured, develop and grow. As with all of us learning by experience is the way in which we reinforce key points and issues; it helps us to remember. It’s a little difficult sometimes to take the time and kindle such an interest, especially in our busy lives; but it really is worth the effort.After all the same plant will probably have to fend off footballs and the occasional trampling in years to come. Most plants are pretty robust and take picking or potting up by a little persons fingers in their stride peas, nasturtiums, sunflowers and courgette seeds are perfect, nice and big! Knowing where their food comes from and what it looks like when its growing is easily absorbed and fun!
The satisfaction children gain by helping or doing it for themselves is enormous; and they are learning at the same time. Of course, some of the plants get squashed, dropped on the floor and broken in half. Compost generally ends up everywhere and but we get there in the end; having had much more fun doing it. They have helped me to plant the herb and veggie garden for many years now and now remember some of the plants we grow. My five year old son was able to identify the veggies and herbs in the garden, telling me off when I got it wrong! The mints I am informed smell of ‘tic-tacs’; the fennel is fluffy; and lemon balm really smells of lemons (although you can't tell from the picture below). The mention of some plants is more well recieved than others, in our house 'mange-tout' gets everyone looking very nervous, one year we had such a glut, we had them alot with most meals - even the mention of them now makes them laugh! Whether it all works or not, theres usually lots to laugh about!
The kids helped me to plant most of the more robust plants; my more delicate ones I saved for a time when they were out at school. All plants were then dutifully and liberally drenched in by Jamie pretending the hose is a ray gun, whilst Hazel looked for some more caterpillars. We needed to pot up some chives for a friend. As I dug a little clump out of our rather large one Jamie stops trying to soak the dog. "Don’t forget the suitcase Mum" he shouts, and I find myself packing my newly dug up plant into a pot with a little of the soil from our garden; smiling. There are many books out there and many blogs on children and gardening - if you're inspired at all, have a go - I'm lucky to have had someone in my life who inspired me, who knows where it might lead! Hearing my children pass on my Granpa's words, is truly magic!