The summer holidays are with us again, bringing with them that perennial question: what are we going to do with the children?! You’ll notice the use of the interrobang (the combined ?! symbols); a punctuation trend frowned upon by the educational establishment, but incredibly useful when posing a mildly panicked rhetorical question. Because, while in theory a six week break spent with one’s offspring can sound like a perfect delight, in practise, once the boredom kicks in you may find that none of you are smiling.
The solution? Get the children out of the house and doing something useful!
Gardening is one of those hobbies that can appeal to all ages. Not only does it keep idle minds and bodies busy, but it provides gentle exercise, useful employment, an understanding of basic ecology, and a surprising amount of fun. The question is: how to start?
Any parent of school-aged children will no doubt have come across the term ‘mini-beasts’, referring to all the creepy critters that surround us every day. Slugs, snails, spiders, butterflies, ladybirds, woodlice, worms; from the scary and hairy to the bright and beautiful, mini-beasts are an integral part of gardening and provide a handy get-in for curious youngsters.
With little more than a judiciously applied magnifying glass, your garden can come to life, showing both pests and benefactors in glorious technicolour. As children catch (humanely, and release) bugs, they can learn about the benefits they bring – while slugs are an acknowledged nuisance, their distasteful eating habits are actually as handy as the aphid-eating ladybird; slugs will as happily dine out on poo, as they will on your prize-winner brassicas! Consider them as mildly delinquent street cleaners and you might get on a little better. While children hunt out, capture and draw your garden beasts, they’ll be picking up knowledge, learning what both the insects and plants do and why they’re good for the environment.
If the invertebrates, insects and arachnids don’t do it for your young horticulturalists, try upsizing and look to our feathered friends for inspiration – an Apropos conservatory or large window could be the perfect place to site a feeding station with a Perspex back, giving your children the chance to see wild birds up close and learn about the foods they like. Finches, for example, will feast on teasel seeds, while blackbirds adore the berries of holly.
While you’re in your Apropos, why not take advantage of the excellent growing conditions? At any time of year you can grow indoors; with a tray of soil and a packet of seeds you can grow all the salad leaves your family could need for the entire year (look out for ‘cut and come again’ varieties). And then, there are the exotic plants; there’s no beating the cactus, or a wooing by the wondrous flowers of the hibiscus or the sultry soft leaves of the African violet. For the grow-your-own-ers, outdoors in August you can still sow radishes, carrots, coriander, kale, pak choi, turnips, and a variety of winter-cropping veg.
As Monty Don recently said; you never hear anyone saying that they’ve given up gardening, so why not use this summer break and your Apropos conservatory or greenhouse to help foster a hobby that could last your littlies a lifetime?
For some interesting facts and fun mini-beast activities, visit the Young People’s Trust for the Environment. Alternatively you can learn more about what we do at Apropos here.