My first memories of nature are of my brother and me mucking about in our garden as toddlers in Greenwich, south-east London...
I remember the old apple tree at the bottom of the garden, the raspberries tha tour neighbour grew pushing through our fence, and the smell of rose petals we collected to make bottles of rose water. Ask anyone of their earliest memories and amongst them will always b an encounter with nature, whether it be the smell of the earth, the touch of a prickly blackberry bush, the first sight of a rainbow, or the sound of rain on a tent.
My children, Harry and Rose, were my initial motivation to get outside into the garden, and now, nearly 10 years later, gardening has become integral to family life. This Easter we all planted seeds in pots, made miniature gardens and, of course, had an Easter egg hunt, all of which can be done whether you have a garden or not. Children have an affinity towards nature and, I believe, a basic need to feel connected somehow to the planet on which they live. By helping our children to engage with the natural world around them, we instil wonder, respect and compassion for a natural world that is increasinly under threat.
I believe that fostering a love of gardening in children is a cumulative thing, built from a collection of small precious moments. If the children see your interest in the garden, their curiosity is automatically ignited, and with your encouragement and enthusiasm they'll be running around searching for ladybirds instead of reaching for the latest DVD! To encourage children in the garden, a good start is to invest in some brightly coloured children's gardening tools, a fun pair of wellies, watering can or mini wheelbarrow - anything to make them feel supported. Quick fixes have their place where children are concerned, just as they sometimes do for us big kids! Simply filling pots with sterilised compost bought from a garden centre can safely keep children mesmerised for hours and, together with a few trays of inexpensive flowers such as pansies, children can learn the basics of planting and begin a relationship with grownig and nurturing plants.
Plants to inspire and delight children include one of my favourite plants Lavandula (lavender) whose flowers can be safely rubbed between little fingers, releasing its aromatic perfume. Lavender is also a great plant to grow in a children's garden as its aromatherapy benefits include inducing relaxation, perfect for naturally calming down tearaways! Stachys byzantina (lamb's ears) has soft, furry foliage that children will love to stroke, and Mentha x piperita has a distinct 'after dinner mint' aroma to it and is wonderful crushed between fingers and breathed in. The large seeds of Helianthus annuus (sunflowers) are easy for children to handle and very easy to grow, while courgettes are relatively fast-growing vegetables, so ideal for children, and can be grated raw into sandwihes with carrot for a healthy, nutritious snack. Growing vegetables in containers is a good option for those with little space, and children can easily observe them growing right under their noses!
My very early memoris of raspberries, roses and an apple tree have now been revisited in my own garden. Harry and Rose raid the raspberry canes and apple trees, and I prune the roses! I hope one day that their memories of gardening with me will lead them to their own personal Garden of Eden.