A walk on the Wilde side

Hannah Stephenson picks up some gardening tips from celebrity expert Kim Wilde. Taught to appreciate the outdoor life by her grandmother, she is keen for modern families to pass on their skills to the younger generation…

Eighties pop star Kim Wilde is still having a wild time – but now it’s in her garden in Hertfordshire, with her two children, Harry and Rose. Kim became interested in gardening when she took a break from the music scene in the late 90s to have a family. She studied horticulture at Capel Manor College in Enfield, Middlesex – and has never looked back.

The 44-year-old daughter of 50’s pop idol Marty Wilde is now a gardening columnist for several publications and has shared her expertise on GMTV and Garden Invaders. This year, Kim is also designing her first garden for the Chelsea Flower Show.

Her new book, Gardening For Children, which is full of ideas for getting kids interested in the outdoors, was inspired by the years spent in the garden with Harry, seven and five-year-old Rose, she says. ‘I’m out there a lot of the time and they like to be around me,’ she says. ‘If they see that Mummy’s got her hands in the dirt they always want to do that too. If you are in the garden doing things, just give them an area, some pots and some compost and some little children’s tools they will have a bit of fun and feel they are participating.’

Kim, whose grandmother was a keen vegetable gardener, says that gardening crosses all generations and that grandparents can also play a part in encouraging children to appreciate the great outdoors. ‘It’s perfect for the grandparents who want a small project whereby they are actually doing something with the child. Often children are distracted with homework or DVDs or their friends. It’s important to reclaim that precious time together, doing something creative with them. Children’s minds are wide open in their formative years. They are ready to soak up all this information. All you have to do is ignite their innate curiosity and they’ll be off.’

Grandparents who have the space might enjoy creating an area in their garden for their grandchildren, she suggests. ‘containers are probably the best option for most grandparents. Plant a few seeds or plants with the children. Radishes grow really quickly or you could put a wigwam in a container and plant some peas around it. The more you pick, the more you will get. It’s fascinating for children.’

Attracting birds and wildlife to the garden is another way to stimulate a child’s interest, she notes. ‘Mixing up little balls of fat with fruit and seeds is a great idea for encouraging kids. It’s like making a cake. Kids love putting all the ingredients in a big bowl. Melt some shredded suet in a saucepan, and add things like pumpkin seeds or even general birdseed mix from garden centres. When the suet starts to go cold, roll them into little balls and you can hang them in trees.’

Anyone with an old fish bowl or other large glass container can easily create their own wormery, filling it with layers of sand and soil, topping it with old vegetable peelings and then digging up some worms from the garden to put in it. ‘It’s to do with noticing wildlife and learning what worms do in the ground. Kids love watching the worm bringing the food down into the soil, eating it and improving the soil content. There are lots of little projects like that.’

Tile mosaics can also be an attractive addition to a patio or walkway and can be made with the help of children, she adds. ‘If you are creating an area for children, it’s lovely to have their artwork on the ground. If they feel they’ve contributed and been creative in an area, they are much more likely to use it and feel good about being there. With a little bit of guidance, getting a frost-proof tile and some exterior grouting and helping them break up a few tiles, it doesn’t have to be a difficult process.’

The biggest delight for any junior gardener would be to see the plants they have grown come to fruition and Kim has identified a number of plants which grow quickly, smell wonderful and are easy for little fingers to handle. ‘Start them off with sunflowers,’ she advises. ‘They have fantastic flowers and the seeds are big, making them easy to handle. I also think you can’t go wrong with alpine strawberries, especially if you don’t have much time. Put them in the cracks in paving and they will grow and provide beautiful little fruits which are perfect for little hands.’ Other plants she recommends include radishes, which grow quickly, chocolate-scented cosmos and Tumbler cherry tomatoes in containers, which produce tiny fruits which children love.