Grubby hands make good food

If we have learnt anything from Jamie Oliver this year, it is that shoving healthy eating habits down kids’ necks is not the way to convince them to eat fresh fruit and veg. I know some children who have never had any at all and they get quite upset if they are confronted with broccoli or carrots. The best way, as Oliver proved with his primary school classes – encouraging them to draw, talk about and cook the food themselves – is to engage children gently over a period of time.

Gardening is a great way for children to learn about where food comes from, while stimulating and exciting them at the same time. And like good food habits, good gardening comes from a collection of experiences. My own children, Harry (7) and Rose (5), are no different from others their age – they love Xbox and Bratz dolls. But they also spend hours in the garden, digging for worms or watering pumpkins ready for Halloween.

Parents often say that they don’t have enough time to garden, but it doesn’t have to take over your life. Tomatoes, courgettes and peas can all be grown in a container or grow-bag right outside the back door, and only need to be watered occasionally, while evergreen herbs such as lavender and rosemary are easy to grow in a sunny well-drained position and great for children to rub their fingers into and smell.

Delighting our senses is a thorough way of engaging interest in gardening in us all. For example, plants such as lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina), and the silky grass Stipa tenuissima feel lovely to touch. Creating a sensory area for children is a great idea; somewhere they can discover wild strawberries growing from crevices, hear wind chimes as they rub mint between their fingers and gaze up into the faces of sunflowers. And don’t worry if your own little seedlings lose interest for a while, and revert to the indoor world of computer games. You haven’t failed; failure is not bothering in the first place.