"Encouraging children to engage with the natural world is a great way to stimulate and educate them, whilst having fun at the same time. You dont have to have a garden to do this, many growing and wild-life projects are just as productive done in containers on a balcony."
Persuading our children to embrace the world of plants and away from computer games is often no easy task, but with childrens health and obesity issues of such concern these days - as well as a whole range of environmental issues - I believe cultivating the next generation of gardeners has never been so important.
Guided and encouraged by you, gradually your children can learn the basics of planting and growing things - you can learn together whilst also sharing precious moments.
Kit out the kids with the proper tools for the job to really impress them, a hand trowel, gloves, watering can and wheelbarrow will make them feel very supported and enthusiastic to get going.
The Joseph Bentley collection will appeal to children over the age of 6 who have developed the gardening bug. The compact size and lightness combined with the practicality and strength of stainless steel will give them their first proper tools and ones they will always remember.
Ideal growing projects for children include sunflowers and pumpkins as their large seeds are so easy for little hands to handle. Fill small pots with compost and plant one seed in each, keep on a sunny windowsill and water until the plant is big enough to plant outside towards the end of May or after the frosts.
Pumpkins need a lot of moisture and are heavy feeders so be sure to incorporate some well-rotted manure or compost to the soil when planting, and while the pumpkins are small children can carve their name, or a smiley face, which will grow and grow as the pumpkin does!
Sunflowers, too, enjoy soil that is rich and well drained in a sunny spot (they are however surprisingly tolerant of partial shade). Children will be amazed as the flowers grow taller and taller, so why not have a competition to see who can grow the tallest one? Both pumpkin and sunflower seeds can be roasted in the oven with a little salt or soy sauce for a tasty and nutritious snack.
Vegetables which are easy to grow in containers include potatoes. They can even be grown in large plastic bags with drainage holes made. Keep potato tubers covered with earth as they grow and it is as well to be aware that all parts of the potato plant are poisonous apart from the tubers so be careful if there are toddlers around.
Courgettes are relatively fast growing once they get going and can be grated raw with carrot into sandwiches for a healthy, organic snack.
Peas, too, will increase their yield the more they are picked and are delicious raw, grow these on a wigwam framework with netting for the tendrils to cling on to. If you dont have time to sow and nurture seeds, most fruit and veg can be bought as young plants from good garden centres to give you a head start.
Dont forget flowers too, such as the hardy annuals - marigolds, cornflowers, poached-egg plant and sweet-peas. These are not only lovely to look at but will attract beneficial insects such as ladybirds, hoverflies and lacewings who will gobble up the destructive aphids, red spidermite and whitefly, and look after your plants naturally.
Encourage an interesting range of flying insects with the Solar Insect Theatre which automatically lights up at dusk, then off at dawn, allowing your children to study what insects are flying about the next morning whilst beginning to understand how important they are to the healthy care of our environment.