There is a universal truth in gardening books and television that children and gardening do not mix. We don't know who first came up with this idea but whoever they were, they were a miserable sod. If you are sat there thinking, 'But kids cause damage in my garden', then stop. You as a gardener cause more damage to your garden than your child will do over the period of their entire childhood. You're the one who is always tinkering, adding new plants, ripping up others and more than often accidentally treading on a new plant or a patch of seedlings. I can point to many gardeners who are lawnmower happy, strimmer crazed and horny with hedgeclippers who have over the years sheared off perennials at the edge of lawns, shot over the any overgrown thicket with strimmer into a rose bed and went out of control with topiary that started out as an elephant and ended up as a hamster. Those moments you made mistakes, did you turnaround to see your parents standing behind you yelling or shaking their heads? No, you're probably an adult and like a kid, you too can be a bit of a prat in the garden.
We will admit, we are regularly prats in the garden, more parsnips, peonies and poppies have fallen under Andrew's size elevens than we want to think about. Now, we admit that some kids are clumsier than others but there must have been a point that someone introduced you to gardening, and you too were a little clumsy. It doesn't matter if you were four or forty-four, you did something that even now makes you embarrassed to think about. We nurtured a tray of weeds once.
As children though, there was a point when someone got us involved in gardening. There was a time that we hankered after growing things in pots, all small children do. There were moments when a Granddad proudly took us into their greenhouse to show us their tomatoes and when a Dad taught us the secret of watering seedlings. There was a moment in all our pasts when someone we loved, or admired, showed us how to grow things.
Now before you all run out of the room to grab your kids and drag them outside, there are few things you have to realise. There is no teenager on this planet who can be enticed to plant some beans, there is a simple reason for this, you're not cool - even saying, 'Cool' is not cool. You have a choice, you can bully them or buy them to garden with you. Either way they will do a half-ass job, you will shout at them, they will scream at you, there will be the slamming of doors. So don't bother, sit back and take the mick out of their hormonal raging years, you only have seven years in which to do this, cherish them.
Now if your kids have yet to hit puberty or are grown up, married with their own kids, you can get them gardening with you. You have to realise that a child of thirty-five will handle a lawnmower better than a six year old. It is never a good idea to give any power tools to a child, even if their forty - they will borrow them and you will never see them again; this also happens with four year olds who borrow your trowel.
There are some things that small children will love: water, large seeds, large flowers, places to hide and wigwams for beans. They will also like making strange noises when planting. Whoooooosh. Splat. Don't worry about this. It is natural. They have yet to learn to keep their internal monologue internal.
You may think that you have shown your kids time after time how to sow seed, water a plant or turn a compost heap - Little D is very good at the latter, he dives right in, literally. However, even if they are four or twenty-four do whatever they are doing together - this only works in gardening, they will not like seeing their middle-aged parents skinny dipping in the lake they're having a 'romantic moment' in. The great thing about gardening is that it is a great excuse to get dirty, to make a mess (stop thinking about that lake) and to enjoy the act of gardening (again, stop thinking about skinny dipping, remember there are children present).
You'll be surprised how much of what you have said to your child has sunk in - no, not the four letter words they heard when you were driving. Last week, Little D bitten by the bug of seeing seed in shops, buying seed in shops and planting seeds just outside the shop learnt two new words: 'saved seed'. The saved seed that was given to us by Farida Vas (@flygirltwo) was 'Daniel's Borlotti Beans'. As the packet she gave us says: 'These beans are the descendants of beans given to us by Daniel, one of the older plot holders on our allotment. Daniel kept the beans in an old vitamin pot. He gave us the beans more than ten years ago and we have been growing them ever since. They are now very much Manchester hardy'. There was the story of these seeds, saved and passed on. Likewise, we tell the story of gardening to those that listen, hope some of the knowledge is saved and passed on. We have been passing on this knowledge to Little D, who took each seed, sowed it himself with no help from either one of us. He was merely copying what he has seen us do a thousand times.
We could say we are proud parents but that would make us smug.
We could have applauded him for doing it, hoisted him up and told him what a special boy he was but that would have annoyed him. Four is different from three, bother a four year old who is concentrating with every fibre of their being at your own cost. They cry. They kick. They bite. Worse still they blow very sloppy raspberries on your clean clothes. Then laugh at you.
What made this moment special was that Little D didn't do it in silence, he told us how to sow the seed, he sank his finger in to the first knuckle. He was very clear we had to do that or else the seed would be lost forever. That is a great fear for a four year old. He patted down the soil to cover the seed wishing each seed a good night and asking them if they were warm. He then told us that it was important to talk to the seeds to let them know you were there. He then asked us to label the seeds so they knew where they lived. He told us the name of his seeds, they were Truffula Trees (The Lorax by Dr Seuss).
We are all descendants of someone who grew, who probably shouted as us for eating peas when no one was looking, who held our hand to show us how sow a bean seed, who loved us for spending time with them because in the end, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,/Nothing is going to get better. It's not.”
In the garden:
In the kitchen:
Links to Andrew writing on the Wartime Garden for other publications:
Dig For Victory and Pre-War Films
You can type wartime garden in our search box to find more results.