I found gardening in my mid twenties, my parents were not enthusiastic gardeners and I didn’t really know anyone that was. I only ever moved once as a child and that was from a large house I’d grown up in, into a smaller house just one street away. My first childhood home had a huge back garden which consisted of one raised flower bed area, a huge lawn and a bonfire/composting area at the very bottom of the garden, which then lead onto the local allotments. I remember our lawn was always mown short and the front garden was full of roses and marigolds. I don’t think we ever grew our own vegetables and despite the size of the back garden we didn’t have any trees. I do remember the house next door to us being vacant for a considerable amount of time, so much so that the lawn had grown completely out of control and I loved walking through the long grass picking them like you would flowers, I just thought they were so pretty and having never seen long grass like it before it felt like a real discovery.
My second childhood garden was only a quarter of the size but was surrounded with tall conifer trees making it quite dark. My Dad began by removing one side of conifer trees and replacing them with a long flower bed (which now subsequently is a gravel area full of pots, which my 82 year old mum prefers because there is less weeding to do). My dad added rose shrubs and a damson tree but other than that it was a pretty unremarkable garden. I do remember there being a beautiful dog rose at the end of the garden which has sadly now been removed.
I do wish now that I had found gardening a lot sooner than I did but I suppose like everything, these things arrive in our lives at just the right moment. At first I didn’t realise the impact it was having on me, I just knew that it was an escape for me and it made me happy when seeds germinated. This really hasn’t changed all that much, I’m still as equally happy and amased now, as I was back then. Except now I have a real understanding of the benefits that spending time in my garden gives me. These feelings aren’t an accident we are meant to be connected with nature, we are meant to grow our own produce. And in doing so we are fulfilling a deep-rooted need to be in that present moment, hands deep within the soil, cultivating and nourishing our environment. And there is nothing better than sharing this with someone you love.
I’m a strong believer in starting young. I see more and more younger people and even children getting engrossed in gardening and I think it’s incredible and something horticulture should be actively encouraging. I am very fortunate to have three beautiful god children, whom since being young have always been encouraged to play and ponder in the great outdoors. Whenever they would come to stay with me we quite often spent most of our time either in the garden or out on walks.
In the garden they had free rein, we would play a game where they could pick anything they wanted in the garden and bring it to me with an explanation about why they chose it, it was so much fun and interesting always to see what they would gravitate towards. My god-daughter would make me these incredible floating displays, she would pick flower heads and leaves and just float them in a bowl of water for our dinning table display, I adored them.
But gardening offers children an abundance of benefits, it’s not only about getting them out into the fresh air. Gardening helps in their sensory development without them even realising it; they use touch to begin to recognise textures, leaves, bark, soil even seeds, they smell the incredible fragrances of the flowers and herbs and even vegetables, like that distinctive smell of tomatoes, they see different colours and shapes as well as identifying insects and animals they would otherwise be unaware of, they hear bird song and the rustle of the wind through the leaves on a tree, and taste, they learn the importance of flavor and healthy eating when they have an understanding of how and where their food is grown.
There are many physical benefits too, it helps children to develop coordination skills, builds strength and helps important motor skills. And above all it teaches them so many important life skills, like responsibility, if they tend to a plant it will thrive, if they neglect it, it will suffer. It teaches them patience and reward, not all growing is done in one season and sometimes it’s a long term commitment from when you sow the seed until you get to harvest your first pumpkin. It teaches them self confidence and creativity, it teaches them the fundamentals of the environment, the seasons, the weather how all of this comes together and has an impact on their little patch of dirt. But above all it encourages a love of nature and surely that’s something we all need more of.
So get them started young, with a packet of seeds and a small area of dirt and give them a chance to tune into everything that nature has to offer.
I don’t think anything quite makes me happier than seeing children reading a book or gardening, even better if it’s a book about gardening!