mini gardeners

inspiring gardening projects for children


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Grow Your Own Herbal Tea

grow your own herbal tea

A week to go until Mother’s Day. If you’ve been highly organised and already have a gift purchased/ordered then you can stop reading now. If not, here’s a little idea for a simple but effective handmade Mother’s Day gift that children can help with: a grow your own herbal tea planter.

We used a recycled wine box and 3 small plants but any pot or window box planter would work, just adjust the number of plants accordingly.

If your planter doesn’t have drainage holes in the base, these need to be added – I drilled some holes in the base of the wine box. I also lined the box with some old compost bags as I know from experience that wooden planters can start to rot in no time at all. If you do this, don’t forget to snip some drainage holes in the compost bag.

Then onto the plants. There are lots of choices for herbal tea but we narrowed our wish-list down to five.

apple mint (mentha suaveolens)

1. Apple mint  Mentha suaveolens

Many types of mint are good for herbal tea – Moroccan mint has a particularly good flavour – but we selected apple mint for its attractive variegated leaves (see photo above).

2.  Lemon balm  Melissa officinalis

Makes a good herbal tea on its own and is often used as a base for adding other flavours.

3. German chamomile  Matricaria recutita

This is on the list because we’ve never grown chamomile and we were curious…

4. Anise hyssop  Agastache foeniculum

As the name suggests, this has a licorice flavour, and as an added bonus the blue flowers are attractive to bees.

5. Bronze fennel  Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ or ‘Giant Bronze’

Another licorice flavoured herb with attractive feathery leaves. With fennel the seeds, rather than the leaves, are collected for making tea.

On a quick trip to the garden centre we managed to find small plants for three of our wish-list; lemon balm, apple mint and bronze fennel. I later found some seeds for anise hyssop in my seed collection so a small pot of those are in the propagator as we speak.  And the chamomile will have to wait for the moment.

All of these herbs will be happy in a sunny spot and will need to be watered frequently as the container is relatively small and the compost likely to dry out. I suspect that we’ll replant them directly into the ground in the garden or allotment at some future point but for now they’re looking pretty on a patio table in the sun. The mint, of course, will have to stay in a pot otherwise it’ll take over the whole garden.

When I’m ready for a cup of tea I’ll harvest about 2 tablespoons of leaves, bruise them gently to release the aromatic oils and then steep in hot water for up to 5 minutes. Trial and error may mean this “recipe” gets adjusted over time.

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Teeny Tiny Gardening

Teeny Tiny Gardening Book

‘Teeny Tiny Gardening’ by Emma Hardy (published by Cico Books) is not a children’s gardening book but it contains lots of projects that would be perfect for attempting with children.

Even if you don’t try any of the projects, the book is a delight to browse with its beautifully styled photographs and clear step-by-step instructions.  There’s something very appealing about small, bite-sized gardening projects, giving you the feeling that you could achieve great things before you’ve even finished breakfast.

Some of the projects I’ll be adding to our must-try list are:

Cacti in glasses from Teeny Tiny Gardening

Simple but inspired; a fresh approach to displaying cacti and much more attractive than the usual arrangement of a few random cacti in non-matching pots on a dusty windowsill. My daughters already have a small collection of cacti each – they’re great plants for children (and adults) who aren’t too good at remembering to water –  and displaying them like this will be a simple step. These would also make lovely little gifts.

guttering garden by Teeny Tiny Gardening

I’ve seen vegetable seedlings growing in guttering before and I really like these painted pieces of guttering attached to the side of a shed. Great if you have limited space and I’m thinking they could also be used for growing lettuce in a school garden.

And my absolute favourite;

green roof birdhouse from Teeny Tiny Gardening

I’ve been toying with the idea of putting a green roof on our garden shed for some time but have been put off by the fact that I’d need to strengthen the shed with internal batons first.  And woodwork is not one of my strong points; I nearly cut my finger off in one of the first woodwork lessons at school and things haven’t improved much since then.  But the instructions say that only basic woodwork skills are needed and a slightly rough finish adds to the overall charm, so I’m very tempted to give it a go. Watch this space.

Not all of the projects in the book are to my taste (the planted suitcase and chair for example are a bit too contrived for me and won’t be finding a home in my garden) but with 35 projects there’s something for everyone. Overall a rather charming little book and a big thumbs up from us.


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Blackboard Plant Pots

blackboard plant pots

Life hasn’t been the same since we invested in a tin of blackboard paint.  It’s fabulous stuff and we’ve been painting everything in sight.  Add a box of chalk plus a damp cloth and it’s guaranteed entertainment for hours.

A few weeks ago we painted some inexpensive terracotta plant pots for the school gardening club fundraising stall.  We included a piece of chalk with each one and they all sold, making a nice profit.

This week we needed a thank you gift for a friend.  So we bought some more terracotta pots from the garden centre, painted them with blackboard and acrylic paint – brief instructions below – and planted some small alpine plants in them.  Quite pleased with the result (pictured above), in fact we were a bit reluctant to give them away…

Here’s what we did:

Step one

how to paint a plant pot with blackboard paint

Step two

how to paint a plant pot with blackboard paint

Step three

When the blackboard paint is dry, remove the masking tape. Paint the rim of the pot with a contrasting colour of acrylic paint, extending the paint just inside the pot.  Paint the pot saucer (if you have one) the same colour.  Again, two coats look best if you have the time.

Warning!

Blackboard and acrylic paints can stain.  For younger children you could apply the blackboard paint while they’re sleeping and get them to paint the rim of the pot.  You can use washable paints instead of acrylic  – the finish isn’t as good but your house and clothes might thank you.  Add a layer of clear varnish to the dried washable paint if the pots are destined for outside.


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Patio Potatoes

potatoes growing in a compost bag

potatoes growing in a compost bag

Here’s proof, if you needed it, that growing your own doesn’t need to be expensive or require lots of specialist equipment.

We’re growing potatoes on the patio in a bag of compost.  Not the prettiest sight*, we admit, but it’s simple and cheap.  Also suitable for balconies, concrete-covered back yards or any tiny outside space that gets a bit of sun.

We chose Rocket seed potatoes – good for containers because the foliage doesn’t get too big (our previous attempts at patio potatoes were very top heavy and unstable).  If you’ve never grown potatoes before, these are a good choice as they’re fairly speedy to produce reasonable sized potatoes.

We left our seed potatoes on a tray in the dining room (any light and fairly cool room will do) for a couple of weeks until they started sprouting.

We bought a standard bag of multi-purpose compost, about 50 litres from memory.  We removed around 2/3rds of the compost from the bag and punched four or five small holes in the bottom with a pair of scissors to allow water to drain and to prevent the potatoes rotting.

We placed 3 seed potatoes on top of the compost in the bag, with the sprouts facing upwards, and covered with more compost so that the bag was about half full.

We watered every time the compost looked like it was drying out. Then, as the stems and leaves emerged, we gradually added more compost to the bag until it was about 2/rds full (this stops the developing potatoes turning green with the light).

For the sake of simplicity we haven’t fed the potato plants at all even though this would probably increase yields.

Rocket potatoes can be ready to harvest as soon as 2 months after planting.  We’ll start having a gentle dig in the top of the compost soon to see if the potatoes might be ready.

* If you’re worried about appearance, you could completely empty the bag of compost before you start and turn it inside out so that the black inner is on the outside.  A bit more work but it may even speed up the whole potato growing process by warming the compost slightly.


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Courgettes and Coir Pellets

courgette seedling in a coir pellet

courgette seedling in a coir pellet

Well, we’ve had a whole load of fun growing seeds in these coir pellets. Highly entertaining for children as they expand magically when soaked in water, with the added bonus of creating a lot less mess than spooning compost into pots.

Coir is a fibre harvested from coconut husks and it provides the perfect growing medium for seeds.  And when the seed is ready to be planted out (as evidenced by the roots peeping out of the coir in the photograph), pop the whole thing into the soil and the coir pellet will biodegrade.  Minimal root disturbance for the seedling – manhandling seedlings out of pots is often tricky for little hands and seedlings don’t always come out of it well – and no plastic pots to store or dispose of.

So, what’s not to like?  Not much really.  Some people complain that coir dries out too easily so you may need to be more vigilant on the watering.  And I haven’t done the maths but I’m guessing they’re more expensive than a bag of compost and some plastic pots or trays.  But great if you don’t grow huge numbers of plants from seed and you don’t want to store big bags of compost and lots of plastic pots.  A big thumbs up from us.


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Newspaper plant pots

recycled newspaper plant pot

newspaper pot with lettuce seedlings

Ooooooh, we do love a bit of recycling.  And what better recycling project than these little pots for seedlings, made entirely from newspaper?  No glue, no sellotape, no string, no staples.

And when the seedlings are ready to be planted out, plant the pot too and it will biodegrade nicely with no rubbish left to throw away.

We made ours with a wooden paper potter but you can easily use a glass, jar or tin can if you don’t own one of these.

Here’s what we did:

 

newspaper pot instructions 1 annotated

newspaper pot instructions 2 annotated

newspaper pot instructions 3 annotated

newspaper pot instructions 4 annotated

newspaper pot instructions 5 annotated

For a pot 4cm tall (ideal for lettuce seedlings) we cut strips of newspaper 8cm deep by 57cm wide, the entire width of the newspaper.  This allowed 4cm for the overlapping edges which form the base of the pot.

For taller 8cm pots (ideal for bean seedlings) we cut strips 12cm deep i.e. 8cm for the pot height and 4cm for the overlap.

Best to place your pots on a small tray before watering, nice and close together so they provide some support for each other.