mini gardeners

inspiring gardening projects for children


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When it rains, it pours

grow your own stripy courgettes

I tried to convince my daughters we were having snake for dinner last night but they rolled their eyes and groaned “not courgettes AGAIN”.

Yes, it’s that time of year when the courgettes are coming in thick and fast. I’ve now exhausted my repertoire of courgette recipes, been through the  chop-them-up-very-small-and-sneak-them-in-everything phase, given away as many as possible (I think people are starting to avoid me) and yet there are still courgettes left over.

All this despite growing only a modest two plants this year.

In spring it’s always tempting to sow more seed because the summer courgette glut is a distant memory and they are so ridiculously easy to grow – provided you have a reasonable amount of space in a sunny spot and you can get the young plants to survive any slug and snail attacks. I swear by crushed eggshells, applied regularly in a circular barrier around the small plants.

There’s only one thing for it, time to search for a recipe for chocolate courgette cake. Let’s hope it calls for more than one courgette.


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Gearing up for spring

Spring must be just around the corner because there are signs everywhere. Flowers of Euphorbia characias subs. wulfenii are poised, ready to unfurl:

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfeniiThe perennial wallflower (Erysimum ‘Bowles’ Mauve’) has started to flower:

Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve'In fact, it only stopped flowering in November so this is a star performer that is in flower for 10 months of the year. I planted three of these last year following my daughters’ complaints that we didn’t have enough flowers in the garden, and they’ve filled out nicely despite a fair amount of neglect. The only downside as far as I can tell is that it’s a short-lived perennial so I must investigate the best time to take cuttings.

Potatoes are chitting:

chitting first early potatoes

I only bother chitting first earlies to give them a head start; second earlies and maincrop get thrown in the soil with no preparation and it seems to work fine.

And the first sweet peas are starting to appear:

sweet pea seedlings

These were planted in mid January and were sat in a plastic greenhouse outside until the high winds forced them outside on the patio, where they’ve been ever since. We soaked the seeds in water overnight prior to planting and germination rates have been good.

We’re growing:

‘Matucana’ – one of my favourite sweet peas that has been in cultivation for hundreds of years. It has slightly smaller flowers than some of the more modern types but they have the most amazing fragrance.

‘Blue Velvet’ – chosen for its large, ruffled deep blue flowers.

‘Air Warden’ – this one has scarlet flowers and it supposed to be very prolific (although I haven’t yet grown a sweet pea that isn’t prolific).

We’ll sow some more sweet peas later this week because in March we’ll be busy sowing lots of flowers and vegetables for the allotment, school garden and pots on the patio.


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Gardening in the wettest January since records began

Dear Weather,

Ok, I’ve had enough now.  It was very kind of you to work so hard in January. I’m really not worried about a hosepipe ban this year. But I am worried that if you don’t stop soon, I’ll be able to canoe to the allotment.

Yours, ever so slightly damp, from London.

PS Also, I have to run a school gardening club through the depths of winter and you’re making life very difficult.

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Actually, despite being the wettest January on record for some parts of the UK, many of the school gardening club sessions last month coincided with dry days.  So although I had my list of indoor gardening-related activities at the ready, we were able to garden outside.  Since the soil has been saturated and unworkable, this is what has been keeping us busy over the last few weeks:  

growing pea shoots on a windowsill

Easy-peasy, quick results and cheap to do  – this one is ticking a lot of boxes.

Last week I sent ten 7 and 8 year olds home with a tray of planted peas each, plus instructions to place them on a windowsill inside and water every couple of days. A week later and my mini gardeners are reporting that all the trays are showing signs of germination. 100% success, I like that.

The peas we planted were dried (marrowfat) peas from the supermarket that I had soaked overnight in water.

soak dried peas in water before planting

Then we took some recycled plastic food containers with holes in the base and half filled them with compost. We placed a layer of peas on top, keeping them in a single layer but packing them quite closely together.

planting pea shoots

We covered with compost, watered, labelled and then put in a light place.  Shoots generally started to appear within 3 to 5 days. Within 2 to 3 weeks the first pea shoots should be ready to harvest and, if we’re lucky, we may have 2 to 3 harvests from each tray.

On a completely different subject, today we took root cuttings of mint. To keep things interesting, we used Moroccan mint, pineapple mint and chocolate mint.

The Moroccan mint plant was living in a terracotta pot last year and you can see how the roots have started to spiral round the inside of the pot. This is such a vigorous mint that I usually repot it every spring anyway.

taking root cuttings of mint

Repotting is as easy as cutting sections of root, placing them on the compost surface and covering with a thin layer of compost.

taking root cuttings of mint

Which left plenty of roots for the whole gardening club to have a small pot each plus some spares.

Like the peas, these are fairly robust plants. We’ll leave them outside to fend for themselves and when shoots start appearing, they’ll be taken home to keep.


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Rainbow Beans

rainbow beansThis year we’ve been growing dwarf beans instead of the usual climbing beans.

The main reason for the switch is that dwarf beans are lower maintenance; there’s no need to build a wigwam to support the plants or to keep tying them in as they grow. And although the plants only grow to around 40cm tall, the yield from each plant is surprisingly high and small children can help with the harvesting. They must be one of the easiest, pest and disease free vegetables to grow (apart from the blackfly earlier in the year but we sent them packing with a dilute spray of washing up liquid).

I picked up the seeds at the Chelsea Flower Show, from Pennard Plants, who specialise in heritage and heirloom seeds.  The packet was described as ‘Dazzling Dwarf Mix’ and as well as producing plants with purple, green or yellow beans, there are some dwarf borlotti beans and runner beans too.

And if that isn’t enough to convince you to give them a try, the purple beans have the added bonus of their very own magic trick – they turn green when cooked.

Time for a haircut

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topiary rabbittopiary rabbit

You know how it is……. things get busy , you don’t have your hair cut for a while. Then you can’t do a thing with it and every day becomes a Bad Hair Day.

After a quick trim this afternoon our topiary rabbit can now hold his head up high and Bad Hair Days are a thing of the past.

We also gave him a long overdue feed. He’s about 3 years old and the plant inside the frame – box (Buxus sempervirens) – is filling out nicely.

A lot less trouble than a real rabbit 🙂

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Strawberry Hearts

grow yur own strawberries

The strawberry season is in full swing now and nothing beats the taste of a freshly harvested home-grown strawberry.

Strawberries are so easy to grow that they’re on our list of top ten plants for children. They’re tolerant of a wide range of soils and can be grown in patio pots, hanging baskets, window boxes or directly in the ground. Provided you pick a sunny spot and water regularly after planting until plants are established, you’re onto a winner.

Our top tips for strawberry growing:

1.Avoid those strawberry towers at all costs. They’re difficult to water (the water tends to flow straight out of the plating holes) and a regular pot or planter is much better.

2.Don’t get bogged down with choosing the “best” variety. The majority of our strawberries are grown from plants rescued from a jungle of overgrown grass and weeds on our allotment. We have no idea what type they are, but they’re delicious eaten straight from the plant with zero food miles and no cold storage anywhere in sight.

3. Plant at the correct depth – see here for details.

4. Strawberry plants usually need replacing every 3 to 5 years as yields will drop and plants become susceptible to disease. But the good news is that your strawberry plant will provide new plants for free. When your plant puts out runners (new plants on long stems) pot them up and sever from the parent plant when the roots are growing strongly.

5. If you’re growing a large number of strawberry plants, we can recommend planting through permeable weed control fabric. This significantly reduces weeding and watering and makes for a low maintenance strawberry patch.

And finally, if you end up with a few mushy strawberries that are slightly past their best, they’re perfect for making strawberry hearts:

frozen strawberry puree hearts

Simply puree the strawberries then pour into ice cube trays and freeze.  Great for serving alongside ice cream or for eating by themselves on a hot day.


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No children please, we’re British

As well as being a terribly British affair, the Chelsea Flower is no place for children.  Children under 5 are banned and it’s usually so crowded that you wouldn’t wish to risk having your over 5s squashed.  But there’s still plenty of inspiration at Chelsea for child-friendly family gardens.

insect house chelsea flower show 2013

This enormous insect house was constructed on the end of a shed – a great project for an ambitious school gardening club?

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