Get in a gardening gang and give children the gift of green fingers

Start with veg to get smaller kids on board, says Catherine Fitzgerald

Catherine and Dominic in 2019 with their children Cristabel, 5, Francis, 9 and Senan, 10. Picture by Tony Gavin

Garden in gangs: it’s much more fun in a group. Having someone energetic with a loud voice who can rally the troops (my husband!) is key: Everyone out together to tackle a big job. This might be to clear brambles or sticks after a storm. I find a spirit takes hold and the grumbles die away as everyone sets to, dragging big branches to the pile. I can see the group sense of satisfaction take hold and there are plenty of jokes along the way.

I also get everyone involved with digging and barrowing compost to the borders, though this is not so popular as it’s really hard work.

Starting with veg is best with smaller kids. Radishes or beans planted in small pots on a window ledge germinate quickly — so they don’t lose interest — and when the leaves start to unfurl and look like Jack’s beanstalk, it’s very exciting. My youngest runs straight to her beans after school to water them — at the moment there’s one growing on my kitchen windowsill, climbing up the lamp. Unfortunately our timing is off as it’s a bit early to plant out.

My youngest loves collecting pieces of glass and old crockery and hoarding them together in her ‘shop’. There she keeps glass jars and collects caterpillars or snails which she puts in with nasturtium leaves (before releasing them). It’s all part of the process of looking closely at nature.

Her ‘shop’ is next to my potting table and she gets involved with my seed sewing and dividing things up into different pots and writing labels on lollipop sticks. If you are gardening yourself, children will join you.

A godmother gave my youngest A Little Guide to Trees aged eight, and the following year A Little Guide to Wild Flowers (both by Charlotte Voake, Eden Project) with wonderful illustrations. This sparked a genuine interest in identifying flowers and trees. There is a section at the back where you tick off what you have seen. On walks she’ll point out old man’s beard in the hedgerow and knows oaks, mountain ash, birch and many more.

I’ve had no success with the older three, but number four wants to be a gardener!

Catherine FitzGerald is a landscape designer and gardener

Get your kids excited about going wild in the garden

1. Have a wild adventure

Kids love treasure hunts, and the idea of having a wild adventure to see what you can find in the garden will spark their interest. Can you spot a caterpillar? Can you find out what it turns into? Can you find a worm? What lives under logs? Identify poisonous plants and learn what not to touch. This is fun and can be a valuable lesson in connecting to the wild and respecting nature in all its forms.

2. Learn about beautiful weeds and their uses

The world of wildflowers and weeds is full of fascinating stories of witchcraft, poisonous spells and medicinal uses. Kids will love to hear the stories and learn about the value of these plants, many of which are beneficial to the garden.

3. Build garden dens for animals

Kids love building dens, and creating safe havens for animals is a great way to learn about their varied needs and why it’s important for us to help. Tip: Giving names to the different animals can make this feel even more personal.

- Leonie Cornelius

Don't miss your Spring Gardening booklets, free in this weekend's Irish Independent on Saturday and the Sunday Independent, with expert advice on everything from what to plant for all types of gardens, how to entertain outdoors, how to get the kids involved, and plenty more.