8 ways to get your kids into the garden this summer

26th Jun 18 | Family

As the school holidays beckon, designer Ann-Marie Powell shares top tips with Hannah Stephen for getting youngsters outdoors.

The thoughts of school holidays fill some parents with dread – but if you can get your kids engaged in gardening, or at least off their screens and into the fresh air, the weeks will fly by.

And award-winning garden designer and mother-of-two Ann-Marie Powell – who is designing the BBC Countryfile’s 30th anniversary garden at this year’s RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show – says wildlife and growing-your-own could be just the magnet you need to lure youngsters outside.

Here, she shares 8 ways to get your kids into the garden this summer…

1.  Create a veg patch near play equipment

Create a veg or herb garden near where they play (Thinkstock/PA)
Create a veg or herb garden near where they play (Thinkstock/PA)

“We have a little veg plot at the end of our garden where all the herbs are, and I always grow food particularly for them to scrump. The plot is close to their trampoline, so they go down there and I’ll say, ‘Boys, while you’re down there can you get me some basil’, or, ‘Pick me some peas’, or whatever is in season.

“Now they know all of the herbs and veg and they notice wildlife like ladybirds. We encourage as much wildlife as possible in the garden. It doesn’t have to be hard-to-grow stuff. I grow peas and beans, we have an apple tree and a herb bed. I just plant what I’ve got time to do, but it’s worth the effort.”

2. Keep binoculars handy

Watching Zac Efron GIF by Baywatch Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

“We have some binoculars in our living room, as luckily we are surrounded by trees. They love looking through the binoculars to see what they can see.”

3. Amuse them with apps
If they really can’t be separated from their phones, load some apps to your advantage. “They have this app where you record the birdsong and the app will identify the bird (warblr.co.uk and ChirpOMatic.com are popular choices),” says Powell. “When we get back, we can then look the birds up in a book. If you talk to them about wildlife, they’ll want to know all about it.”

If they’re really keen to know the name of a plant or flower, there are various plant identification apps which will do the job, including FlowerChecker (flowerchecker.com) and PlantSnap (plantsnap.com), where you take a photo of the plant and the app will endeavour to identify it.

4. Go on family walks

Enjoy family walks (James Dobson/National Trust Images/PA)
Enjoy family walks (James Dobson/National Trust Images/PA)

“I have two children, Archie, 14, and Gilbert, nine, and like all children these days, they are addicted to the internet. So every Sunday we go for a family walk, which we’ve done for years, and look at the landscape. It’s fantastic family time and it means they’re experiencing a little bit of the great outdoors,” says Powell. “They almost always moan about it but as soon as we get out there, they are changed children. And we talk.”

4. Visit nature reserves

Children can become engaged with wildlife on nature reserves (Georgi Mabee/RHS/PA)
Children can become engaged with wildlife on nature reserves (Georgi Mabee/RHS/PA)

“Since the boys were little, we have been to nature reserves. Straight away, their shoes were off, they were walking through the streams, swinging in the trees – they always have great fun.”

5. Create a wildlife haven

“We have lots of plants for pollinators in our garden and you’ll find a massive list from the RHS (rhs.org.uk), from echinaceas to roses. They attract insects, which create interest for children in the garden.”

6. Encourage them  to grow things

Get them growing (Thinkstock/PA)
Get them growing (Thinkstock/PA)

“Try sowing seeds. My kids like sowing big seeds, slightly weird-looking, and they want to know what the plants are going to be like and what they will produce. Peas and beans are so easy and they grow really quickly, and sunflowers are brilliant – the bigger, the better.”

7. Encourage insects into the garden

Hoverflies will add interest (Carol Sheppard/RHS/PA)
Hoverflies will add interest (Carol Sheppard/RHS/PA)

“We often see staghorn beetles on our walks, and the bigger the better. Kids are interested in bugs, but we are seeing less of them, which is why we need to plant pollinating plants,” says Powell.

Create a bug hotel (Andrew Hellman/RHS/PA)
Create a bug hotel (Andrew Hellman/RHS/PA)

“When I’ve cut back long grasses, they’ve made hollow stems – so we’ve put the stems together, bunched them up and put them in trees to make bug houses.

“When you do an autumn tidy-up, just bunch together some of the debris. It can make a great haven for solitary bees,” she adds. “We have an old bench which we pile logs under, and Gilbert loves getting his stick in there and seeing what comes out, whether it’s centipedes or millipedes or other bugs.

“My mother-in-law used to hang lots of bird-feeders in the area – we still do it. Hang bird-feeders where the kids hang out. And we hang water-filled coconuts from the trees. You must have water. Without water, you won’t get wildlife.”

8. Give them space for a den

Let them make their own den (Thinkstock/PA)
Let them make their own den (Thinkstock/PA)

“Kids love to be able to call a space their own, where they can use their imagination. Dens are brilliant and they can make a right old mess out of old bamboo sticks or cut-off branches.

“You could even plant bamboo plants and bend over the stems. They’ll make it into an absolute horror – my two used old Christmas decorations and rubbish from their bedrooms, – but it’s theirs, they need to own it,” Powell adds. “Put the idea in their head by, say, reading them a book at bedtime about dens and suggest they could do that in the garden.”

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show takes place in East Molesey, Surrey, from July 2-8. For details, visit rhs.org.uk

© Press Association 2018