“The best way to get children gardening is to include them”

“The best way to get children gardening is to include them”

Having been introduced to the magic of growing at the age of 3, for Stephanie (of @homegrownwiththehaydons_), it has become incredibly important that her son has a childhood immersed in nature, because, as she says, “those are the best ones”. In this Garden Story, Stephanie shares with us her gardening journey, lessons learnt, and future plans.

Gardening has been a life long love for Stephanie, having spent most of her childhood in gardens and allotments. She recalls being introduced to gardening at a young age, “I was introduced to the magic of growing my own vegetables by my great Grandad at the age of 3. Following the brick path down to the end of his garden, beyond the huge plum tree was the most productive vegetable patch you ever saw. I was encouraged to eat peas from the pods, weed and plant and get thoroughly stuck in. He had ponds for frogs and taught me about natural pest control, catch crops and companion planting”.

This love for gardening nurtured at such a young age has only continued to grow for Stephanie. “In 2015, Mr H and I took on an allotment of our own, we took on a half plot of bare soil, and a year later little H joined the team and was part of the action from a few weeks old. Skip to 2022, moving into our 7th growing season, we have two full plots, two greenhouses, two sheds, a tomato house and chickens”. During lockdown, Stephanie says, the allotment became a haven. Working in the NHS, the allotment provided her a much-needed escape and was the perfect environment for home-schooling. Moving forward, Stephanie says, they are turning more and more of the plot to a no dig method, and looking to increase their edible perennial plants, as well as introducing more ponds and completing the rewilding of the front garden.

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In recent weeks, the @homegrownwiththehaydons_ grid has been filled with the family’s work in transforming their tarmac into a green space. “I reached a point where I felt it was essential for me to do my bit to support biodiversity. It was such a wasted space, I started by thinking what did I want to see from my window and it spiralled from there”. While this work was hard, she says, “to anyone considering a green space, I would say, go for it, access to nature even on a small scale is so beneficial to our emotional health and wellbeing”. The biggest lesson she learnt in carrying out this work was how important it was to wear safety gear including goggles, gloves, and rigger boots.

Recalling her first gardening success, Stephanie says, “as a female gardener on the allotment I was on a mission to prove myself when we first started out. I remember really feeling like I’d done that when one of the old boys on the plot came and asked me for some advice on growing squash. The first butternut squash we grew on the plot were enormous and delicious”.

As to what she likes to grow, Stephanie says, Pumpkins and squash are among those that she enjoys growing immensely. “I struggle year on year to narrow down my sowing list. This year I will be trying 15 varieties, returning favourites are crown Prince, Turks Turban and blue Hubbard.” On the other hand, she’s also got a few vegetable nemeses (and she warns us that this list can be quite long!). “I think as with all growing, it’s an experiment, and some work out and some don’t. I’m still yet to grow a successful cauliflower and I’m not especially good at carrots but I’ve got years of trying.” Stephanie has also been using coir for about 18 months now, “I absolutely love the coins they have been a game changer for so many of my sowings”.

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Stephanie doesn’t like growing plants that are too needy. “I grow relatively easy plants. I love a perennial that can be left well alone. I find gardeners like to find ‘jobs to do’, pinching this, tidying that, feeding something else… it’s all a bit much and gets really complex if you’re new to gardening. I’m more of a leave it alone gardener”. Her biggest challenge when it comes to gardening is remembering to take time to enjoy it. “I’m not very good at that, I’m always doing and sometimes it’s good to slow the pace and just notice”. But she is determined to work on that this year.

The @homegrownwiththehaydons_ grid is also filled with updates of Little H’s time in the garden. There are so many benefits of spending time in nature for children. Stephanie says, “the best way to get children gardening is to include them, to really include them. “Let them try tools, let them repot a tomato seedling, and let them sow seeds. They won’t get it right every time and sometimes you’ll lose a seedling, or you’ll be thinning out 1000 snap dragons but we all started somewhere. Little H loves the tomatoes, he loves eating them in the tomato house warmed from the sun. He’s also particularly keen on nasturtiums, he eats the flowers!” Little H echoes these thoughts, as he says, “if you see your mummy, or a grown-up sowing seeds just try to help them and learn about it, it’s really good fun.”

For those looking to start gardening, Stephanie says, “have a go, get it wrong, try again. There are no right and wrong ways in gardening. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Start with a couple of things from seed and get plants for the rest, build up slowly. No one started with 15 varieties of squash”. Sharing what they love the most about gardening, Little H says, “I like doing a fairy garden”, while for Stephanie, it is the magic of gardening, “that feeling of peace that can only come from connecting with nature”.

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