Gardening for kids

Gardening is great fun for kids. <em>Time Out</em> finds out how to bring the exctitement indoors


Kids love to garden and they should be encouraged – primarily because it saves you doing the weeding, but it’s also good for their development. It’s entertaining, educational and, apart from the obvious pleasures most kids derive from a good old rummage in the dirt, they also learn all about the rhythm of nature. Plus, becoming an Alan Titch-y-marsh type fosters character-building virtues such as patience, responsibility, sharing, acceptance of loss, and the joy (or surprise) of seeing planted seeds bloom.

As we head into the hot and sticky months, outdoor gardening time in Dubai is limited. Thankfully, we’ve got a few simple indoor ideas which will allow kids to watch things other than their boredom grow.

‘It started with a dish’
Yes, we’ve all done it: put chopped-off carrot tops on a saucer and watched them sprout on the windowsill. Hardly the talk of Gardener’s Question Time, we know, but when you’re tiny, this is pretty amazing stuff. Remember, kids are a different breed: only grown-ups and a handful of girly girls are bothered about pretty flowers and the like. Quite often, it’s the ugly, worm-like roots or spiky shoots that provide the most fascination.

Next time you have carrots for tea, save the tops, stick ’em on a moist paper towel on a plate and see what happens. If you find a sprouting spud festering in the bottom of the fridge, don’t just fling it in the bin. Cut off a few inches of the sprouted end and stick some toothpicks in the potato to support it over a glass jar filled with water. Place the cut side down in the water, and put the jar in a sunny location. Keep the cut end of the potato dipped in water, and before you know it you’ll have potato vines. Experiment with pineapple heads, avocado stones and beets and see what weird and wonderful creations you come up with.

Once you’re a master carrot-top creator, turn your hand to edible shoots. Trust us, kids will love the fact that they’ve grown something that ends up on their plates. OK, the chances of you actually getting them to munch through salads piled high with alfalfa and the like are pretty slim, but we bet you they’ll at least try a teeny bit. You can buy cress, mustard and alfalfa seeds in garden centres and some supermarkets, or experiment with other dried pulses and beans and see what you get.

Here’s how you do it:

1 Place a damp paper towel on a dinner plate.

2 Sprinkle with your seeds of choice.

3 Cover with another paper towel or plate to keep it out of the light.

4 Keep moist and covered (you can take the occasional peek, otherwise it would be a bit boring) until the seedlings are about 1cm high.

5 Uncover and put in a sunny spot, still keeping the towel moist but not saturated. Give your kids the job of keeping the paper damp – they’ll love squirting their garden with a spray gun.

6 When the seedlings are 7-8cm high, they’re ready for eating.

Eggs-ellent idea

This idea for eggshell faces with grassy hair will appeal to green-fingered and art-loving kids. It’s a little bit fiddly, but if you plan to plant on a day when you’re having scrambled eggs for tea, you’ll minimise the collateral damage.

Here’s how you do it:

1 Take the top off an uncooked egg. Empty the yolk and white and tap a neat circle around the top. Wash out the shell and let it dry.

2 Fill the shell with potting soil, tapping it down gently.

3 Sprinkle an even layer of any finely-textured, fast-sprouting seed on the soil. Grass, alfalfa or lettuce all work well.

4 Put the filled shell back in the carton and water every day with a few squirts from a spray bottle.

5 In a few days, the shells will have a head of short green hair. As soon as the hair is up and growing, draw funny faces on the shell or get creative with pipe cleaners to make spectacles.

Cheat to get a head

If all this sounds like too much hard work, grab a ready-made ‘Grow-a-Head’. Ours, affectionately known as Grassy Neil, provides endless hours of entertainment, occupying pride of place in the kitchen where he’s subject to frequent bathing and hair cuts.

The beauty of Grassy Neil (a coconut husk head and fast-growing rye grass seed) is that his hair grows faster than you can say ‘Mary, Mary, quite contrary’. Just a few days after soaking and creating a mini greenhouse effect with the plastic container, Neil’s bald bonce develops a fuzzy feel. Uncovered, and given plenty to drink, his hair sprouts long and thick, ready to style as desired.

For older kids (and interested adults) the instructions explain condensation, germination, transpiration and photosynthesis, so there’s obvious scientific value. But, with patience not being a quality most kids possess in abundance, this simple, fun project that yields rapid results gets our vote.
Grow-a-Head Dhs59 from Virgin (Mercato 04 344 6971)

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