7 fun things to do in the garden with kids
Study a minibeast, plant a jam jar garden or measure a tree with your bum! Cabin fever begone with these cool garden activities kids will dig.
Rain or shine (fingers crossed), pull on the all-weather gear and get the kids involved with these fun things to do in the garden. Curious littlie or bored tween? There’s carnivorous plants, garden golf, Sweet Pea teepees, minibeasts and a tree App to distract…
1. Plant a jam jar garden
A child-friendly and economical spin on 70s’ glass terrarium, now firmly back in vogue.
Where and when: All year round, indoors or out.
You will need: Jam jar, Kilner jar or wide mouthed bottle with lid, multipurpose compost, gravel (from the garden or drive is fine if you wash it first), activated charcoal (from pet shops), bits of moss from the lawn, and 2-4 plants, such as Fittonias, Hypoestes, Calatheas, Marantas, Pteris ferns. Hutch stock an excellent range, as well as ready-made terrariums. Or to make it super-exotic (and intriguing for curious minds), take a look at Hampshire Carnivorous Plants.
How to do it: Pour a 1-2cm layer of gravel followed by a sprinkle of charcoal, then 3-5cm layer of compost into the base of your jar. Plant up, trying to keep them away from the glass, squirt it with a mister then pop on the lid, having first added a Lego person or small toy for added intrigue…
Keep it away from direct sunlight and really strong drafts (like radiators and breezy windows). On a desk, bedside table, coffee table or bookshelf are all great spots for a terrarium. If your terrarium starts to dry out, pop the lid off and spray in some water. If it looks too damp, and the plants look unhappy, take the lid off for a few hours to allow it dry out.
2. Measure the height of a tree
No, we’re not suggesting you get kids dangling off a ladder with a tape-measure (or playing in the road for that matter). This is a clever trick anyone can do just using their body, especially toddlers who can still touch their toes without cheating.
Where and when: Any time: if you haven’t got the space or trees, you can do it in a park (if you don’t mind the funny looks).
You will need: Flexible tape measure (yoga body optional).
How to do it: Start with your back to the tree then bend over and look back at the tree between your legs. Keep walking forward until you just see the top below your derriere. You are now as far away from the tree as the trunk is tall meaning you can measure the distance on the ground. Ta daaa!
3. Dig a mini golf course
Muddy stole this idea from the excellent niche title, the Practical Gardening Handbook – one for the would-be pro golfer in the family.
You will need: Turf, 10cm plastic or terracotta pots, trowel, kids golf clubs
Where and when: Any time on the lawn but ground tends to be softer and easier to dig after rain.
How to do it: Use the trowel to dig out a hole in the lawn and set the pot into the ground so the rim is at the same level as the soil surface. That way the golf ball will go in and you won’t catch it on the mower blades. Terracotta pots look prettier and make a satisfying plunk when the ball goes in. Fore!
4. Sow the ‘Three Sisters’
Kids need a lesson in sibling co-operation? Witness three plant ‘sisters’ growing in perfect harmony. Based on an old Amero-Indian planting idea, big sis is sweetcorn and the two smaller sisters are runner beans and pumpkins. The sweetcorn provides support for the climbing beans, while the pumpkins scrambles between their stems to shade and protect the roots.
Where and when: Sow seeds any time on a windowsill or greenhouse between now and April. Plant out in a sunny border when frosts are over.
Method: Sow a few seeds of each in separate 10cm pots. Plant sweetcorn first, in a rectangular-shaped block, spaced 40cm apart. Plant a bean plant at the feet of the corn, to encourage them to scramble up the corn and pumpkins interspersed between.
As plants grow, watch out for slugs and water when it’s dry and hot. Pick beans when they’re small for salads (flowers are edible too). Sweetcorn is ready in late summer. Get kids to peel back the husk, and press a thumbnail into a kernel. If the juice is clear, it’s not ready, milky means you’re good to go. Harvest pumpkins either when still small and use like courgettes or leave to ripen for Halloween pumpkins.(‘Cinderella’ is so-called because it’s the same shape as the fairytale carriage.)
5. Weave a Sweet Pea teepee
This is Muddy’s version of the traditional Sweet Pea wigwam, only with a gap in the side for den-lovers. Omit the door if yours can’t be trusted not to destroy it, and get them to do the building and flower picking instead. It’s a daily job in midsummer as sweet peas are prolific and need regular harvesting to stop them going to seed.
You will need: 1 packet of Sweet Pea seeds (Spencer varieties and Heritage Mix are good), five 6ft bamboo canes or, even better, hazel poles or wooden branches and sticks cut from the garden; garden twine, 9cm plastic pots (or make your own from newspaper with a Paper Pot Press from Good Roots Barn).
Where and when: Any time between now and March, in a sunny spot.
How to do it: Sow seeds into five separate 9cm pots, knuckle deep, two seeds per pot (see below) in multipurpose compost. Place in a bright spot, greenhouse or windowsill, don’t let them dry out.
Pick a flat, sunny spot in a border you don’t mind kids walking on and make your wigwam pushing sticks in at angles in a circle, leaving a ‘door’ and tying at the top with twine. If you can get your hands on willow stems, twine these round the structure to make the horizontals, failing that, use twine.
When it gets warmer and it feels like spring has sprung in late March/April, plant out the sweet peas in the garden, one at the base of each wooden pole. Their tendrils will pull the plants onto the support by themselves but they latch on quicker if you tie them in not too tightly with twine.
6. Make ice art
Where and when: Any time that it’s cold enough overnight – you’ll need to use the freezer if the weather warms up.
You will need: A shallow frost-proof container (which will need to sit flat in your freezer if it’s not cold enough overnight).
How to do it: Fill the container nearly up to the top with water and drop in garden finds like leaves and stones, or you could put some Lego or a plastic figure in there. Leave overnight to freeze and ‘ta-daaar’ – ice art. If you want to make hanging ornaments, use a smaller dish and loop a length of string over the rim of the bowl submerging one end in the water. It should freeze into a hanging loop.
7. Be a nature detective with trees, flowers and minibeasts
Kids of all ages love creepy crawlies – and hunting for things. The Gilbert White House and Field Studies Centre in Selbourne are a great source of inspiration for budding naturalists. Check out their downloadable resources like colouring, scavenger hunts, minibeast spotter charts and wildflower identification sheets. Or try The Woodland Trust’s cool free Tree ID app.
Where and when: Hunt for local wildflowers in Summer and Autumn, beasties and trees year-round in the garden and beyond.
You will need: Wildflower/minibeast spotter sheets or scavenger hunts, clipboard, pencils, The Woodland Trust’s Tree ID App.
How to do it: Decide what you’re hunting for and work individually or in teams: if you’re a family of competitive sorts, a prize for the winner is always a good motivator!