Kids and gardening


They can start out by growing a banana tree. Make them work.

Kids. Gardening. But not near me.

I was never meant to be a father. Dads are just so… paternal, strangely enough. I really don’t know how they do it. I’ve seen blokes who have spent every evening down the pub getting blathered with their mates go completely gooey when they sire a child. It’s weird. I won’t even mention the nappies. (Diapers, for transatlantic types.

I once saw a scarily accurate Dutch TV advert that made its point very well. It featured a particularly horrid child who stared up at his father in the supermarket and declared “I want those sweeties”. No reaction from Dad, much to the child’s disgust. “I WANT THOSE SWEETIES” he shouted again.

Still a stony-faced deadpan silence from the father, which led the child to make his point a little more physically. He started to tear the place up, pulling boxes off shelves and frozen meat from the freezer section, with other shoppers looking on in dismay. He ended up on his back on the floor, kicking and screaming at the top of his lungs. This child was every father’s worst nightmare. The caption at the end was perfect: “Use condoms”. It’s at by the way.

Unfortunately, it’s close to impossible to leave your house without being assaulted both visually and aurally by these young creatures. For some inexplicable reason, they feel the uncontrollable urge to emit loud, high pitched noises for no apparent reason. It’s only the parents that are immune – I suspect that everyone else in the vicinity is subconsciously considering violence of some kind.

There’s an old saying that goes, ‘Children should be seen and not heard’. I never quite understood that; I don’t even want to see them, really. They’re fine in the privacy of their own homes, but do we really have to put up with them in hotels, banks, post offices, shopping centers, buses, planes? Somehow, if children are injected into the equation, places we’d rather not be become infinitely more annoying.

I have to say that Thai kids are little angels in comparison, but in the western world, they come equipped with an almost constant barrage of questions, and when their own parents get sick of answering, they’ll turn to the nearest unsuspecting individual they can find, and continue with the interrogation.

There are those who will try to tell you that this is cute. They say I shouldn’t get vexed by this and that the child is just curious and that’s how it learns. Twaddle. This kind of thing is irritating in the extreme. Parents – please attach a piece of string to some part of their anatomy and give it a bit of a tug occasionally. Please.

Maybe it would be in our best interest to keep them locked them up at all times, come to think of it. Keep them in a dark basement room (chained perhaps) until they reach the age of 21, by which time they may well be ready to be foisted upon the world.

Fundamentally, there are five reasons why I’m not the world’s biggest kids fan:

1. They are very noisy.
2. They are very noisy.
3. They are very noisy.
4. They are very noisy.
5. They are very noisy.

What we need is a way to calm them down a bit. This may seem like a far-fetched idea, but why not give them some gardening to do? Any child expressing even a slight interest in gardening should be encouraged to go for it – it’s a great way to keep them occupied quietly, and if you can palm off some of the donkey work on them, then so much the better. Don’t wait for them to ask you if they can participate – reel them in.

No point in ordering them to help though – they only get the hump and it becomes a chore, so you’ll probably need to keep them busy. Unfortunately a child’s attention span is even shorter than a gardening columnist’s after a night on the beer. Find fairly simple tasks for them which they can successfully accomplish in a short period of time. If they decide that it’s time to take a break and want to go and chase a millipede for a while, let them; they’ll get back to their gardening soon enough.

You may as well start with the basics; the soil, where gardening begins. They have a head start in this department as unlike us, they’re quite content to be up to their necks in mud.

Why not kick off with some mud pies, with a commentary. ‘Put 3 scoops of that nice black garden soil from our garden, into the wheelbarrow, then one scoop of that peaty stuff from the white bag, and a scoop of sand, because “this plant doesn’t like very much water, and the sand will help the water drain away…”’You get the idea – as long as it’s messy.

Raking is another part of gardening that a child can handle, if given the chance. And we all hate it. Perfect. Using their own kid-size rake (if you can find one on the island), they can get to the leaves and debris, which are somewhat difficult for us ‘larger’ people to get to. 

Ask them if they would mind helping you out with the raking, while you are doing something far more important in the garden. I should point out that it’s not compulsory to inform them that this ‘far more important garden job’ involves sitting in the shade with a beer.

I vividly remember my dad giving me a tiny plot in the middle of our back garden in Yorkshire when I was a tiny Bert. If you have the space, you may want to do the same – establish a special garden bed just for junior. You could plant something to get them going, or you could do what my father did – hand it over and leave it to me. It looked terrible of course, but at least it was mine.

The Coleus is a perfect plant for starters; a fast growing annual which produces a rainbow of colored foliage from the moment it begins growing. There’s such a wide variety of colors that even the most pernickety of kids is going to find his or her favorite somewhere on its leaves.

They are easily started and grown from seed, either in the garden, or as a house plant.
Although a Coleus produces a stalk of tiny blue flowers, the plant will last longer if the spikes are pinched off. You’ll probably need to explain to your child that it is better and healthier for the plant if the flowers are removed. He probably won’t believe you, but tough.

This is a perfect plant for a youngster to learn how to pinch or disbud plants, because it would be next to impossible for them to inflict serious damage to this almost indestructible plant. Later on you can move on to plant propagation with them, and show them how to take cuttings to creating clones of the original.

The coleus is only one of many though. Morning glory, mandevilla and peas can be strung up along bamboo frames, and grow really quickly. Those mini banana trees are fun, and sunflowers are always good especially good at keeping them involved – especially when they realize that the plants are likely to be taller than they are.

The only thing to bear in mind as you wander aimlessly around the garden centre on Saturday morning with Junior in tow is that the plant shouldn’t be in any way toxic. Many are, so I would check with the inevitable old bloke who will appear out of nowhere before you part with your cash.

When you get home, just give them a few square meters in a forgotten corner of the garden and leave them to it. Anything to keep them quiet. You can then go off and do something more important. Enjoy your beer – cheers.



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