As we start to take the few tentative steps out of lockdown we have the opportunity to look back and reflect on lessons learnt. For me, spending time in my garden with my daughter has been one of the highlights. I always realised the benefits of a garden for my own wellbeing, the health benefits to both our mental and physical health have been well documented. This time spent at home with just our close family has made me realise the even wider benefits a garden can offer in bonding a family together.
Each of us have had different issues to deal with during the pandemic, whether that be having to self isolate due to medical conditions, looking after elderly parents or being parents of young children having to juggle work and home schooling.
Having a three year old daughter who turned four during lockdown ourselves, I can only confirm the last few months have been tough. Never have I been more grateful for the glorious weather and having a garden to escape to. As working parents our normal routines are usually hectic and I have to confess the garden is normally well down on the list. So much so that last year I gave away most of my plastic pots to our local nursery because I had concluded I would never have the time to sow seeds again! Instead we often squeezed in a trip to the nursery to buy a few plants for the vegetable plot and a couple of tomato plants and that would be all we could manage. The other big factor in choosing what plants to grow also centred around when we would be home to do the watering and get cover for watering if we went on holidays.
This chaos stopped over night, abruptly replaced with just the close family group needing to find a new normal. When I reflect on how we used to live, compared with the enforced quality time we have all now experienced, I am not sure I fully want to return completely to the old life!
Before the pandemic parents could often be heard chatting while at parties, waiting for swim class, or stood on the sidelines during football training of how they were so busy. Did we just make it this way? Personally I have seen a new side to our daughter and the self realisation that all they really need is to have their minds engaged. As parents and grandparents is it the easy way out to pay for someone else to entertain them? Or to think the only way we can feel like we have been good parents at a weekend is to have done something where we needed travel to the cinema, have a takeaway, go to the coast, essentially spend money and to leave home.
Personally as an older parent, I was never afforded the privileges of all the activities that are available today. I had to make up my own games, building robots from old cardboard boxes, making dens in the woods, simple pleasures that stimulated the mind and imagination. This time at home has been wonderful to hear my daughter making up pretend shops, and hunting for pirate treasure in the garden and hearing all the pretend worlds she escapes too, it brings back fond memories of my own childhood.
I am not saying we should never go out again, the opposite in fact, I truly believe that travel broadens the mind and its always nice to have a meal out or visit friends, but this should not be the norm. What I am saying is it’s the simple things that can give so much pleasure from sowing a few seeds to introducing children to the unusual and fascinating world of plants.
In our own garden we are lucky to have a vegetable plot and our own greenhouse, but you do not need these luxuries before you can enjoy planting a simple pot at the back door or on a sunny windowsill, and this can be the start of your children’s journey into the wonder of plants and horticulture. In our garden we have started off seeds from scratch and our daughter has helped us to pot these on into larger pots and into their final position in the ground. We have even started to harvest our ‘cut and come again’ lettuce and radishes. This has led to our daughter at least trying some of this produce and I truly hope these fond memories will last with her when she is an adult.
The beauty about gardening is we can sow lots of seeds and the cost is not preventative. Then we can stand back while our children learn key dexterity skills in pricking out seeds and planting them in larger pots. I have to say the control freak in me struggled a little with this concept, but the reality is if some get damaged and don’t grow we can always nip back to the greenhouse later and transplant some again properly, our children will never know!
I loved thinking creatively about trying to introduce academic lessons into the daily gardening tasks, getting children to count out the number of pots needed to match the number of seeds growing. There are valuable writing and spelling lessons too. We got our daughter to write out all the plant labels, seeing these in the garden brings me a real personal joy. Then there are the tasks they love, like getting their hands dirty in the compost and watering the plants with their own special watering can.
You can also get creative with exotic plants like the venus flytrap, which is always fascinating for children of all ages. We are also lucky in our garden to have a wide range of natural predators and pests to be controlled and the joy in seeing a frog in the garden and picking off caterpillars from brassicas being the particular favourites.
Hopefully this period of lockdown will have produced some positives and inspired the next generation of budding gardeners.
Written and photographed by - Mark Spencer