If you’ve read a gardening or lifestyle magazine in the last ten years, chances are you will have seen an article on kids and gardening. You know the type; the sort accompanied by high gloss photos of quaint little (immaculately maintained) kitchen gardens filled with raised beds, shiny gumboot-wearing kids holding colourful child-sized spades focusing intently as they plant seeds in perfect dark loamy soil while watched over by some patient learned adult. Let me just get this out of the way…it’s not true.
Gardening with kids is messy. That’s a no-brainer, really. Dirt plus kids equals mess. If someone turned up to take a magazine shoot of my kids gardening they’d find us all wearing our oldest most ill-fitting clothes, gumboots that have actually seen mud (among other things), and mismatched over-sized gardening gloves. That’s if indeed we’ve made any preparations at all and haven’t just wandered out in whatever we’re currently wearing. We do have those cute little mini gardening tools, but they’re almost always instantly covered in a thick layer of mud before being carried off by our toddler and dumped somewhere no one else can find them (until we accidentally stand on them in bare feet a week later). Usually, as far as tools go, the kids end up using a combination of their hands and whatever adult tools I’ve brought along in the naïve belief I might get a chance to do some gardening too.
It’s chaotic. The toddler needs constant supervision to keep anything in the garden from damaging him, and him from damaging anything in the garden. The others need just as much supervision but in different ways. No sooner do I get the littlest one busy digging a hole than the next oldest appears at my elbow holding an empty pot and a crushed looking watermelon seedling saying, “Mum, I don’t know how this one got so wobbly.” Hmmm…. A second later I look around and find the toddler excavating the row of corn we planted earlier that day. Far out. Meanwhile the eldest one is busily attempting to cram a squash seedling into a hole about half its size.
There will be casualties – usually plants. I know many gardeners plant more than they require with the thought, “one plant for the slug/snail/rabbit/possum/wallaby, one for me.” With kids you really should do the same: “one for being hit with a basketball, one for being pulled out by the toddler, one for being watered to death with a pink plastic watering can…and one for me.” Occasionally people are gardening casualties too. Kids are lethal with anything that falls into the category of “pokey” – think bamboo stakes, gardening forks, plant labels. Treat all pokey things like scissors – pointed end downward at all times. Keep a careful watch out for innocent bystanders, especially nearby siblings. Pokey things have a tendency to gravitate towards nearby siblings.
Truly, any self-respecting magazine stylist would take one look at our gardening sessions and run screaming in the other direction.
But. There’s always a but. At the end of the day we’re not out in the garden to be glamorous. Or on-trend. We’re not even out there because it’s educational and good for our kids to know where their food comes from. We’re out there because…it’s fun. There is something truly addictive about opening up a packet, putting a tiny little dot of a thing in some dirt, watering it and watching it grow and produce stuff that you can eat. It’s nothing less than real, every day magic. No smoke, no mirrors, no illusions here. This is the real deal. And getting to experience that alongside your kids, those people you love most in the world…that’s pretty magic too.