Our favourite garden designer and author Rupert Golby has built up a loyal following for his work on gardens in the Cotswolds and far beyond. Leonora had the chance to sit down with the brilliant Kew-trained gardener to discuss the roots of his gardening career and the best ways to get children interested in gardening.
How did you get into gardening?
My grandfather was a very keen amateur gardened who loved his garden. I was four or five years old when I first ventured out into the garden. My mother’s got an embarrassing photograph of me when I was four standing next to a Hollyhock that I’d grown.
Why is it important for children to learn about gardening?
It’s great that they know where things come from. It’s important children know, for example, how a potato or a peanut grows. Not many people know that peanuts grow underground and they’re not nuts on a tree, they’re actually tubers. So I think it’s really important to know where their food comes from.
What’s more exciting than children putting some Mustard Cress on a plate for two weeks and then eating it?
Learn how to make cress heads with Gardening With Children here.
What skills can children pick up from spending time in the garden?
The first thing would be patience. If you look after something it can repay you. They can get an idea of timescales and learn that not everything is instant, in an age where everything is instant. For example, an apple tree can take five years before it produces an apple. It gives you a different set of timing and timescale.
Is it best to start with flowers or vegetables with our budding gardeners?
I should think something you can eat, as it has an appeal. But what’s more fun than growing sunflowers? You’ve got something that grows like a rocket. You can really enjoy seeing it grow 6-8 feet.
Could you recommend a starter project for toddlers and something more advanced for older children?
Putting runner beans in a jam jar with some paper on them. You can put water in the bottom of it then put runner beans between the side and the jam jar. The paper and the stem draw water up so the bean starts germinating. You can see the root going down and the shoot going up.
Check out this fantastic tutorial at Science Sparks here.
Are there any indoor activities you’d recommend? Perhaps a mini windowsill project so they’re raring to go when spring comes.
Pick chestnut branches in March and bring them in and put them in a big glass of water. The sticky buds will burst and all the leaves will come out and even the flowers will come out.
How can we stop children getting discouraged when they have to wait days or weeks to see sprouting or growth from their project?
At teatime everyday you could look and see what’s happened or draw it. I think you would quickly see things, especially if you’re growing cress.
Are there any gardens around London that we must visit for inspiration? Could you recommend any kids’ clubs for keen gardeners?
When it comes to identifying flowers and learning the different types, where’s the best place to start?
It’s amazing how you absorb without realising if you’re interested in something. When I was at college we used to have fortnightly plant identification tests.
Favourite tree or plant – what would it be?
Impossible! It usually changes with the month. I always struggle to think what would be my favourite scented plant.