29/03/2018 12:06 BST | Updated 29/03/2018 12:06 BST

The Beauty Of Gardening With Toddlers

A. Hirani
counting seedlings

I’m struggling to believe that Spring is actually here.  It’s felt like the longest, harshest winter.  We’ve had three rounds of snow, school closures and cancelled trains.  Every virus, cough and pox has swept through the town, taking us down as their victims.  Currently overcoming chicken pox, our children have felt pretty miserable, with the odd moment of cabin-fever-fuelled energy: “I’m doing the itch-dance”, says our three year old while the younger dives off the sofa.  Now into our second week of quarantine, we’ve exhausted every jigsaw and colouring book; we’ve finished watching every Paw Patrol episode and strayed into the dark land of afternoon repeats of CBeebies; we’ve baked cakes, biscuits and bread.  But better than all of this, as the days gradually lengthen? We planted some seeds.

In an emotionally-intense chicken pox fog, my two tots and I gardened our way to recovery.  In a pre-pox bustle of activity, we’d bought seed packets from the local supermarket, saved old yogurt pots for plant pots and hauled a bag compost back from the shop in the bottom basket of the buggy.  The boys had chosen sunflowers, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkin and courgettes.  A bit surprising as neither of them eat the latter.  Maybe this could be the turning point? Like all little children, they have their own unique way of helping. The older enjoys an imaginary world or pretending to be various animals or dinosaurs, so his participation was peppered with bestial sounds and movement, including a swishing stick-tail that sent the seeds and pots flying.  The younger is keen as mustard to get involved, but it takes every ounce of my patience to keep calm when newly planted seeds are suddenly dug again, or seedlings swamped in water.

Both helped to fill pots with compost, sowing seeds and watering.  The best seeds for little hands were the big sunflower seeds, cucumbers and even bigger pumpkin seeds.  In retrospect, I should have just sown the tomato plants myself.  The seeds are absolutely tiny.  Minuscule.  Microscopic.  My enthusiastic little helpers flung several seeds across the trays.  I tried to redistribute, but with damp compost everywhere, I had no idea how many, if any, were in each pot. Next, the watering.  For my 22 month old, there’s no activity more wonderful, more fun-filled, more brilliant, than holding a filled small watering can.  The power, the freedom, the responsibility. I love to try and nurture this enthusiasm.  I really do, but it took saintly tolerance to simply smile and redirect the water spray to avoid drowning the tiny seeds.  Calls for “more more” water had to be directed to the ivy.

After an hour of ‘gardening’, I was exhausted.  The littlest one was still earnestly watering the ivy while my older helper was busily acting out a scene between a triceratops and an anaconda.  Their mood had changed from irritable to lively in one short activity.  They both seemed genuinely proud to have helped with such important work.  They were both covered in soil, water and smiling. Despite testing my patience to the brink, I couldn’t help but feel happy, too. Their genuine joy and excitement was infectious.

The next day, they were both disappointed that nothing had grown yet: just boring tubs of dirt.  And the same the following day and the same again after that.  Yet, each pot was delicately watered (by the older) and the youngest helped to push the plant labels in.

And then, the first shoots appeared.  Sunflowers first.  Little green stems with the seed still attached to its head, like a miniature tree.  The blessed miracle of life, there on our kitchen window sill.  So tiny, so simple, so readily taken for granted, but through the eyes of a toddler, these little seedlings are pure magic.

Every morning, they come downstairs and go straight to see the seeds, charting their gradual progress. New green shoots are a cause for great celebration.  The pots where still nothing seems to grow, receive gentle cajoling, songs and dancing.  Maybe they’ll grow tomorrow.

I also find myself rushing to the window sill, sharing in their excitement.  We’re hopeful for continued growth; we’re dreaming of home-grown veg. My children might start feasting on courgettes and butternut squash and runner beans... This is all that is good in life. Goodbye Winter.  Goodbye coughs and colds.  Hello Spring! Hello new life!

R.Gurnham
planting

Like this? Folllow Rebecca’s brilliant blog, ‘The Night Feed’ here.