Plants that love kids
It is easy to think that children and beautiful gardens don’t mix well. Think of balls and feet trampling your precious tulips and you would be forgiven for concluding that never the twain shall meet. But there are plants that are both robust enough to be handled and beautiful enough to inspire interest and appreciation from even the wildest kids.
Inviting your child into the garden – whether to tend or play – allows them to build a relationship with plants and wildlife that will stay with them forever. It lets them get up close with other species and develop an attitude of care and reverence as they watch the cycle of life unfold – a cycle which all creatures, humans included, are part of. In fact, when designing gardens for play the right mindset is one where children are considered just another wild species amongst the flora and fauna that we are attempting to nurture.
Below are some suggestions to help you attract more ‘wild life’ to your garden.
Respect your elders
Elder (sambucus nigra) is one of our favourites as it has so many uses. Scented flowers in the spring for making cordial and fritters, dense summer foliage for playing hide and seek and in the autumn berries for making paints and pies. The flowers provide nectar for a variety of insects and the berries are eaten by birds and mammals. Small mammals such as dormice and bank voles love both the berries and the flowers. Many moth caterpillars feed on elder foliage, including the white spotted pug, swallowtail, dot moth and buff ermine.
Mints of all varieties are pretty indestructible once established and are great for cooking, baking, cordials and making perfumes. There are so many to choose from with interesting tones of eau de cologne, pineapple, lemon, apple, ginger, or even chocolate. Other herbs such as thyme, rosemary, chives and marjoram are also wonderful for sniffing and tasting and very attractive to bees. All great additions to the mud kitchen pantry.
Touchy feely plants with great names
The leaves of Lambs Ears (stachys byzantine) are wonderfully sensuous, good for caressing when there are no real lambs to hand and tolerant of most conditions. Introduce Angel’s Hair (artemisia) to your garden and as well as having something to stroke you might have the start of an interesting story too. For exciting sound effects try Lunaria annua, also known as Moonwort or Silver Dollar after the silvery seedpods that jingle when you brush past. Legend has it that having one in your garden will keep you honest!
A visual feast
If you want colour, shape and food try a weeping crab apple like the Louisa (malus louisa) Tolerant and disease resistant, her branches cascade down to the ground creating a ‘blossom den’ in spring, while the fruit is perfect for delicious crab apple jelly in the autumn. Be prepared to share the fruit with the birds and the flowers with the bees, as they both love her too.
If you enjoy the company of bees and butterflies consider planting sedums. They come in a wide variety of colours, are super resilient and it’s a delight to watch delicate creatures crawling on their beautiful flower heads.
Create little habitats
As well as providing food for squirrels (and humans) hazel trees such as Kentish Cob are great for making dens. The rods from willow can be planted straight in the ground to create wonderful living shelters which get better over time. When pruning larger trees let your children use cut branches to lean up against a hedge to make a little burrow or hang a hammock in a place where they can look up into the tree canopy. Nature is their home.
Let it go…let it go!
A lot of wildlife, including your kids, like it best when you leave some parts of your garden to go wild, so why not put the spade down and allow nature to take over. Hedgehogs, frogs, shrews, voles and a host of other creatures like piles of leaves and dead wood for sheltering and feeding on insects. Give them a home, be sensitive to their habits and you will have friends for life.