Children are fascinated by plants and animals, especially if the
outcome is edible or impressive. The only problem is that they’re also quite
quick to lose interest when less-than-spectacular results are achieved after a
long wait. Obviously there’s an element of risk to cultivating any plant, but
we felt we should draw up a list of the plants we found the easiest and the
most satisfying to grow. Most of them don’t require too much specialist
knowledge, and nearly all of them can be grown in confined spaces. All of them
will capture the minds of youngsters and adults alike, hopefully inspiring more
people to grow their own vegetables at home.
We’ve decided to split this post into two categories – vegetables,
and everything else. The “everything else” category is an eclectic mix of
this-and-that, but we felt we ought to give precedence to the vegetables
section for two reasons: Most youngsters are interested in food and, boys
especially, will be doubly entertained by the notion of snacks growing in the
garden. Also, healthy eating is one of the most important elements of education
and the knowledge your child needs to nourish itself will last a whole
This might not get your child’s heart racing at dinner time, but
if they’re used to the dingy, dank stuff from supermarkets then they have no
reason to be excited. Home-grown lettuce with vinaigrette will bring your child
‘round to salad being acceptable, even if they’re unconvinced currently.
The only thing we should mention with this is that carrots are
liable to bend and be knocked out of shape by rocks in the soil. Your child will have the opportunity to
plant a seed in the ground, and then mysteriously dig up an eight-inch root in
that exact spot a few months later.
Your child may or may not like radishes, but they’re among the
easiest plants to grow and will encourage an interest into more diverse tastes.
If your child does not like them, consider “sculpting” them by scoring them
slightly then plunging them into cold water. They’ll look cool, and taste a bit
Incredibly easy to grow, but even easier to incorporate into
dishes. You can toss them into salads, add them to kebabs, use them to garnish
dishes, put them in your Bolognese… they have a certain sweetness which you’ll
be able to appreciate even more when you eat them straight from the garden.
Again, so easy to grow and they work in many summer meals. These
are so easy that a lot of people don’t even bother with planting or pots – just
score some holes into a bag of compost and away you go. Watch out for tomato
blight – the same spores which demolish potato harvests – and if you detect signs of blight in your plant, pick all the
fruit at whatever stage and turn it into chutney.
This will grow indoors quite happily, provided it has the sunlight
it needs to photosynthesise. (Never too young to start
learning about these processes!) The magic of basil lies not in its biology but
in its taste, which brings any Italian dish to life. Try cooking the leaves on
pizza for an aromatic addition.
Alongside its sister Thyme, these two stalwarts of the herb
cupboard are evocative smells for anyone who grew up in a foodie household.
There are different types of thyme for your child to explore (try the
distinctly citrus-scented lemon thyme) and rosemary goes almost too well with
Who doesn’t like strawberries? They’re incredibly good for you,
even if served with cream, and they’re fun to grow. Once they’ve established
themselves, they’ll put out “runners” and colonise whole areas of the garden.
After three years, dig them up and start again to maximise fruit production.
Plant garlic in Autumn or even Winter, covering them up with hay
and watering them in the Spring (once you remember what all that hay is doing
all over the garden). The flavour of garlic is a brilliant addition to many
dishes and is a key ingredient in a lot of French cuisine.