Sophie George, 5, and Sofia Hussain, almost 5, of Sackville, plant an indoor garden. Photo by Bruce Murray, VisionFire

Growing a green thumb

Keep the gardening interest thriving indoors

By Jodi DeLong
Photography by Bruce Murray/VisionFire

Do you remember the first plant you grew in a garden? For me, it was Tancook Island Long Blue potatoes. I planted them with my grandfather’s help at his farm in Barss Corner, N.S. when I was five or six. I don’t remember if they produced a crop, but I remember the thrill of puttering in the warm soil and tucking the chunks of potatoes into the ground, then covering them with sawdust. I swear that’s when the seedswere planted for my love of gardening.  

Children generally love to play in the soil, and love to watch something grow. We’re all done gardening outside now for this year, but that just means there’s time to garden in the house. With a few simple supplies, you and your child can have fun growing food or flowering plants all winter long. 

The first thing you’ll need is a very sunny windowsill, such as one facing south or west. A plant grown inside isn’t going to get the same amount of light it would outdoors in a sunny location,
so the brightest spot in your house is the place to start growing. You can also buy supplemental lighting systems at reasonable prices, and that may be the way to go, depending on your windows. 

You can grow plants in anything from a jar of water to any sort of container with drainage holes in the bottom — eggshells and egg cartons, clean cans or funky ideas like toys and old shoes. The main thing is to make sure there is a drainage hole or two, which you can make easily with a hand drill or even just a needle or nail, depending on the size of the container.

Buy some good potting soil at your local nursery or garden centre. Don’t dig up soil from the yard, as this can have weeds and other pests. Bagged soil is sterile and often comes with fertilizer mixed in to give your plants a good start.

What you plant indoors depends on you and your child’s interests. Many like to experiment with growing from seeds, while others like to take cuttings from house plants and start those. A popular pastime with school projects is to grow plants from bits of leftover foods, such as an avocado plant grown from a pit, or garlic or onion greens grown from bulbs, or even a pineapple plant grown from the top of a fresh pineapple. 

Growing a plant from a seed or cutting takes some time, and to help keep your child interested in the process, grow a few string beans. These will germinate in just a few days and watching them come up out of the ground and unfold into a delightful plant is a satisfying pastime. Other easy-to-grow-from-seed food plants include radishes, peas — try growing a pot of these and using the shoots on sandwiches and in salads — and salad greens of all sorts. 

If you want a quick start at windowsill growing, buy a few kitchen herbs at your grocery store (popular varieties include basil, oregano, parsley and mint) and as a bonus, you can teach your child how these popular greens are used in meal-making. 

Who doesn’t love beautiful flowers? We have flowering houseplants available year-round, and some of them are easy to grow with your child. Popular choices include the kalanchoes, with brightly coloured single or double flowers and fleshy leaves; Christmas and Easter cactus, with their exotic flowers in hot shades of red, orange, pink and gold; African violets, which come in a rainbow of colours; and the gorgeous and easy-to-care-for moth or Phalaenopsis orchids.

Purchased plants should come with information tags so you know how much light they require and how often to water them. You can teach your child about plant care by collecting these plant tags into an album. 

A fun pastime to share with your children is creating a terrarium or fairy garden. This is where creativity really comes into play as you set up miniature landscapes accented with pretty stones, marbles or coloured sand, and small toys or ornaments. Use small succulent plants, which are slow growing and beautiful. These easy-care plants will hold their shape and often produce gorgeous flowers. You can also try growing air plants (Tillandsia species). These are fascinating plants that don’t require any soil, just misting several times a week. 

As always, if you’re looking for more information and great ideas, hit up a website like Pinterest and enter “indoor gardening with children” in the search box. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll find.  

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