“It’s not always about trying to get them gardening,” she explains, “just getting them outside is half the battle. Putting up a tent is a great idea to get them out there, they can pretend it is whatever they want it to be and it can be used even if it’s showery. Before long you’ll find they almost live outdoors.”
“To get them gardening, it’s a good idea to give them a plot of their own but not just a scrappy bit of the garden that’s no good for anything else. I’m always horrified by parents who give their kids a dodgy patch of garden that’s full of stone or weeds or in the shade all day. Even if you have only got a small garden they can grow veg in an old wheelbarrow or flowers in a couple of big pots. The important thing is that they own it and are in charge of it, then they’ll be hooked. My own kids designed their little gardens and I built them; they were in charge of the project” she laughs, “they loved it; they have little paths, bird baths and seats and it has become their space.”
“We also have treasure hunts in the garden where one clue leads to another and another and it always ends up with finding chocolate coins as the reward. We used to hide their toys but some got hidden too well and were still missing at bedtime which caused all sorts of angst.”
The creative Mum, who also writes for the Guardian Weekend magazine, has another tried and tested method to encourage kids to get gardening, “Just tell them not to touch the tools, do not dig, do not get dirty,” she laughs, “then you’ll never stop them digging!”
“Kids also love dens and secrets, so we created a little secret area for them behind the garage, we put an old chest of drawers for them to store stuff, a few wooden chairs and an old outdoor blackboard for them to write secret messages on. Screening it all off with a bit of willow screen gave them extra privacy.”
“ Harvesting veg is another good way to get them involved. My kids will eat lettuce from the garden like rabbits but won’t touch it from the table; at least they get good food even if it is by stealth!”
Dawn also has ideas to get teenagers outdoors too. “Teenagers like a cool place to hang out, like a dug out fire pit that doubles as a conversation pit where they can just hang about and be moody. A swing is great too as it’s easy to swing in a sulky manner and be really annoyed with the World; put the swing in a private place so they get their own space.”
“We have just created an outdoor cinema in our garden. It’s really easy with a projector and some blackout blinds, you can find out how at littlegreenfingers.com.
Recently Dawn has become the Horticultural expert for CBBC’s Mr Bloom’s Nursery, “I have to answer more unusual gardening questions, things that bother the kids, like ‘could a Brussels sprout be bullied by a cabbage?’
And the answer?
“Yes, I think it’s possible,” she admits, “Cabbages are like the big brothers of sprouts so there could well be a bit of bullying in the veg patch.”
For more of Dawn’s great summer holiday ideas visit www.rhs.org.uk/children