It’s official. Gardening is cool and younger generations are increasingly taking to the great outdoors to experience the wholesome joys of gardening. You can even find young gardeners sharing their projects on social media! This week on School Stream, we are revisiting the benefits of gardening and sharing five great projects. From foraging and floristry, and growing herbs to small-scale landscaping projects, we hope you find something here to inspire.
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What’s good about gardening?
Spoiler alert: nearly everything! It’s hard to find a downside to an activity that encourages lifelong learning, invites reflection, develops a connection to the natural world, is playful and rewarding in a way that is both long-term and instantaneous, and even an opportunity to nurture your mental health. Gardening is all this and an escape from the screen-based demands of everyday life too. If you’ve ever experienced the therapeutic goodness and job satisfaction that comes from weeding an overgrown patch, the undeniable feelings of smugness as you snip a few herbs from your garden to adorn dinner or the meditative experience of raking a pile of leaves, then you know firsthand that gardening has a lot to offer – and this is true for all ages. Even teenagers, who may well be reluctant at first, will benefit from getting out in the garden and their hands dirty.
The benefits for students
There are some real wins when kids and teens get their garden gloves on.
- For students who struggle to sit still in a classroom all day, gardening is a chance to shine. And everybody needs a chance to shine.
- School kitchen gardens lay the foundations for a lifetime of healthy eating. Growing, harvesting and cooking veggies establishes a direct link between where food comes from and healthy eating.
- School gardens can lead to increased parental engagement with school. A school veggie patch is a ‘teamwork makes the dream work’ scenario. There are many entry points for parents to help, from volunteering in the garden to helping in the kitchen with cooking classes or letting kids loose in the kitchen at home to flex their newfound cooking chops. Schools have found that migrant families and refugee-background families, in particular, feel confident getting involved with school life in the context of a garden project.
- Did somebody say, ‘teachable moment’? Gardening has them in spades(!). Alongside science-centric skills, gardening teaches students how to be responsible by caring for and nurturing a living thing. Soft skills such as patience, teamwork, cause, and effect, as well as lifelong learning, are just some of the skills gardening can teach.
- Incidental exercise, aka the best exercise, is a benefit of gardening that is worth mentioning. Gardening improves your endurance, strength, mobility and flexibility. The American Heart Association considers gardening ‘moderate exercise’ with digging, raking, and mowing falling under cardio. Gardening can also help improve dexterity and strength, muscle mass, aerobic endurance, and functional movement. Digging in the dirt can even help enhance bone density.
Five great garden projects for young green thumbs
1. Vertical gardens
They grow up so fast! Vertical gardens, that is. The Sydney Botanical Gardens has a great video tutorial showing how to create a DIY vertical and self-watering Thyme Tower. It uses recycled and found materials and is a great introduction to the possibilities of gardening with limited space. Don’t take our word for it though, there is also an entire discipline dedicated to studying the benefits of green walls in an educational context.
2. Mini ponds*
Mini ponds are a great way to immerse small children in the wonderful world of gardening, creating habitat for insects or amphibians and observing the ebb and flow of life in a micro eco-system. The key ingredient is, of course, a suitable, waterproof and sturdy vessel. The next thing to consider is placement. The Playground Professionals advise that “a mini pond should be placed in direct sunlight in order for them to flourish and grow. Aquatic plants and pondweeds require sun in order to oxygenate the water and help to keep it clean. If the plants are doing their job correctly, then the pond water won’t become stagnant.” When you’re filling your pond, use rainwater rather than from the tap, and include a layer of gravel or stones at the base to help creatures make a home. The absolutely delightful online home of the UK-based Royal Society for Protection of Birds has a great guide to building and maintaining a mini pond.
*Please be mindful of safety when installing and locating your pond. If you are submerging your pond, make sure that it can be easily seen. If your pond is bigger than 50cm wide, it is a good idea to put mesh just under the surface of the water.
3. Foraging, meet floristry
Rethinking the local environment through the lens of flower and foliage foraging to create an arrangement may be the on-ramp teenagers need to get in touch with their inner gardener. Many of them will have seen the booming trend among florists working with ‘everyday’ and overlooked foliage and flowers online. Encourage teenagers to go for a wander and view the local environment through new eyes as they look for materials to create an arrangement. There are loads of resources online, as well as plenty of guides detailing the etiquette and guidelines of foraging. Australian Geographic reminds us that: “First and foremost, in Australia, wherever you walk, you are on Country. Take a moment to remember that although urban foraging may be new to you, Aboriginal people have always gathered native plants while caring for Country.”
4. Grow your herbs
Herbs, alongside sunflowers, have one of the surest success rates and fastest turnaround times. Mint grows prolifically once established and can be grown easily from a cutting. A ten-centimetre stem with the lower leaves removed and then placed in a glass of water will sprout roots very quickly. When it comes to growing herbs from cuttings, soft varieties are a good place to start. Basil and parsley can also be propagated easily using the glass of water method. When it comes to sourcing a cutting, most gardeners love to share – but will appreciate you asking first.
5. Neon gardens
This is a creative design project and gardening experience in one. Teenagers will love the idea of cutting loose and building an ‘aesthetic garden”. Some of the ways this can be achieved are through brightly coloured cacti, neon dipped pots, and researching which of the classic flowers we know and love now come in neon colours so bright you will need sunglasses. Dahlias, Zinnias, Gladiolus, Cornflowers, Gomphrena, Delphinium, Cosmos and Snapdragons all fit the bill here. Pinterest is a treasure trove of images if you need inspiration. When a full-scale garden is out of the question. Apply the same principle on a smaller scale and create a terrarium.
It’s never been a better time to get out in the garden.
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