For any keen young gardeners in the family, few things can rival having a greenhouse of their own and aside of the obvious new horticultural possibilities it opens up, there are huge potential educational benefits to be had. Not all greenhouses are the same, however, so making the most of these opportunities means getting the design right and above all else, if it’s going to be for a child, it’s vital that it’s properly set up for a child.
With very few exceptions, most of the typical greenhouse equipment, staging and tools on sale in garden centres and DIY shops are not specifically intended for younger gardeners. That doesn’t, of course, mean that they cannot be used, but things which are too big can make jobs awkward, so it’s important to be aware of this when you’re making your selection. It really comes down to the individual children involved – their age, level of skill and so on – and while some future-proofing is a good idea, avoid the temptation to build in too much room for your youngster “to grow into.” If working in “their” greenhouse isn’t an enjoyable and relatively easy experience from day one, you may end up putting them off the whole idea!
Probably the single most important aspect to bear in mind is the working height, since it affects both comfort and safety. If you’re a dab hand at a bit of DIY, producing something suitable probably isn’t going to be a problem, but if your carpentry skills – or available time – don’t allow this, there are alternatives. Many kinds of modular staging are readily available which can be used at a lower level to begin with, and then have the upper shelves added as the child grows. Although they can cost a little more to begin with, they should be a good investment for the future.
Any of the usual choices of materials and type apply to the child’s greenhouse too, though obviously, depending on age and ability, safety issues make some designs better options than others. While the traditional aluminium or wood and glass might be well suited to responsible older children, the range of reasonably priced polycarbonate-glazed greenhouses now available means that younger kids – and nervous parents – can still enjoy a spot of stress-free gardening. For the very young, there’s also the option of one of the polythene covered metal framed constructions to consider. Although many of them are designed for adult use and sold as “mini-greenhouses”, one step up from a cloche, some of them are large enough to be in perfect scale for use by small children. The frame will eventually rust and the plastic cover probably tear – and the youngsters will need constant supervision around what is effectively a giant plastic bag – but as a low cost introduction to the joys of greenhouse gardening, they’re hard to beat.
What to grow is something that can ideally be left up to the children involved themselves, though you may have to diplomatically steer them away from anything too outlandish! Much will depend on their interests, and depending on whether they’re keen to “grow-their-own” or try their hand at cultivating some particular kind of flower, for instance, the selection will probably tend to make itself. It’s certainly worth encouraging them to try easier varieties, at least at first, and particularly with very young children, things which will get going relatively quickly. There’s nothing like a bit of success, and no one really wants to be looking at an empty pot for weeks on end – and no matter how patient you are, there are limits to how long you can be expected to wait when you’re only five!
It’s also probably a good idea to get youngsters keeping some kind of record from the outset. For one thing it encourages good habits that should serve them well in their future gardening activities, but it also helps keep the interest ticking along when nothing much is happening. It doesn’t have to be anything too forced; something age-appropriate will be perfect, whether that’s formal notes, a scrap-book, or simply drawing a picture, it all adds to the experience. One thing’s for sure, if your youngsters are into their gardening, giving them a greenhouse is the perfect antidote to Britain’s unpredictable climate and there’ll always be something to do, whatever the weather. Never again those dreaded words – “I’m bored!”