Preschool helpers

11 March 2019

Last week we had the pleasure of gardening with a few of the children from Mentmore Road Under-5s, who meet in the pavilion on Mentmore Road playing fields. They’ve joined us ever since we started gardening at the Memorial Gardens, usually sowing things like nasturtiums, peas and carrots, and coming down to see how they’re growing. Eating peas straight off the plant was one of the favourite activities last year!

This year, they were keen to help us back in early February, while it was still cold, too cold to sow anything. So we needed to find things for them to enjoy doing – and the obvious one was to help us get the ground ready for their peas and carrots. Instead of some of the usual Friends of the Earth volunteers clearing away self-sown plants that were in the way, we let the children do it – you can have two preschoolers pushing the fork into the ground next to one of the purple toadflax plants there, then (with a little help from one of the gardeners holding the handle), they can lever the whole plant and root ball up out of the ground. I thought they’d enjoy doing it; I never guessed how entranced they’d be to see it come of the ground, and to look at all the roots they don’t usually see. Some of the other children dug a hole in the next bed, then we all carefully lifted the uprooted plant across, placed it in the hole, and ‘put it to bed’ by filling the gaps with soil and pressing them down with a trowel (gently!). Then we moved another couple of purple toadflaxes to make a group, which gave everyone a turn at whatever they wanted to do.

And then, of course, the bit the children really, really love – the plants needed watering in! From long experience now, we use four child-sized watering cans, half-filled – that’s an amount they can manage without spilling the water over their feet, and taking turns isn’t so bad as your turn comes round again pretty quickly. When I go over to the tap to refill our ten-litre container, some of the children like following me over to have a look around – I love seeing the gardens through their eyes, they take pleasure in the most mundane tasks. They’re a real inspiration.

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