Call to help young gardeners 'get their hands dirty' by sowing hardy plants this autumn

As the seasons shift from summer sun to the first golden hues of autumn’s fall so too does attention turn to the last gifts of the garden before winter sets in.

A little girl with muddy hands enjoys gardening activities in the garden. Credit Line RHS / Georgi Mabee

The end of summer shouldn’t mark a return to indoor play, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has said, as it calls on children to ‘get their hands dirty’ in the great outdoors.

From sowing hardy plants to carrying out soil sensory tests and making a bug hotel, now is the time it says, to grasp the harvest of nature’s autumnal joys.

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Under its campaign, the RHS is highlighting the benefits of children getting their hands dirty this autumn, with gardening known to deliver health, wellbeing and environmental gains.

Pupils harvest crops of fruit and vegetables to make soup for the Royal Horticultural Society's (RHS) Big Soup Share in 2019. Photo RHS / Luke MacGregor

“We are almost running out of time, with less light in the evenings and as children go back to school,” Guy Barter, chief horticulturist for the gardening charity, told The Yorkshire Post.

“We are encouraging people to take advantage of it, to use their gardens, or communal spaces, and enjoy that access to nature while we’ve still got it.

“There is that pleasure of the harvest, and still time to sow for salads and garnishes before the stresses of the spring.”

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Pupils harvest their crops of vegetables to make soup for the Royal Horticultural Society's (RHS) Big Soup Share at Charlton Manor Primary School in 2019. Photo RHS / Luke MacGregor

At Harrogate’s RHS Harlow Carr, he said, work for teams is “never-ending”, with gardeners now busy replacing summer plants, readying for winter bulbs and ‘beautifying’ beds.

Hailing the 58-acre site’s stream gardens as among the finest in Britain, he praised its world-famous spring primulas and vibrant autumnal colours.

Such sight of growth in nature and tending to the changing seasons inspires a sense of wellbeing for all, he added, as well as children’s enjoyment of the great outdoors.

“We’ve got a little window of opportunity at a time when it’s particularly needed,” said Mr Barter. “It’s actually a really nice time of year for the garden, with not as much hard graft as there is in the spring. It’s a bit of pleasure for parents and entertaining for children as well.”

Sensory soil tests

In its campaign, the RHS is encouraging children to explore their gardens, from messy sensory soil tests to sowing hardy onions, spinach and beans this ready to harvest in the early spring.

Other ideas include setting up a treasure hunt for items that can be built into a bug hotel, creating a mini-wormery, or collecting seeds from spent chard, lettuce and sunflowers ready to grow next year.

The charity highlighted research that has shown the positive impact of outdoor learning and play, with four in five schools believing it improved the mental and physical wellbeing of pupils.

“There’s a huge wealth of evidence that spending time outdoors is beneficial for making people feel better,” said Mr Barter, highlighting activities from making a mud kitchen to bulb planting for windowsills.

“The nice thing about gardens is you can walk out the back door and into a bit of nature. Compared to a walk in the park or a stroll in the wood, you have a certain agency in the garden – doing things with your own hands. It’s well-known to induce feelings of wellbeing.”

Outdoor play

Andrea Van Sittart, head of outreach development at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), said: “Many of the schools, groups and families that we work with are eking out every last inch of space to get children learning and playing outdoors.

“From fruit-bearing baskets on balconies ripe for the picking to make-shift mud kitchens using old pots and pans, gardening provides so many opportunities to teach, calm and inspire.”

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