Indoor Gardening for Children
Miniature gardens can also be an absorbing occupation indoors; they can even be made without any plants.
Find a bowl 2 or 3 in. deep and half fill it with ashes or sandy gravel. Finish filling with a mixture of leaf mould, sand and stone chippings. Then make or buy some tiny Japanese houses, temples and figures and arrange them in a miniature landscape. Make lakes of looking-glass, or fill a small tin lid with water, after first painting the lid to give the water a realistic colour. Roads and paths, mountains, walls and bridges, can be made of fine gravel and small stones.
The spaces in the miniature garden can now be filled with berries, twigs, leaves andstuck in the sand, or live plants can be put in. The first alternative will amuse the child who likes to rearrange his garden frequently and does not want to wait for plants to grow. In the second case, dig up some mosses and small grasses and ferns from the garden, and plant them in the miniature garden. Be sure to keep them moist, and in a fairly shady position. On the other hand, if the miniature garden is kept fairly dry on a sunny window-sill, try growing Ionopsidium acaule, which makes a carpet of pretty mauve flowers less than 2 in. high during the summer and winter. Alyssum minimum Snow Carpet, with pure white flowers less than 4 in. high, and Calandrinia umbelluta, which is about 4 in. tall and has bright crimson flowers, would also mix in well. Make sure that the on the surface of the garden is fine and level. Sprinkle small pinches of seed on the surface and cover with a little more soil rubbed through a fine sieve. Press the soil firm with the fingers; keep it damp until the flowers have started to grow. Thereafter it will need very little water.
A GARDEN IN A GLASS CASE
A miniature garden enclosed by glass is usually called a terrarium; this type of garden can also be made in a bottle, but considerable skill is needed to insert the plants through the narrow neck of the bottle. A child will do best to use an old aquarium as a container for the garden. Put a layer of sand I in. deep at the bottom of the tank, followed by a thin layer of charcoal and a layer of good, dark, garden soil.
Stock the garden with plants that like shade and moisture, such as the tiny mosses, ferns and other small plants that can be found in most woods and deserted, overgrown gardens. Dig up plenty of soil with the plants, set them in the soil in the glass tank, and give them a fine sprinkling of water.
Cover the top of the tank with a piece of thick paper punched with a few holes to admit air, and keep the tank out of direct sunlight. The garden will now virtually look after itself, producing its own moisture in the enclosed space, and needing very little watering.
AN INDOOR WATER GARDEN
An aquarium or a large glass bowl or jar can also be used to make an indoor water garden. A small water garden can even be made in a 2-lb. jam jar. Put a layer of sand 1 in. deep into the bowl, followed by l in. of garden soil and another layer of sand. Then fill the bowl with water and let it stand until the water is clear.
Plants for the water garden can either be bought from a shop which sells aquaria or collected from a pond or stream, in which case be sure to dig up as much root as possible. Water milfoil (Myriophyllum), arrow-head (Sagittaria), and eelgrass (Vallisneria spiralis) are all suitable plants.
Push the roots through the top layer of sand into the soil, and then put a few stones round the stems to hold the plants down; otherwise they will float to the top of the bowl.
The sandy floor of the garden can be decorated with shells and attractive pebbles. Ifare to be included, wait until the plants are well rooted. Even a 2-lb. jam jar will hold one or two minnows. Do not overfeed the fish, or the water will quickly become unpleasant; a few baby water snails will help to keep it free from scum.
Keep the garden away from direct sunlight, and top up the water occasionally. Thin out the plants if they become too thick.
Bulbs can be grown in the garden, but they will flower earlier if they are planted indoors. Hyacinths, tulips andare the flowers usually planted indoors, but smaller bulbs such as crocuses, grape hyacinths, chionodoxas and scillas are just as interesting to grow, and cheaper to buy.
Bulbs are usually planted in damp fibre, but this means leaving them in the dark for several weeks. A child will find it more exciting to watch a bulb grow in a jar. Special bulb vases can be bought, but a glass tumbler, jam jar or milk bottle will do just as well. Fill the jar nearly to the top with pebbles, and add water to just below the surface of the pebbles. Place the bulb on the pebbles, pointed end uppermost, and make sure that the bulb itself is clear of the water. Stand the jar on a light window-sill, keep the pebbles watered, and the bulb will soon start to push roots down into the pebbles, and to send green shoots upward. Crocuses or other small bulbs can be grown in clumps in a bowl by planting several bulbs in the same way.
PLANTS FROM PIPS
It is most intriguing to see how quickly a fruit pip will produce a miniature tree. Plant the pip of an orange, lemon, grapefruit or pomegranate 1/4 in. deep in a pot full of good garden soil, and keep the pot warm and dark, for example in an airing cupboard, until the first shoot appears. Then put it on a sunny window-sill. Water the small plant well, and transplant it into a larger pot when it has grown two pairs of leaves. Plants grown from pips indoors will never become large enough to bear fruit, but they make most attractive plants for the house.
A date stone grown in the same way will produce a beautiful leafy plant that looks rather like an aspidistra. The stone needs to be planted rather more deeply than the pips described above, and the soil should be watered as soon as it starts to look dry.
It is also possible to grow a plant from an avocado stone (the seed). Put some newspaper in the bottom of a jam jar, fill the jar with water, and balance the stone of an avocado in the neck of the jar so that the larger end of the stone just touches the water.
Leave the jar in the airing cupboard for three or four weeks and bring it into the daylight when the first shoot appears. Roots will have grown down into the water by now, and the avocado should be planted in John Innes potting compost in a 4- or 5-in. pot. It may be necessary to break the jam jar to remove the plant for potting up, because the seed will most probably fill the neck of the jar.
A ROOT-TOP GARDEN
It is quite easy to make a pretty and unusual garden by growing the tops of root vegetables. A carrot top, for instance, will produce a mass of beautiful fernlike leaves within a few days. Cut the top off a carrot, leaving ¼ in. of the root and ¼ in. of leaf stem. Stand the carrot, leaf stump uppermost, in a saucer of water, and leave it on a sunny window-sill. Keep the saucer filled with water, and the carrot will sprout very quickly.
Other root vegetables can be treated in much the same way, and if, for instance, the tops of a beetroot, a turnip and a parsnip are grown together, the garden will be an attractive mixture of different coloured leaves. Put a layer of clean pebbles at the bottom of a shallow bowl or soup plate, stand the root tops on the pebbles, and wedge them in with another layer of pebbles. Half fill the bowl with water and put it on a sunny window-sill, adding more water when necessary.
A pineapple top will also sprout quite quickly. Choose a fresh pineapple top with a good solid growing top, allow it to dry for a few days, and then plant it in a bowl of garden soil mixed with sand. Keep it in a warm place, and do not give it too much water.
MUSTARD AND CRESS
Perhaps the favourite form of indoor gardening for a child is growing mustard and cress. Just sprinkle the seed on a piece of damp flannel or blotting paper, remembering that mustard germinates more quickly than cress, and should therefore be sown three or four days later. Keep the flannel damp, and before long there will be plenty of delicious mustard and cress for sandwiches.
The cresshog is even more amusing. Buy one of the specially made clay models of a hedgehog or some other animal (it must be made of clay to retain moisture), and soak it in water for five minutes or more. Soak the cress seeds too, and spread them evenly over the cresshog’s back with a finger or a knife. Fill the cresshog with water, cover it with an empty tin, and stand it on a plate in a warm place. Top up the water in the cresshog every day, and sprinkle it with water too.
When the cress is about ½ in. long, remove the tin and stand the cresshog on a light window-sill. It will still need daily-watering, and should be protected from direct sunlight and excessive heat. The cresshog’s ‘spines’ will soon turn green and be ready for cutting.