Plants for a Children’s Garden

TIME-OF-DAY PLANTS

These are among the most interesting plants to grow, for if a number of different ones are planted, it is possible to tell the time according to which flower is open.

It is necessary to get up very early, at about four o’clock, to see the large blue flowers of morning glory (Ipomoea) unfurl. At about midday, the flowers start to close slowly again. Ipomoea is a hardy annual that flowers all summer and will quickly twine its way up a string; it should be sown in April.

Californian poppy (Eschscholzia) starts to open at about nine in the morning, and the flowers do not close until about five in the evening. This is a hardy annual that will grow in any ordinary soil. Sow seed in the spring, and it will produce brilliant red or orange flowers during the summer.

The pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) and Convolvulus tricolor open a little later than eschscholzia, at about ten or eleven o’clock, but usually close at about the same time, though the convolvulus may remain open on moonlit nights. Both are easy to grow and should be planted in the spring. The purple pasque flower, a perennial, blooms in April, and Convolvulus tricolor, which is an annual, from July to September.

Neither honeysuckle (Lonicera) nor the evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) open fully until six or seven o’clock in the evening. The scent of the honeysuckle is strongest at this time too, in order to attract the long-tongued moths and ensure pollination. The evening primrose, though yellow, is quite unlike the small primroses seen in the spring. It is one of the most spectacular time-of-day plants, for the flowers burst open very quickly, and at dusk it is possible to watch them opening at the rate of eight or ten a minute. Both plants are easy to grow, and flower all summer. Most evening primroses are biennials, and should be sown in July; honeysuckle is a perennial shrub and can be trained to climb up a wall, trellis or pole.

Several other plants, though not strictly time-of-day plants, react to different conditions in interesting ways. Daisies, thistles and mesembryanthemums, for instance, open in sunlight, but close up in damp weather or rain to protect their pollen.

WRITING WITH PLANTS

It is very easy to write a name in flowers, and in this way individual plots can be clearly labelled. Trace the child’s name in large letters in the soil, and sprinkle the letters with seeds of Virginia stock (Malcomia maritima) or some other small plant. If Virginia stock, an annual, is sown at intervals from the autumn onward, it will produce flowers in a variety of colours from the following spring right through to the autumn.

Mustard and cress grown in the same way will produce a very neat, bushy name, and have the added advantage that they can later be cut for eating. Sow the seed thickly at intervals throughout the summer; mustard germinates more quickly than cress, so it should be sown three or four days later. Do not cover the seeds with soil, but simply press them gently into the ground with a flat board. The seedlings should be ready for cutting in less than a fortnight.

It is also most exciting to watch a name increase in size with the plant. This is done by cutting the name into the skin of a small marrow—as the marrow grows, the inscription grows with it. Marrows can also be decorated by attaching a cardboard stencil to the young marrow with a fairly loose rubber band, to allow for growth. By the time the marrow is ripe it will be green, except for the part covered by the stencil, which remains white. In this way quite an intricate design can be imprinted on a marrow. Marrows should be sown in rich soil in April or May, and cut while they are still young and tender.

AMUSING AND UNUSUAL PLANTS

There are plenty of unusual plants that are easy to grow, and which will afford endless amusement to a child.

A loofah is particularly unusual, and useful as well, for in less than a year one plant will provide several small loofahs for the bath.

In April, sow the large black seed of a loofah (Luffa) in a pot full of good garden soil. Keep the pot on a sunny window-sill, and by about the end of May, a small, marrow-like plant should have appeared. Plant this out in the garden, and in the autumn the small loofahs, looking just like marrows, will be ready to pick. Put them back on the window-sill to dry out; then peel off the skin to reveal the loofahs inside.

Gourds are also fun to grow and make an attractive form of decoration for the house during the winter. After picking, let them dry a little, then varnish the coloured varieties so that they retain their colour and have a good shine; the white varieties can be painted. Grow gourds from seed in exactly the same way as loofahs.

Many children’s games require coloured counters, but these need not be bought. Simply plant beans that have seeds of different colours. For instance, the runner bean Streamline has scarlet seeds, and Masterpiece is one of several broad beans with green seeds. Dwarf beans such as Canadian Wonder (purple), Granda (white), Brown Dutch (brown), Phoenix Claudia (rose-pink) and Golden Butter (black with a white spot), will also provide plenty of coloured seeds to use as counters.

All these varieties are easy to grow and should be sown in late April or during May; two or three further sowings at intervals of a fortnight will ensure a succession of beans for picking during the late summer.

The seeds are also useful for filling small bags for use in place of a ball.

There are some varieties of bush tomato that produce unusual yellow fruit, and others that produce the delicious miniature cherry or currant tomatoes. Bush tomatoes seldom grow more than 1 ft. high and require no staking or pinching out of the side shoots. Plant out in May in a sheltered, sunny position, and the fruit can be picked at the beginning of September.

An attractive and interesting plant for a children’s garden is the burning bush (Kochia scoparia trichophila). It looks like a miniature pine tree, with masses of narrow leaves, and earns its English name by turning a deep fiery-red in late summer. Kochia is a half-hardy annual, and should be sown in April or May.

The rose, Masquerade, is another plant that lives up to its evocative name, for its flowers are yellow when they open, deepening in colour to salmon-pink and finally to a rich crimson as they mature. The bush is often covered with clusters of different-coloured blooms at the same time, and is a good illustration of the use of varietal or cultivar names, for Masquerade describes vividly the gay carnival appearance of this particular rose. A floribunda variety that grows to a height of about 4 ft., Masquerade may be planted at any time from late October to late March when the ground is free from frost and reasonably dry.

If a conservatory is available, or a small corner of the greenhouse, children will enjoy the sensitive plant, Mimosa pudica. At the slightest touch the leaves will droop, and the small secondary leaves will quickly close tightly in pairs. If the plant is given an interval to recover, this treatment can be repeated. This mimosa is usually treated as an annual. Sow three seeds in a pot in April or May, keep the pot in a sunny position, and water it well. With careful treatment the plant will live right through the following winter.

Another plant that will amuse children is the mouse-tail plant (Arisarum proboscideum). Projecting from arum-like foliage, the base of the green and brown flower-bract looks remarkably like the hindquarters of a mouse, tapering to a curving ‘tail’ about 5 in. long. Plant this hardy perennial in a moist, shady position in early autumn, and it will flower early the following summer.

QUICK RETURN PLANTS

Nobody wants to wait a very long time for plants to grow, least of all children, and there are many plants that produce results in quite a short time.

Annuals are among the most satisfactory quick return plants, for they are easy to grow, and if sown in April, will provide a bright display of flowers right through the summer. Some annuals-have already been mentioned, but the following are also excellent subjects for a children’s garden.

Candytuft (Iberis amara) has well-scented flowers in a variety of bright colours from early summer onward.

Clarkia produces a succession of showy flowers from July to October. They are pink, lilac or purple, and are excellent for picking, for they last well in water.

Cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) are al-ways popular for their bright flowers, which are usually white or blue and appear in July.

Jumping Jack (Impatiens roylei) is an amusing plant, for the ripe seed pods wriggle and curl if held gently between the fingers. If left alone, the pods eventually explode, making a considerable noise, and scatter their seeds in every direction. This plant is a type of balsam, with purple flowers in August. It will grow as tall as 5 to 8 ft. and likes a shady position.

Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) has large blue flowers from July to September. The seed heads that follow look like tiny balloons, and it is fun to paint them gold or silver and use them for Christmas decorations.

Mignonette (Reseda odorata) has a delightful scent and spikes of yellowish flowers that last from June till October.

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) are al-ways colourful, and the Gleam Hybrids range in colour from deep mahogany to pale orange-pink. Nasturtiums flower all summer, and the poorer the soil, the happier they are. It is especially exciting to watch the climbing varieties grow.

Scabious (Scabiosa) has flowers that look like pin-cushions. The annual scabious are usually blue and are useful for cutting, for they continue to bloom from July to September.

Sunflowers (Helianthus annum) are most exciting plants, for they may grow as tall as 10 ft.; they make a good background for a garden. The yellow flowers, which have round, dark brown centres, are as big as plates, and look almost like human faces from a distance. Plant sunflowers in a sunny position and they will grow very fast, flowering from July to September. Save the flower-heads, for chickens love to peck out the seeds.

Sweet sultan (Centaurea moschata) belongs to the same family as the cornflower, and has fluffy flowers of white, yellow or purple from June to September. It has a spicy scent, and may owe its English name to the fact that it was brought from the Near East, much of which was then under the rule of the Ottoman sultans, in the 17th century.

Tree mallow (Lavatera trimestris) has huge rose-pink flowers in June, which continue to appear until the autumn. Find a sunny corner for this tall, hardy plant.

It is quite amusing to mix up any annual seeds that may be left over after planting, add some sand, and scatter the mixture thinly over a spare corner of the garden. An exciting assortment of flowers will soon appear, and the children can have a competition to see who can name the greatest number of kinds.

Some vegetables also produce results in a remarkably short time. As well as mustard and cress, it is possible to have a succession of lettuces and radishes throughout the summer if the seeds are sown at intervals of about a fortnight from March or April onward. Varieties of lettuce that are particularly recommended for a children’s garden are the small, crisp Tom Thumb; the larger Webb’s Wonderful; and the very hardy Continuity, which has brown-tinged leaves and a delicious nutty flavour. Early potatoes also grow quickly, but occupy a lot of space. If planted towards the end of March, they will be ready to harvest early in June, by which time it is too late to put in other plants. So do not choose potatoes unless there is a spare corner of the garden that can be entirely devoted to this crop.

16. February 2012 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Featured Articles, Garden Management, Gardening Calendar | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Plants for a Children’s Garden

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