If your summer gripe is that the school holidays seem way too long and the kids are bored, help is at hand. There are smart ways to get kids outside and learning about gardening at the same time.

The idea is simple – once you coax the children outside into the garden with a fun idea or activity, they’ll start to enjoy the backyard and have fun all by themselves! Outdoors they are active while exercising their imaginations. For no cost at all you can host a scavenger hunt and for just a few dollars you can plant seeds or seedlings. If you don’t have a garden, visit a nearby park for your activities.

Getting ideas

You may not even have to think up the ideas yourself. Ask the kids! Children at preschool or primary school often have school gardens they visit regularly so they may know more about gardens than you realise.

We contacted the children at , a runner-up in our Gardener of the Year competition for 2008, to tell us all about their favourite plants. We were delighted that many of the children not only knew the names of plants in their home gardens and at preschool but also had some great reasons for choosing their favourite plants.

Catherine Lee, the director of The Point Preschool in Sydney’s Oyster Bay, says the garden continues to grow and develop and the children make it an important part of their daily experience.When you are planning your home garden, especially if you have children, grandchildren or young visitors, spend some time asking them about their favourite plants so you can include some in the garden. And, if you want some ideas on plants that kids like, you don’t have to go past two native plants: the flannel flower (Actinotus helianthi) and the kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos spp.).

Plant herbs

A fun project for summer – with or without children – is starting a herb garden. It gives instant rewards and once you begin growing herbs you’ll find your enjoyment spilling out into other facets of gardening.

Firstly, buy potted herbs and plant them into a large trough or pot in a sunny spot in the garden. To add to your collection, buy packets of herb seeds and raise them in punnets or take cuttings. Good plants to start from seed include basil, parsley and rocket.

As the plants begin to grow, start a second trough or pot, or plant the seedlings into the garden. Water your herbs every day and get them to grow by liquid feeding them with organic fertiliser every two to three weeks.

Big ideas for the great outdoors

Here are 12 sure-fire ways to get your children racing outside into the fresh air and having fun in the garden.

  1. Buy a watermelon with seeds and then head outside for seed spitting contests — you may even grow a watermelon.
  2. Plant radish or carrot seeds to spell out your child’s name or initials (seeds come up in just a few days). Get the kids to water their plants in the morning and check them in the evening or any time you want them to be playing outside.
  3. Think up a scavenger hunt for your garden. List simple things to find such as a white flower, red leaf or a feather.
  4. Get them to arrange their scavenged items outdoors.
  5. Have a picnic or build a play tent or teepee using sticks.
  6. Set up a shady spot for children to read in for a quiet break.
  7. Get the kids to make a floral picture by filling a saucer with damp sand and sticking in a mosaic of small flowers.
  8. Have a sunflower growing competition to see whose plant grows the fastest, flowers first or looks the best.
  9. Go snail hunting after rain. Get them to find caterpillars or grasshoppers, too, if you have a problem with these insects.
  10. Let the kids paint the fence. Use water or real paint.
  11. If you don’t want to paint the fence, why not set up an art gallery on the fence or clothesline, hanging or taping up their artworks. Invite friends to the exhibition opening.
  12. Make a scarecrow or garden sculpture from found objects.

My favourite plant

We asked the children at The Point Preschool at Oyster Bay in Sydney’s south to tell us about their favourite plants. They were more than happy to share! Their choices may help you when planning what to grow in your garden.

  • Thomas: My favourite is strawberries because we eat them at preschool.
  • Sala: The agapanthus is my favourite because they are purple and that’s my favourite colour. When the flower has dried you can use it to paint with and the painting is beautiful, too.
  • Isabella: I love the fountain grass because they look like pussycat tails.
  • Milayna: I love lavender because I think they smell just like powder.
  • Nicholas: I love our potatoes because I like the inside to eat with cheese.
  • Georgia: I love the flannel flower and the tiny spider that lives inside.
  • Mikayla: I love buddleja because its my favourite colour and butterflies love them. I have them at my home, too.
  • Lachlan: I love the plants on the fence (pandora) cause they look really cool.
  • Sage: My favourite is the bottlebrush. I have one at preschool and one at my home, too, and I just love them.
  • Rachel: I love all the pink flowers best.
  • Max: I really love the kangaroo paw. It looks just like a kangaroo’s foot.
  • Aidan: My favourite are sunflowers because they look really pretty.
  • Ava: My favourite is the big red geranium because it smells really good and because it has red petals.
  • Alexander: I love the sunflowers as they are so big, yellow and pretty.
  • Scotia: I love the murrayas as they fall into the frog pond and smell like perfume. We made murraya perfume at preschool to give to our mums.
  • Jed: I love diaetes and the big tree (angophora) because it has houses for the animals to live in there.
  • Therese: I love the flannel flowers because they are so soft to touch.
  • Declan: Actually, my favourite plant is all of them. They make our garden look so pretty.
  • Lucas: I love the plants where the lizards like to play in the sun (kangaroo grass).