In support of reclaiming the backyard for kids, Western Australian gardening gurus Sabrina Hahn and Chris Ferreira have provided some expert advice and their top tips!
Chris is Director of Landcare Solutions and the highly popular Great Gardens program that has developed and delivered free sustainable gardening workshop to over 65,000 people in WA.
Gardening for kids
I know it sounds a bit corny but kids really are our future and so our fate and the health of this planet really is in their hands. I also firmly believe that we only protect and enhance what we know and love and so if the next generation are not connected with and ‘in love’ with nature then we will not see the necessary actions and support to keep a healthy and vibrant earth. Getting kids out and into the garden is obviously a vital first step in this journey and so any actions to get them out and gardening are not only going to help them connect with nature but hopefully develop that all important love and respect for the joys and inspiration that nature can provide.
Top five plants for shady kids gardens
- Dianella revoluta – Flax Lilly A lovely soft, strappy leaf plant with beautiful small yellow and purple flowers. Tough as old boots and grows well in shade or full sun.
- Dianella caerula – Flax Lilly A variation on the local Dianella with soft lime green pendulous leaves that give it a tropical garden feel. Once again its super tough and thrives in shady areas.
- Hibbertia scandens – Snake Vine This is a beautiful creeper, climber or low shrub with glossy green leaves and wonderful showy yellow flowers. Does well in all areas of the garden in full sun or shade. Super tough and super adaptable.
- Hardenbergia comptoniana – Native Wisteria One of my favorites. This vigorous climber sets the world alight in spring with its dazzling display of deep purple flowers. Is very very fast and can quickly cover a wall so awesome for cooling areas that get hit by the summer sun.
- Kennedia prostrata – Running postman A beautiful ground cover with bright red flowers. Super tough and a wonder for reclaiming sandy areas and a must for any waterwise verge makeover.
Top 5 veggies to grow with your kids
These are all really easy to grow, very forgiving, fast and will yield wonderful and popular foods kids love to eat
- Potatoes What would a vegie garden be like without 'Tatoes'! There are many varieties but all should go in the ground now and all are really really easy to grow. Just feed the soil with good compost and bury them 10-15cm deep and watch them burst to life!
- Silver Beet A great green for salads and asian cooking, this plant grows really quickly and is virtually pest free so it makes a hassle free addition to your vegie bed.
- Snow Peas Not only do these guys give us beautiful peas to eat but they are super fast, can climb up pretty much anything and being legumes they 'feed' the soil as well. Plant the seedlings in good quality compost and watch them fly!
- Lettuce One of my favorites and so easy to grow. Put them in good soil and within a few weeks you will be snipping your own leaves for your nightly salad! They have few pests and disease to worry about and so once again they make a great low maintenance vegie addition.
- Corn I love growing corn. Put them in good soil and in a short period they will burst to life and pretty soon you will be craning your neck skyward to watch their progress as they tower over you. Nothing beats gathering your own corn cobs and if you keep these and all your other garden vegie plants with good water supplies you can be feasting within a couple of months.
Remember vege plants need great conditions to be great plants so:
- Feed the soil with awesome compost.
- Use a good slow release organic fertiliser.
- Give them regular drenches with fish and seaweed solution.
- Give them a nice layer of mulch and watering 2-3 times a week and lookout!
You will be commander of your own amazing food growing reserve. Good Luck!
Sabrina Hahn is ABC Radio Perth's gardening expert. She’s been giving advice to Perth gardeners for over 15 years!
Creating adventure gardens for healthy kids
Some pretty disturbing figures on the amount of time kids are spending outdoors as opposed to indoors have been making headlines recently. This is a worldwide phenomenon in many first world countries. This is resulting in more childhood obesity; mental health problems and an inability to problem solve and communicate with peers. Children are much more reluctant to take risks or adventure out and feel safe in natural surroundings.
The best place to encourage kids to get outdoors and play can be in your front or backyard. You don’t need fancy plastic play equipment, just a climbing tree and shrubs that allow them to make a little cubby inside the bush where they will create their own land and become their own characters. It’s a hidden world, far, far away from big people where only they can see the magic that will unfold.
I have a list of my top 10 trees and shrubs for kids to do just that – make a kingdom where creatures and characters emerge from their imagination to become playmates and go on an adventure into the unknown. Trees need to have lower branches for climbing, be well spaced with strong branches and no spikey bits. Shrubs need to be full and covered in growth from the base of the shrub to the top. This allows you to prune out a few branches at ground level making a hole just big enough for a small child to get through.
Have available a rubber backed picnic blanket, boxes, some toys and the kids will do the rest. If you are building a cubbyhouse in a tree, let the kids build it with you, get them to draw it up and allow them to style and decorate it. Remember this is their kingdom – not yours.
Great climbing trees
- White Mulberry (Morus alba) A fast growing deciduous tree with height of 8m and spread of 9m. The fruit is white so it doesn’t stain kids clothes or the ground. Kids love the fruit.
- Almond Tree (Prunus dulcis) Deciduous tree with well spaced branches and the most beautiful flowers in spring. They grow to around 6-8m tall and 6m wide. Plant All-in-One to get nuts if you are planting a single tree. The black cockatoos love them.
- WA Peppermint (Agonis flexuosa) An ideal evergreen small tree that kids can hide up in and come out smelling like peppermint. Ideal for treehouses.
- Poinciana (Delonix regia) Stunning large canopy deciduous tree with brilliant red flowers in summer. The tree will grow to a height of 8m with a 10m spread. Ideal for treehouses.
- Jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia) It is worth the wait for this wonderful purple flowering tree to get big enough for a climbing tree. Height to 12m and spread of 10m once fully grown.
- Fig (Ficus carica) A perfect climbing tree that produces fruit rarely seen in the shops because of their short shelf life. The tree produces branches close to the ground making it easy to climb. Height and spread depend on variety but keep them pruned to 5m high so that you can reach the fruit. Figs are deciduous.
- Silver Cadjeput (Melaleuca argentea) Slow growing but one of the most beautiful WA paperbarks from up north. Branches start 30cm from the base and are semi-weeping. This evergreen tree has silvery leaves and grows to around 7m high in Perth and a spread of 5m.
- Fremantle Mallee (Eucalyptus foecunda) A small evergreen tree with pretty cream flowers and dense foliage for hiding in. Only gets to 4m in height and very drought tolerant, suitable for coastal sandy soils.
- Cape Chestnut (Calodendrum capense) Little known semi-deciduous tree with beautiful pink flowers in early summer. It grows to around 8-10m with a spread of 7m.
- Persian Witch-hazel (Parrotia persica) Hails form northern Iran and has many branches growing from near ground level. It has the most stunning autumn foliage. Grows to 10- 12m tall in WA and has a spread of 8m.
Favourite shrubs for ground cubby houses
- Hibiscus ‘Apple Blossom’ An old fashioned nana plant, but perfect for kids to make little caves. This hibiscus is evergreen, has large pink flowers for most of the year, soft deep green leaves and grows to 4-5m in height.
- Chaste bush (Vitex agnus) A lovely soft leafed shrub with leaves that are purple underneath and green on top. The small mauve flowers are produced in summer. Grows to 3m high with a spread of 3m.
- Red Orchid Bush (Bauhinia galpinii) Fabulous brick red flowers all summer on a semi-weeping shrub that spread well and also great for screening. Grows to 4m and spreads to 5m. The leaves are like butterfly wings.