I met Colin Boggon from Botanica Gardens around the time I bought my first home. It was a tiny cottage and the garden had been neglected for many years. My vision for my tiny patch of land was a typical English cottage garden, everyone I met thought I was mad, aside from Colin who completely embraced the idea and made my dreams come true - creating the impression of a mini paradise. We have worked together ever since, he has become part of the landscape and I feel like we have grown as a family with Colin around. He knows all of my children very well and seemed the perfect person to introduce the children to gardening and the beauty of preparing and growing your own fruit and vegetables.
We thought it would be fun to share our gardening session with you and for Colin to share his top tips...
Could you tell us a little bit about the process of preparing and planting (the session you did today with the children)?
Today I introduced the children to the basics of sowing seeds and planting. I was surprised by how much the children already knew. Flavia and Lucas in particular were really knowledgeable about the different types of soil and compost we were using. I brought along a selection of pots and seed trays, lots of seeds, and some seedlings from my own garden so the children could see how the plants they are growing will soon develop. The children filled pots and seed trays with compost and sowed a variety of vegetable seeds; purple and orange carrots (the latter for the Dutch connection of course), basil, parsley, radishes, spring onions…. so many I think we lost track! The kids took care to write their names on plant labels so later we can identify them. They watered the seedlings and put them in the greenhouse to speed up germination. Later we planted some baby lettuce plants into the beds in the vegetable garden. The children did a great job (though I did later move a couple of the plants into neater rows)!
When did your passion for gardening start and what triggered it?
I started gardening at a really early age. Some of my most vivid early memories are of accompanying my mother, herself a garden designer, in our beautiful garden. From the age of three or four, I’d help her to sow seedlings, water the plants in the greenhouse, plant up hanging baskets and pots… Well I say “help” but I’m sure I just got in her way! When I wonder why I embarked on a career in horticulture and garden design it’s these memories I look back to.
Why do you like to work with children?
Children seem to engage with gardening so naturally and effortlessly and it’s so much fun watching them learn. I believe that from gardening comes an understanding of science and art, perhaps even philosophy. Perhaps these are lofty concepts that the children don’t necessarily appreciate - they are just having fun after all. But seeing that early spark of interest in the natural world is really rewarding. For me this is where my passion started and it’s something I love to share.
How do you manage to keep the children engaged for hours? What is it about gardening and plants that children like so much?
Gardening is a fantastic mix of learning and fun. On a basic level, children love to get their hands dirty! Seeing plants, animals and insects up close is so much more engaging than watching TV or playing games on a tablet - it’s truly tactile and sensory. This makes keeping the children interested so easy. Whether it’s artistically arranging flowers in a pot or eating strawberries they’ve grown themselves, children just love to be in the garden.
What are the tips you would give to parents who don’t have a garden? How can you develop that passion within urban London?
Of course in a city like London not everyone has the space for a garden. But I still think it’s possible to engage children with the basics of gardening in the smallest of spaces - even a small terrace or sunny windowsill will do. It’s so easy to grow culinary herbs in small pots from seed, so why not put a few pots of compost by the kitchen window and get the children to sow some basil, parsley or coriander? Much more satisfying and tasty than anything bought from the grocery store! There are some fantastic garden centers and nurseries in inner London. It’s great fun to take the children along and encourage them to choose their own plants and flower pots. Back at home fill the pots with compost and let the children arrange and plant the flowers. Perfect for a window box or by the front door. We also have some incredible public parks and green spaces in London with wonderful floral displays and wilder areas. I’d encourage any parent to get out there and explore what the city has to offer.
How important do you think it is to educate our children on gardening, and what would be the basic principles you would cover?
A good education in gardening leads to a more rounded perspective on so many things. For me learning about where our food comes from is essential and a really good starting point. I’d always start from here and the basic principles I’d cover are;
- Different types of soil and what plants need to grow and thrive
- Sowing seeds, learning about the early stages of a plants life cycle
- The importance of water and sunlight
- Harvesting your own fruit and vegetables
- Planting flowers, mixing different colour and shapes together
What does your ideal garden look like?
Now that’s a difficult question to answer! I’m lucky to have travelled to different parts of the world and I draw gardening influences from wherever I go. I love the lush exuberance of tropical gardens and the calm serenity of Japanese and Asian gardens. I also love the aesthetic of Provencal and Italianate gardens. I get really excited about the smaller, urban spaces that our company works on here in London. But to answer the question; my ideal garden is anywhere I can relax on a sunny summer evening with my beautiful wife, my puppy and a glass of wine!
Thanks to Colin for his incredible patience and for making the whole process so relatable to my children – we all had a fabulous afternoon and the little ones are devoted to their vegetable patch!
Colin Boggon is the founder of Botanica Gardens: “Specialists in garden design, landscaping and garden maintenance covering London and Hertfordshire”.