I planted some nasturtiums three days ago and the first is already sprouting. They seem to come up as soon as they touch the soil and, before you know it, are full adult plants demanding repotting.
Watching it burst through made me think back to when my son was little and he used to sow "his" seeds and grow them alongside mine. I always gave him the fun ones - the ones which would develop quickly, and be big and bold. I wanted to encourage him with little, instant and everyday results that would make him want to go on caring for the plant and checking on what had happened from one day to the next.
Was I right? When I explained this to someone else, who also had kids and was a keen gardener I got the snooty reply "I don't like to patronise my kids. I want them to understand that nature has its own times".
Well, it was a snooty reply - because this was a rather snooty person. But it stuck - because in theory I agree. But in practice I don't, because the perception of time of a five-year-old is not the same as that of an adult.
One of my earliest memories comes for the time when I was - I'm not sure how old. No more than four because I wasn't yet at school. Certainly young enough to still watch the TV programmes for the youngest children.
We didn't have a TV in those days, but my grandparents, who lived just up the road, had just bought one. (OK, OK - I'm showing my age here. Forget it.) And every day I was allowed to go to my grandparents to see the 15 minute slot on the BBC for the youngest children - Watch with Mother (or in my case Watch with Nanny and Grandad).
There was a different programme every day - The Woodentops, Muffin the Mule, Bill and Ben. I loved them all, and could still sing you the theme tunes. But my favourite was Andy Pandy. And I remember going home one day after watching Andy Pandy (my real love was his best friend, Teddy) crying my eyes out. Because it was going to be so long, eons and eons, before the next episode was shown.
Now, Andy Pandy came on once a week. Every Tuesday. So I actually only had to wait seven days. But for a four-year-old's perception of time, seven days is an eternity.
I remember reading somewhere the theory that time perception is determined by the proportion of that time in relation to your age. So, if you are one year old, a week is 1/52 of your age. When you're twenty it's 1/1040 of your age, and when you're fifty two it's 1/2704 of your age. And you perceive it accordingly. When you're fifty a week flies in the blink of an eyelid. But when you're one you perceive it as lasting the same amount of time as a whole year for a fifty two year old.
Now, I've no idea how theoretically sound this idea is. But it certainly accords with my own differing perception of time as I've grown older - each year it seems to pass faster and faster.
So - when you're gardening with kids, keep it in mind. Asking them to wait two or three weeks for their seeds to sprout may be like having to wait months and months yourself. A real way of getting them to understand "nature's own times" might well be to give them the fast-sprouting, fast growing seeds. The wait will seem just as long to them as it does to you as you patiently wait for your petunias to come through.
Here are just a couple of things you can try now. They'll all grow happily in pots and you can start them off now on the windowsill and then transfer them outside (to the ground or larger pots) when they get bigger and the weather's better :
1. As I said, nasturtiums. They come through quickly, and grow quickly, developing large leaves and large flowers. Get the kids to measure them daily and calculate how much they've grown - great for maths practice.
2. Sunflowers - the same advantages. Try growing one for each member of the family. Let everybody have responsibility for their own - water, light, fertiliser etc - measure them regularly and record the results. Who can grow the tallest plant? Again, great for maths, but also for teaching the kids to take responsibility for other living things. If you have a large age range in the family, the littlest ones may need help of course. Maybe the oldest could remind and help the youngest.
3. Beans - if they have to stay in pots, use a dwarf variety. All the fast growing advantages of the others, and this time the child has the satisfaction of harvesting her/his own crop and "feeding the family".
4. Any of the above, but try an experiment. Let several plants sprout, then get the child to grow one giving it the water, fertiliser, light and temperature it needs. With all the others take away one of these conditions - take away the light from one, put one in the fridge, don't fertilise another, don't water the last. Each day record how large they've grown, how healthy they are. A great way of showing the kids how life needs certain conditions.
Well it is, if you can bear it. Have to say that the last was an experiment my son did at primary school. My heart bled for all those poor, deprived, doomed seedlings ...