Leading families down the garden path 

Sheila Wayman

Irish Times, March 26, 2013

Ailish Drake, an architect turned horticulturist, is always surprised how few people are growing anything. She started running gardening classes for small children but then realised that without the support of adults, be they parents or childcare providers, it was impossible for youngsters to continue. 

“Our generation of parents don’t know much about gardening,” remarks Drake, who grew up on a farm in the Ballyhoura mountains in Co Limerick and lived in Dublin for 13 years before returning to her native county to set up home with fellow architect Conor Hourigan and their two children, Sam (five) and Michael (two). She now runs “gardening with kids” courses through her Sow and Grow business, to teach adults the basics so that they can foster children’s natural interest in it. 

“It is great for them to get out and get their hands dirty. From age three on they really understand and are very excited to see seeds germinating and the little plants growing up. I still get excited about seeing that.” Choosing the wrong things to grow is a common mistake parents make. “If a child is trying to grow something that is too difficult and they have failures, they are going to lose interest,” she points out. 

“Peas are number one – you can’t go wrong with peas.” She also suggests beans, a salad patch, and onions and turnips which are easy to handle and quick to harvest. “Herbs are another great thing for children – they may not be eating them that much but they are very sensory and again very foolproof.” There are easy, attractive edible flowers too, such as nasturtiums and pot marigolds, calendula, which can be sown outside. 

Drake is a big fan of potatoes in planter bags. “You put four potatoes in a bag and keep covering them with soil as they grow. You get a big bag of potatoes at the end of it.” She did this with her own children, who are always very proud of what they’ve grown. “The biggest thing for me is that they are much better about eating fruit and vegetables because of the garden.”