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Thank you mum for my green fingers

Alice Spenser-Higgs

Alice Spenser-Higgs

May 10, 2013

With mothers being celebrated this month, I wonder how many gardeners can credit their mothers for igniting that magnificent obsession called gardening. The answer, I would bet, is many. Mine gave me a small corner of the garden to tend as well as providing a rambling, endless (to my child’s eyes) farm garden in which to dream and scheme.

My own boots

My own boots

For others it was the fascination of seeds germinating on moist cotton wool or observing, as writer May Sarton did, her mother’s triumph after an hour of furious weeding. ‘What better way to get over a black mood!”

A friend remembers how pot plants were his mother’s joy. Needless to say, his townhouse garden is filled with pots overflowing with all the old fashioned flowers that she loved – petunias, pelargonium, portulaca, verbena and more.

Alice Walker, author of “The Colour Purple” amongst others, writes that that her mother adorned with flowers whatever shabby house they were forced to live in.

“And not just your typically straggly country stand of zinnias either,” she writes. ”She planted ambitious gardens with over 50 different varieties of plants that bloom profusely from early March to late November.’

Cosmos - our colour purple

Cosmos – our colour purple


So one understands where that wonderful quote in “The Colour Purple” comes from:” I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it…. People think pleasing God is all God care about.  But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”

Passing on that gardening “gene” is a real gift, and more important than ever especially as city living leaves precious little spare time, or inclination, to get one’s hands in the soil.


Marlaen Straathof of Kirchhoff’s seeds, who has been joined in the family business by her son Sean and daughter Kathy, helped me to come up with some ideas for how to introduce the next generation to the joy of gardening.

pine cone feederHow to spark your child’s interest

Increase their awareness and contact with nature. This can be as simple as making a bird feeder. A quick and easy way is for the two of you to collect some pine cones, stick on the birdseed with peanut butter and hang them in a tree outside the bedroom window. Watching the birds discover the cones will cause great excitement.


Childrens playground garden




Put space aside in the garden where the children can just dig and play with water and make whatever they want. It may be a bit messy but will provide hours of fun.




Your child will soon come up with creative ideas of their own. This often involves making things like painting stones, or creating a special corner.

lady bugs

It is important to always incorporate the element of play into gardening. Encourage them to play games in the garden such as giving them stepping stones so that they can create a hopscotch garden.

Hidden nook for kids

If your child is old enough to want to grow things, put aside a little piece of ground and encourage them to plant things that grow easily and quickly like pansies and violas or child friendly vegetables like baby carrots (‘Little Darling’, sugar snap peas and baby tomatoes in summer.

A seed packet is a wonderful way to teach kids about gardening. On most seed packets the planting instructions are in picture form. By looking at the pictures the kids can identify for themselves what the veggie needs.

Encourage your child to develop a theme for the garden, like a fairy garden or a pirate’s garden. This can be changed as they grow older.

Spring shoes

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Julie Thomson
7 years ago

Many lovely and inspiring ideas there, thanks Alice.
Lucky you to have a mother who gave you a garden corner to dream and scheme in.

I too have come to gardening relatively late in life (about 20 years ago) and as a journalist, also trying to combine the two loves of writing and digging.

Not sure if I have passed on this interest to my children (in their 20s). But I do get them to water, fetch and carry, fill the bird baths and feeders and sniff what’s blooming whenever they visit.
Cheers and thank you.