As a child growing up in the middle of nowhere, the nearest source of treats was a National Trust stately home. There was a tea room with seed cake and shortbread, an ice cream cart come summer, and a gift shop, whose floral scent I can still recall, filled with tinned sweets and plush toys. Its grounds contained a fountain and giant stone lions, a secret garden and a spinney of stooped plane trees whose branches were broad and low enough to clamber upon.
It’s fair to say, then, that I’ve a nostalgic soft spot for all things NT, but its publishing partnership with Nosy Crow has given me an altogether more current reason to count myself a fan. Some five years since it was announced, the alliance has spawned hits like I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree: A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year along with a series of seriously charming nature sticker books (Hedgehogs, Hares and Other British Animals is a particular hit in our household).
Now comes Sunflower Shoots and Muddy Books: A Child’s Guide to Gardening, with words by Katherine Halligan and pictures by Grace Easton. Though it’s a board book it’s spiral bound, meaning your three-year-old (it’s pitched at 3+), won’t find it babyish. And it needs to be tough, because this is a book that’s all about getting kids outdoors. Turbo-charged with activities, green-fingered tips and facts to wow, it’ll inspire you to start digging, whatever your (in)experience.
“Look at his muddy knees!” came my daughter’s delighted cry as she turned to the ‘Messy Mud Kitchen!’ page with its apt illustration. From growing raspberries using the seeds from that punnet sitting in your fridge to fashioning hanging baskets from old hats and creating your own secret garden den, it’s all clearly described and delightfully depicted. There’s even a section on indoor gardens for those with no access to an outdoor space of their own.
What’s great is that it doesn’t talk down to its pre-school audience, instead kitting them out with real gardening lingo (including the onomatopoeic ‘mulch’) and environmentally-friendly practices (companion planting and homemade aphid spray both feature). There’s even advice for grown-ups, such as ‘Keep a gardening diary’ with pressed flowers and sketches, and, for folk who turn out not to be quite so green-fingered, ‘Learn to let go: if something dies, talk about why…’
There are so many reasons why it’s good to get children gardening, from teaching about patience and honing their motor skills to broadening their palate (if they’ve grown the radishes themselves, they’re more likely to venture a taste) and fostering a sense of responsibility as they toddle around with their sloshing watering cans. But for young and old alike, there’s nothing quite so satisfying as pushing a seed down into the earth and then watching a tiny green shoot reach for the sky.
Sunflower Shoots and Muddy Boots: A Child’s Guide to Gardening is published by Nosy Crow at £8.99.