Some 50,000 British children will be rolling up their shirtsleeves in the garden as a result of the Let Children Grow campaign launched by The Independent on Sunday just a week ago, with the Royal Horticultural Society. There has been an overwhelming response to the campaign, which aims to get primary school children growing fruit and vegetables that they can eat, with 267 schools signing up within days of the launch.
The response to the initiative has been hailed by everyone from gardening experts to chefs, nutritionists and MPs.
Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Schools, who backed the launch, said he was delighted by the response. "School gardens are a great place for children to learn about the environment, where their food comes from, and our dependence on natural resources. I'm sure that even more schools will be inspired to join in over the coming week. Congratulations to The Independent on Sunday on the success of their campaign."
The initiative aims to improve children's environmental awareness and knowledge of nutrition, while increasing the amount of time they spend outdoors and promoting a healthy lifestyle. Schools are encouraged to sign up and create raised beds, allotments or window boxes if they are short of space.
The IoS beacon school for the campaign, Kingsway Primary School in Goole, has been inundated with requests from other schools keen to sign up to the scheme. "Schools have been ringing us up asking us for advice. We do feel like a beacon!" said headteacher Liam Jackson. "It is great for cross-curricular learning – they are doing science learning about the soil; maths, measuring out areas of ground, and English, with creative writing exercises about the 'gardens of the future'."
In 2007, the Royal Horticultural Society launched a Campaign for School Gardening that encourages schools to develop a garden. Its scheme guides them through the whole cycle, from planning to planting to picking.
And children aren't the only ones coming over all green-fingered. Homebase has seen a 100 per cent increase in sales of herbs and vegetable plants from its garden centres this year, an 85 per cent increase in sales of vegetable seeds, and a 60 per cent rise in sales of fruit bushes. The store last week launched a Grow Your Own initiative, with a range of 250 seeds.
New research reveals that the British intend to spend more time in their gardens this summer than in previous years. Young adults are the most likely to increase their time working outside. The study, by the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA), found that 44 per cent of those aged 25 to 34, and 37 per cent of 35- to 54-year-olds, intend to dedicate more time to their gardens.
"Because of the recession, people are thinking about what they enjoy doing more, and lots of these are based around the home and family and friends," said Adam Pasco, editor of the BBC Gardeners' World magazine.
The growing appreciation of the garden's simple pleasures is fuelling a shopping spree – 23 per cent of people surveyed by HTA said they planned to spend more on garden products this year. "People aren't moving house as much because of the drop in prices, so they want to make their own back garden nice," said Mr Pasco. "There is a trend for buying tree ferns and big exotic things. Gardens and allotments are being cultivated for both pretty and productive things."
What the experts are saying
John Cushnie 'Gardeners' question time' panellist
"It is a fantastic initiative. If every child in Britain got half an hour outside gardening, then they would be the better for it – the whole country would be the better for it. The answer is to get children when they are young.... People think they need all of the tools to start, but they don't need to buy lots. We should be encouraging people to grow their own – it is rewarding, and good for you."
Sir Roy Strong Art historian, writer and broadcaster
"Today, with all the huge ecological concerns that we face... this sort of campaign is greatly to be recommended. Not only do you get wonderful organic produce, it's good exercise and gets you out in the open air. I think it is terribly important that young people can see the cycle of planting, nurturing, growing and then eating. It doesn't take much, just a little encouragement."
Tom Aikens Chef
"It's a brilliant idea. There is not enough of this sort of thing. Getting kids to relate what is growing in the ground to what is on their plate is important – as is learning about what is in season.
"Children can also learn how long it takes for fruit and vegetables to grow from seed, and when they are ready to be picked."
Rosie Boycott Journalist, and chairman of 'London Food' initiative
"Campaigns can have an enormous benefit.
"I think it is really important as we don't have limitless food supplies. We have to use land better. If people grow things then they won't want to throw them away.
"Growing changes the pace of life, gets us out, and will change children's view on food and stop them eating junk."