Seeds sown for new IoS gardening campaign

The Independent on Sunday is relaunching its drive to get more children growing food at school

Isabelle Lewis isn't four yet. But already she knows the thrill of nibbling on something fresh from the garden that she has grown herself. So far this summer, only the radishes are up but the carrots and parsnips will follow soon.

She says "getting dirty fingers doing the seeding" is her favourite thing about gardening, although watering the small shoots she planted herself in the wooden barrels that sit in her corner of the Lewises' small army garden is pretty good fun too.

The Independent on Sunday wants hundreds of thousands more children to share Isabelle's taste of the good life, which is why today we are relaunching our hugely successful campaign to Let Children Grow. Working with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), we want to help all primary schools in the UK to provide some form of practical gardening for pupils.

More than 11,000 schools have signed up to the campaign, which we launched last year, but, like the prestigious gardening charity behind the Chelsea Flower Show, we don't want to stop there. The RHS, which has its own Campaign for School Gardening, aims to get 80 per cent of British primary schools, about 17,000, growing fruit and vegetables by 2012.

Many of Britain's greenest fingered luminaries are backing our crusade, including David Bellamy and the BBC's Chris Beardshaw. Bellamy, who got into growing vegetables while "digging for victory" during the Blitz, said: "Every school that joins is teaching its pupils natural history, and that is very exciting stuff. We need kids to get involved so that there'll be another Bill Oddie or David Attenborough on the way." Beardshaw added: "Children are not just interested in growing – they have a much broader enthusiasm to look at plants on a microscopic level and to relate plants to specific organisms and are interested in the subject of biodiversity."

Experts believe introducing children to gardening helps them to understand where food comes from. RHS research suggests it can help academic achievement, behaviour and confidence among pupils while boosting their health.

Gordon Seabright, the RHS's acting director general, said: "Gardening in schools not only teaches children about growing plants and caring for the environment, but it also helps them to learn the skills of communication, team work and patience. Working with The Independent on Sunday means we can encourage even more schools, teachers and parents to help their children to grow into happier and healthier individuals."

Isabelle, who turns four next month, is lucky because her Montessori nursery regularly gets its pupils sowing seeds. "She just came home with a baby Jurassic Park complete with mini plastic dinosaur planted with cress and rosemary," said her father, Ed Lewis. "It all reinforces where her food comes from. We hope that she'll help her mum cook the carrots when they come up." Isabelle will be in charge of planting next year's crop when her father, a major in the British Army, returns to Afghanistan.

Interest from schools has soared since the RHS campaign began. Charlotte Green, who runs the Gardening with Children website on behalf of the Recycle Works, which sells gardening equipment, said: "We've seen a 100-fold increase in the number of schools we sell to compared with two years ago."

At Kingsway Primary School in Goole, East Yorkshire, which The IoS adopted as our beacon Let Children Grow school, the number of pupils gardening has doubled. Liam Jackson, the head teacher, said: "We've expanded our after-school gardening club. We're involving the garden in the curriculum: the children are writing and drawing about what they see."

Win! An iPod Touch

To celebrate our Let Children Grow campaign, The IoS has teamed up with the Royal Horticultural Society to offer readers the chance to win an iPod Touch, which comes with the charity's new gardening app. The only stipulation is that your child's school backs our crusade.

Click here to visit the RHS website where you can register.

To enter the competition, get your child to send us a poem about why they love gardening. Entries to IoS Gardening Competition, 2 Derry Street, London, W8 5HF or sundayletters@independent.co.uk, with 'gardening competition' in the subject header, to reach us by 20 June. Usual terms and conditions apply.

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