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The pretty bird that cannot fly

Can a bird of paradise fly? Why are plants green? What’s an oligochaetologist?

Gardening is a skill that used to be readily passed on from one generation to the next but, with changing lifestyles, many children grow up without learning any basic gardening skills.

Children who don't garden are less likely to gain an appreciation of the importance of plants and of the natural world in our lives.

And, just as some children never learn that milk comes from a cow, others fail to understand that the peas, broad beans and sweet corn they eat are seeds, that they are not made in a factory and packed into plastic bags, but that they come from living plants.

Introducing children to these and other aspects of their surrounding world can be valuable outcomes from learning to garden. Here are some fun facts to excite little minds and imaginations:

Do you know why plants are green? It's because they have chlorophyll, which helps them make their food. Everything that has chlorophyll in it is green.

Soil with lots of worms in it doesn't flood easily after heavy rain because the water drains away thanks to all the worm holes.Plants can drown if there's no air in the soil.

One teaspoonful of good soil holds more than one million living things.

Have you met an oligochaetologist? That's another name for a worm expert.

How can a little grub get inside your apple? The codling moth lays eggs on the tiny, unripe fruit. When the apple develops, the grub burrows inside and lives happily in the apple as it grows — until you take a bite. Yuk!

Ever wondered why the caterpillar of the cabbage white butterfly is green? It's because it makes it harder for the birds to see them on the green leaves.

What's photosynthesis? It's a chemical process that takes place in a leaf's cell. Sunlight mixes with water, soil nutrients and carbon dioxide to make food for the plant.

A bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae) can't fly. It's a plant with colourful flowers that look like exotic birds on top of stiff stems.

When touched, the leaves of the sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica) fold up and can take some time before they unfurl again.

Tortured willow (Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa') and corkscrew hazel (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta') have curiously curled and twisted stems. They can be cut during their dormant winter season, dried and used as floral decorations or for displaying light ornaments, especially for Christmas.

Pussy willows are also loved for the fluffy catkins that decorate their stems in spring. All willows should be planted with care and never where there is any risk of these water-hungry plants invading drains.

String of hearts (Ceropegia woodii) is a delightful basket plant with leaves that do indeed resemble tiny hearts.

— Courtesy of Yates

The bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae) has colourful flowers that look like exotic birds.