Few things make as much sense as sharing gardening activities with kids. For the children, it’s an educational experience at the most fundamental level. From something as simple as a germinating seed, they learn about the wonders of nature and gain respect for some of the most basic life processes. By nurturing plants from seed or transplant to fruit and flower, they gain a sense of purpose, responsibility and accomplishment. And along the way, gardening spurs curiosity, spawns questions and stimulates the young mind while exercising the young body.
Gardening with children is also a rewarding experience for parents. It strengthens family bonds and provides quality time outdoors away from television and other electronics. Maybe more important, it offers one on one teaching moments rooted in a respect for nature and provides an opportunity to continue a hobby that often has been passed from parent to child for generations.
Here are some ideas to help move your entire family into your garden.
What makes a plant kid friendly? It can be one or more of a number of things. First, it should be easy to grow. Obviously, there are no foolproof plants but as much as possible, we want to ensure success. That means planting in the right conditions of sun or shade, and taking steps to elude or prevent pests, including animals like rabbits and deer.
Second, kid-friendly plants should appeal to the senses of touch, smell, taste, sight or even sound. Third, the plants tell a story or provide a lesson. And last, kid-friendly plants should be safe for the children to be around (no thorns and not poisonous or allergenic, etc.). Here are some examples of kid-friendly plants – perfect choices for the kid-friendly gardens.
Vegetables. For youngsters, the vegetable garden is one of the best places to start the gardening experience. The vegetable garden is full of lessons about where food comes from, and the great flavors of fresh produce can start a lifetime of healthy eating.
Start with easy-to-grow, best tasting and/or fast-maturing crops like Little Finger and Short ‘n Sweet carrots, bright colored or frilly lettuces, super-sweet tomatoes like Sweet Million and all types of pumpkins and squash.A nd don’t forget the colorful surprises like purple potatoes, rainbow carrots, Bright Lights chard and Easter egg radishes. Theme gardens are also a great way to get kids into vegetable gardens. Plan pizza gardens with basil, thyme, oregano and paste tomatoes or salsa gardens with mild peppers, tomatoes, Mexican oregano and cilantro.
Easy flowers. Fast germinating, generous bloomers like sweet alyssum, cosmos, marigolds, morning glories, zinnias and wildflower mixes are ideal for kids. Better yet, fragrant beauties like sweet peas, stock, and sweet William. And what could be easier than bulbs like hyacinth, daffodils and tulips.
Plants to touch. The velvety leaves of lamb’s ears, Artemisia, mullein, peppermint-scented geranium and dusty Miller are the perfect impetus to get kids to reach out and touch plants. There are also tickly-foliaged plants like blue fescue, sea pinks and Mexican feather grass. Also fun to touch are the blooms of chenille plant and of ornamental grasses such as fountain grass. And don’t forget the fragrant foliage of scented geraniums and herbs like lemon thyme and licoricey dill, anise and fennel. Last but not least, who doesn’t love to squeeze snapdragon blooms?
Follow the fragrance. The fragrant flowers experienced when you are young often stay in your memories for a lifetime. Lilacs, jasmine, sweet orange, roses and so many more will sell themselves if you just encourage the nose. When they are at their peak, create displays of fragrant flowers. Or, just stick a sign in the pots that’s says, “Smell me”.
Plants that attract wildlife. Butterflies, birds, beneficial insects, bees and other pollinators are all important parts of the integrated yard and garden. Help teach nature lessons as well as gardening by planting wildlife-friendly plants and accessories (see below).
Sunflowers, sunflowers, sunflowers. Big, bold, available in many colors and forms, edible, loved by birds, move with sun and easy to grow – these are just some of the attributes that make sunflowers one of the best plants for kids gardening. If you want to get youngsters involved in gardening, make sure to include sunflowers.
There are many simple projects you can use to entice kids into gardening. Here are a few.
Bean teepee. A simple fort made of bamboo stakes (other lightweight stakes will also work) arranged into a teepee and tied at the top. Plant scarlet runner beans or other annual climbers around the base. String tied horizontally around the teepee from bottom to top will provide additional support for the beans.
Sunflower house. Another simple kid getaway. Plant tall varieties of sunflowers in a 3-row circle, leaving a little room for a door. It’s going to be a popular place, so make sure the circle is big enough to handle several kids – at least 6-8 feet wide.
Strawberry pots. Easy to do and fun to grow. Use everbearing varieties to keep the fruit coming all summer long.
Terrariums. Perfect for kids that might not have any outdoor gardening space. Besides houseplants, use small accessories like tiny houses, animals, cars or whatever to help the kids create a magic little scene.
Container gardens. For children with limited outdoor space, almost any of the plants listed above can be grown in pots. Let the kids be creative with the plant combinations but offer suggestions for fragrance, color and touch.
Support school gardening projects. More and more schools are creating gardens as learning tools. Get involved on a local level and support school gardening projects.
Kids Gardening Products
There are many lines of children’s gardening tools, gloves and accessories, even basic kids “gardening kits,” available in nurseries and garden centers. Let the nursery be part of the gardening experience and shop with kids to expose them to the variety of plants, seeds, products and books (there are many on kids gardening). Check out seed starting kits, bee houses, lady beetles, potting supplies, pressed flower kits, root view boxes, birdseed and bird houses. The possibilities are endless.