Gardeners love to share their
interest in gardening, and sharing with children is particularly rewarding. Even
2 and 3 year-olds can help plant their own little patch and watch as life
unfolds in it, and 5 to 10-year-olds bring wonderful enthusiasm for outdoor fun.
Winter is a great time to plan next spring’s gardening adventure. Snuggle up
with seed catalogs or look at photos on favorite packet seed companies' websites
to explore what would be fun to grow next season. Here are some suggestions for
making gardening enjoyable – and safe – for young children.
Start with child-size tools and materials.
Invest in a sturdy, child-sized trowel that will make it easy for youngsters to
work in the garden, and don't forget a watering can small enough for children to
lift themselves. A colorful pair of kid's garden gloves may be helpful for a
child who is a little squeamish about bugs and worms.
Stake a claim. Section off a corner of the
garden or yard where children can do as they please. It doesn't have to be
designed or even particularly attractive, just a place where kids can explore
without risk of damaging your prized plants.
Let children choose what they'd like to grow.
Most often these will be plants they recognize, like pumpkins. Plants with large
seeds, such as beans, squash, peas, sunflowers, or nasturtiums, are easy for
small hands to handle. Although radish seeds are smaller, children delight in
their almost instant growth and harvest. Or plant with a theme, perhaps a
"pizza" garden containing tomatoes and peppers as well as herbs such as basil
Create a special garden spot. Consider
constructing a tepee from tall poles and twine, to be covered with climbing
beans and flowers. (Be sure to leave an opening for a door.) Or create a special
room: a circle of tall sunflowers with shorter sunflowers or other flowers
Grow plants with interesting scents. Chives,
sage, mint, lavender and basil are good choices for a child's garden. Edible
flowers like nasturtiums, pansies and calendulas, or blossoms from beans and
peas are also fun to add to sandwiches or salads or to decorate the tops of
cupcakes and cookies.
Teach children about beneficial insects. A
great way to introduce your kids to the idea of the interconnectedness of the
natural world is to learn together to identify and nurture beneficials, the
garden “good guys,” and to work on projects that make your garden a more
inviting place to these helpful insects.
Beneficial insects, like butterflies and lady bugs, are ones that behave in ways that are helpful to plants,
either by pollinating flowers or preying on insect pests. Encourage them by planting lots of flowers and herbs that attract
them, especially ones with umbrella-shaped clusters of small flowers, such as
dill, caraway, butterfly flowers, lavender, yarrow and daisy-like flowers such
as cosmos, zinnias, sunflowers and black-eyed susan (a.k.a. rudbeckia) . Help
your child to place some groups of flat rocks in the garden to give pest-eating
ground beetles a place to shelter.
Teach garden safety. Since many other plants
– even something as familiar as rhubarb leaves – are toxic, teach children never
to put anything from the garden into their mouths without checking with an adult
Make gardening fun, not work. Offer
encouragement and how-to, but go easy on detailed advice. If children see you
working in the garden, they will want to imitate what you do in their own spot –
the best way to learn. (Kids particularly enjoy watering their growing plants
and don't consider it a chore!) Don't worry if a child's garden seems messy or
weedy – little ones love the thrill of seeing seedlings emerging from seeds
poked into the ground, even if their garden spot is not particularly tidy.
The excitement of picking the first ripe cherry tomato, snow pea or green bean
and the pride of presenting the family with a bouquet straight from the garden,
or the fun of carving a homegrown pumpkin for Halloween may well turn a young
gardener into a gardener for life!