Create a Garden Space for Your Kids and Watch Them Grow
article by P. Allen Smith | photography by Mark Fonville
Often times, parents will ask me how to get young members of the family involved in gardening. Most kids love the outdoors and playing in the dirt comes natural. So creating a kid-friendly garden at home is actually a no-brainer. In addition to growing flowers and some of their own food, gardening allows your children to enjoy more quality time outdoors.
Just as important, a kid-friendly garden is a hands-on education in the local ecosystem and nature. It will give you and your child a chance to explore and discuss the natural world around them in a fun-filled environment. They will learn about bugs, bees, pollination and small garden critters that may visit their garden on occasion. Through gardening, kids will enjoy the fruits of their labor, experience failure, celebrate success and learn the rewards of patience.
To get started, decide where you will set up their space. Whether it’s a small area in your garden or a raised bed, give them the responsibility for their own garden. Let them plan what they want to grow and how they want to grow it. They can choose miniature pumpkins for Halloween, or perhaps pineapple sage to enjoy the butterflies and hummingbirds that the blooms attract. Younger gardeners will need more guidance with choices, but this can be blended into the fun of planning. Start out with learning about seeds. It makes it easier for kids to see them grow. Cultivate their creativity and praise each milestone, such as planting and cleanup times.
CREATING THE GARDEN SPACE
It doesn’t take a lot of space in the yard to design a kid-friendly garden. One idea is to use a small colorful wading pool and fill it with garden soil to create the perfect raised bed. Show your kids a healthy soil recipe by mixing one part garden soil and one part compost based on the size of their garden. Drill holes in the bottom and sides of the pool for drainage. Since most plants in their garden will need plenty of sunshine, you can create a simple sun shelter tent nearby for kids to hang out in and play.
As this is most likely their first garden, I would suggest encouraging young gardeners to grow herbs. Whether they start from seed or seedling, herbs grow quickly and many produce beautiful and colorful blooms. The wonderful thing about herbs is kids can nibble on the leaves and smell the fragrances right in the garden. Kids will love tasting their garden as it grows.
Sweet basil has floppy fragrant leaves and makes a very tasty pesto. Kids will love this herb on homemade pizza.
Mint grows so easily that sometimes it’s hard to contain, but it has a wonderful, refreshing fragrance, flavor that tastes like toothpaste, can be used in drinks and is good as a tummy settler.
Lemon thyme has a fragrance and flavor that youngsters will love, like lemonade in the summertime.
Sage has pretty blue flowers, and this herb will remind kids of our friend, the turkey, and Thanksgiving.
Pineapple sage flowers smell and taste like chewing gum, and it will attract butterflies to their garden.
Stevia, sometimes known as sweet leaf, has a sweet cane flavor, and kids will enjoy sampling this herb as it grows.
A delightful way for kids to keep track of their plants is to create simple and colorful garden markers. All you need are free paint stirrers from a home improvement store, 3 to 4 colors of acrylic paint, a tube of fabric paint and acrylic sealer. Supervise as your kids paint each side of the stirrer, and you can seal them as they finish. Finally, let them write the name of the plant on the marker with the tube of fabric paint. DIY plant markers will make their garden area colorful and inviting
When it comes to kids in the garden, keep it motivating and fun. Set clear guidelines from the start as to what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in and around the garden. Most important, make it a positive experience and not just a drudgery of chores. Inspire them to be imaginative and creative in their efforts. We teach children by example. Let them witness your love and excitement in gardening by the joy you share in your efforts. There is no better encouragement for kids.