Interest in gardening doesn’t just happen. Children gain interest in gardening by being out in the garden with their parents, grandparents, and/or older siblings, following them around, asking questions, and being allowed to get their hands dirty.
I gained my love for the outdoors by following three special people in their gardens; these were my dad, grandmother, and great grandmother. Each had very different gardens and taught me very different lessons about growing fruit and vegetables, beautiful flowers, and prize-winning roses. Now I have my own gardens to get dirty in and to coax to a bountiful harvest of fruit, veggies, and brightly blooming flowers.
Together we can raise the next generation of gardeners by giving them a plot of ground to work and letting them both grow together. All the while, they will be learning life lessons like patience, gentleness, love of God’s earth, and the jobs of the little beings that live in their gardens.
Tips For Gardening With Children
- Children’s gardens must be kid-based – they should decide what will be grown, help with the planning and planting, and be responsible for maintenance. Parents/grandparents and other adult leaders need to give instruction and direction but not do everything. Focus on involving the kids, and they will take ownership.
- Develop the garden to be relevant to the site and your region’s conditions – involve the children with the site analysis, so they understand how important the light, soil, drainage, and other environmental factors are to having a good garden.
- Develop the garden so features and plant choices are adapted to your local conditions, so that you are not working against God’s natural design.
- Focus on functional design and not appearances – discuss what the kids want to learn and do in the garden. Base the features on the practical functions they will serve and don’t worry about how beautiful it will be. Gardens that are a hands-on learning center will be beautiful because they are well-used and well-loved places. Remember, a child’s idea of what is pretty may not be the same as yours, but that’s okay because it’s their space.
- Keep it simple. Allow wide pathways (at least twenty-four inches) and easy access to each plant. Choose only a few plant varieties. As your young gardener learns how much space and attention they require, more plants can be added.
- As the planting begins offer instruction but do not be too particular. Seeds don’t need to be planted in straight rows. Planting in a circle, a freeform design, or just scattering the seed are all fine – and don’t cry over spilt seed.
- Wait until plants are sprouting their second set of real leaves before you begin weeding to allow you to show the difference between the weeds and the garden plants. The soil should be moist before you start pulling the weeds.
- Be comfortable with dirt. Kids and clothes are washable. Dress them in clothes that are okay to be worn in the garden. You may want to set up hand-washing and shoe-scrapping stations so that they can clean up before returning to the house.
- Squiggly squirmies and creepy crawlies are okay as well. Kids by nature are not afraid of things that creep and crawl. They learn the fear of them from fearful adults. Worms, caterpillars, grubs, insects, spiders, and the like are full of wonder and excitement for our children. We can teach how each plays a roll in our garden. You can find great resources in your public library and/or online. One such resource is Worms Eat My Garbage.
- No chemicals. As we are working with children, this should be a no brainer. If you live in an urban area, you should test the soil before beginning a garden to be sure that there is no lead or other contaminants in the soul. Then you will know if it is safe to plant and eat food from that area.
- Encourage children to plant some thing that they can eat. By growing their own food, children may be more willing to try new things and eat more fruit and vegetables.
- Reinforce garden lessons indoors. Ask your children: What do you expect to see in the garden today? How much you think the plants have grown since you were last outside? Encourage them to keep a garden journal or scrapbook to record the garden’s progress throughout the seasons and over the years. If you homeschool, integrate garden lessons across all subjects.
- Keep it fun. Large families can make teams of two or more to work the garden together. Older children can help younger ones. Teams might want to plan friendly competitions when doing their garden chores. Teams also allow garden chores to be rotated.
- Have a plan – possibly a garden chart – that shows how garden time is to be divided and organized, so that there is very little idle time, but so there is also teachable moments woven into your outdoor adventures.
- Try to avoid walking in garden after a rain or whenever ground is wet. Walking on wet soil compacts it and makes it hard.
- Make it an experience. Children get few chances to interact with the earth that God created. Connection to God’s earth is imperative for their overall development. Those who develop a respect and responsibility for the earth learn to be good stewards of more than the ground they walk on. They learn to be more nurturing toward pets and siblings. Creating and caring for their own garden plot gives them a sense of empowerment because they hear from you and others that they have “done a good job.”
- Each gardener needs his or her own tools that fit their hands well to work with in the garden (plastic toy tools are not adequate). Buying good quality tools will last longer and can be passed from older siblings to younger ones.
- Make sure that each child also has a pair or two of gloves that fit well, too. This will help prevent blisters and splinters when working in the yard.
- When tools are not in use, they should be leaned against a building or fence or turned with the blade/tines toward the ground.
- Apartment dwellers and those with limited yard area will find a garden of pots holding various plants is a great gardening opportunity to brighten up their available space.
- Harvest the fruit and blooms of your garden with wonder and love. Share with family members and friends.
What To Plant
- Alyssum creates a carpet for a miniature garden area or a border around your child’s garden plot.
- Cosmos are a drought tolerant, free-flowering, and self-seeding variety that will give color and grace to all gardens, including your child’s.
- Marigolds are hardy and fast growing. Children can plant seeds in a pot for a Mother’s day gift that is sure to please. When planted in a child’s garden they provide a natural pesticide and are also a great companion for tomatoes.
- Morning glories can grow from a trellis or on an arbor made from your sunflowers. They come in a rainbow of colors, graduating from white to “Heavenly Blue.”
- Sunflowers, as their name implies, grow best in full sunshine. Mammoth sunflowers are sturdy enough to form a fort by tying their tops together with a length of sturdy twine. They will support climbing flowers like morning glories.
- Zinnias germinate quickly and produce bright spots in the garden early, encouraging your child’s interest in their garden. Although they have giant varieties, your child may be more interested in the smaller varieties like thumbelina or elegans.
- Beans—Pole varieties can form a teepee in a child’s garden either growing on a string form, or can climb up corn stalks.
- Beets—Red and gold varieties come in early and late varieties that can keep your young gardener pulling veggies from the garden early summer through fall’s end.
- Carrots – Early and late varieties come in a range of colors from white to blood red. For a good eating, early variety choose thumbelina, a bit-sized short carrot that also makes a perfect container carrot, too.
- Corn – Popcorn is easy to grow and fun to pop, too. Not all people have room to grow corn, but you may find an early, smaller-eared variety that grows in less space.
- Greens – From collards to purslane, greens belong in every garden. They are pretty, and kids love them fresh from the garden.
- Onions – Sown as sets or seeds, these are easy for children recognize.
- Peas— These are a fast-growing, cool-season plant that make sweet treats straight from the vine. They take about sixty days to grow and are very interesting to watch.
- Sprouts— A great way for our youngest gardeners to put forth their first gardening efforts. They can be grown in containers or in the ground and do well either way. In fact, you can grow mung bean, alfalfa, or broccoli sprouts in a jar in the kitchen as your child’s first gardening experiment. Then can eat them on a salad or sandwich.
- Squashes of all kinds are also a good plant for beginners.
There are other plants that you may want to try, but these are great beginner’s choices. Branch out when you/they feel comfortable. Happy growing!