My father was in the military, but we grew a vegetable garden in just about every place we were stationed. One of my fondest memories was the jumble packet of seeds he would buy me every spring (only a dime!). He’d give me an empty row in the garden, and I would plant these little mysteries, wondering what they’d become- radishes, okra, marigolds, watermelon? I relished having a space of my own and contributing produce to the dinner table. And that joy and pride might be the reason why I got into horticulture as a career.
Not everyone is going to choose horticulture as a career, but gardens and kids are a natural combination. Gardens can teach children everything from art and science to the art of patience. Get a kid into a garden, and they’ll get fresh air and exercise without even thinking about it. Now, those of you who have witnessed the convulsions inspired by a simple request to weed the flowerbed might believe otherwise. However, I’m going to offer some tips to get your kids outside and in the dirt.
Fit the garden to the child. The great thing about gardening is that there’s a garden for every kind of person. Is your daughter a disciple of Fancy Nancy? You can grow a fairy garden with tiny groundcovers and dwarf shrubs and sweet little houses, or even grow your own chamomile and mint for a tea party. Does your child love animals? Any garden can be habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife, if you know what to grow. Gardens can be formal or wild, they can fit the smallest spaces or fill the biggest lots. A younger child might only be able to care for a few small pots, while a middle-schooler might have plans for the whole backyard. Ask your child about their “perfect garden” and you’d be surprised how some of those ideas (okay, maybe not the spaceship or the gumdrop tree) can fit into your landscape.
Slow down and love the mess. I do laundry. I know just how incredibly muddy one small child can get. But my memories of my own son digging in the kitchen gardens, helping to plant tomato plants, were worth the bother of dirty clothes. Did he plant the tomatoes straight? Not exactly, and his weeding left a lot to be desired. But I wasn’t going to let my adult-sized expectations get in the way of his enthusiasm. The joy he got from eating something he grew himself…and his desire to do it again…was more important to me. Now he’s nine and practically a pro.
Food is always a good thing. Some kids love flowers – they’re colorful, smell terrific and attract very interesting bugs. But for many kids, flowers would only be interesting if they shot lasers and turned into robots. However, we all have to eat, and if you include a cherry tomato plant here, some raspberry canes there, you’d be surprised at what you can get your child to eat. Once, my son dared himself to eat purslane, a weed, because I told him about a purslane salad recipe I found in a magazine. We pulled a whole bucket’s worth of purslane, then ate some right in the garden. He felt like such a food adventurer after that…even though we both decided that one nibble of purslane was plenty.
Short bursts are best. I have a long garden attention span, eagerly spending hours caring for my plants. I don’t get weary of weeding, I get energized. However, a child can get easily overwhelmed by a garden full of work to do. And who wants their nature idyll spoiled by an epic meltdown? If a child wants to take a break from weeding to explore for bugs, remember that finding bugs is a worthwhile activity. They’re learning and having fun outside, which is a gift in our chaotic, overscheduled world. Our next generation of ecologists and conservationists may very well come from these children dabbling in the dirt.
Posted by Amy Yarger, Horticulture Director
Entry filed under: Uncategorized.