Children learn that plants need not only food and water, but also loving care. (Photo by Anatoliy Samara.)
True gardeners of every age find it fun to dig in the dirt, play with water, feel the texture and size of various seeds, plant them and watch them grow. Children are curious and want to know what is happening underground as well as on top. So let them plant a few large seeds between moist paper towels and soon they will see early leaves above the seed and a root emerge below. Older children may like poring over seed catalogs, cutting out pictures of flowers they like, and making their garden plan on paper. At the same time they will learn about choosing the best environment for each plant.
If your soil is rocky or hard clay, consider a raised garden for your child. Select a small area gauged to the attention span of your child. Line the outside with rock or fitted garden stones from your local supply store and then fill the space with garden soil, compost, manure, and perhaps some sand to about 12 inches in depth. A garden center can help you with the mix compatible with your area and growing zone. A good idea is to have a south or southwest-facing garden with six to eight hours of direct sunlight.
Gardening is a joyous activity but keep safety in mind. Check seed packets or ask for advice from a reputable garden store for a list of poisonous plants to avoid. Children should not handle fertilizer or insecticide spray. Adults need to also handle the heavy work of putting in rocks and hauling dirt. However, let your child use his or her own wagon to bring bedding plants and seeds to the site.
Marigolds add lots of yellow, gold and red to the garden, and are easy to grow.
Select easy-to-grow and early-to-bloom flowers with seeds that a young child can handle. Include both annuals and perennials. Dorothy Mallard, gardener extraordinaire, helped her own children as they grew up to plant and care for a garden. She once overheard a young child explain to her friend while patting the soil around a new plant, “We’re giving it a hug,” then caution, “don’t do it too hard, you might choke it.” Children learn that plants need not only food and water, but also loving care.
Children enjoy choosing plants with names that tickle the imagination such as snapdragons, balloon flowers, butterfly weed, bee balm, coral bells or four o’clocks. Brightly colored flowering plants might include marigolds, periwinkles, petunias or pansies. Strawflowers appeal to the sense of touch with their dried textures just like straw, or lamb’s ears whose soft, silky gray texture appeals to the tactile sense. Smells can be found in most flowers – some sweet, others spicy.
Master Gardener Jeanne Stokebrand encourages parents to let it be the child’s garden with only gentle supervision by the parents. Don’t overwhelm the child with too large a space or too many instructions. “Whatever happens in the garden happens. It’s their garden, and if they plant a tall plant in front of a shorter one, it’s OK. The important part is instilling a feeling of pride, accomplishment and success.”
Using a combination of seeds and bedding plants can give some instant gratification of early blooms along with anticipation and patience needed while waiting for seeds to sprout. “Leave success in the hands of the child.”
A beautiful garden is a joy to behold. However, for the young gardener being a part of the process may be as much fun as the final colorful result.
Children love a special place to call their own – a place that can hold their treasure trove of rocks, shells and little creatures they’ve collected. What better place to choose than a garden?
Create a garden to delight the senses ...
Children, as well as butterflies and birds, are attracted to bright colors of yellow, orange and red. Try marigolds, petunias, zinnias or morning glory vines.
Children will enjoy smelling the flowers. This will help them to connect name with plant. Try alyssum for a honey fragrance, nicotiana for a sweet smell, or petunias for just a nice, good smell.
Strawflowers and globe amaranth feel like dry straw. Lamb’s ears has gray, velvety leaves that are wonderful to touch and add good color contrast.
You don’t want your child putting flowers in their mouths but you might want to try a few herbs or vegetables like radishes in the garden.
PLANTS FOR CRITT ERS
Butterflies like butterfly weed, yarrow, Shasta daisies and purple coneflower. Before your garden can feed the butterfly, it first has to feed the larval stage. Dill or parsley is good to offer and will also add texture to your garden.
Birds like trumpet-shaped flowers or any flower with a “throat” such as trumpet vine, morning glory or even begonias. Seeds from such plants as sunflowers and zinnias help feed the birds.
A child-size wagon, trowel, gloves, watering can, hat and a cushioned kneeling pad for bare knees are just right for the young gardener. Children can soon learn to distinguish weeds from flowers and pull plants they don’t want.
Children may want to add shells they picked up at the beach or rocks from the creek in their garden. Plants such as rock moss and phlox look better tumbling over these additions to the garden. Perhaps allow your child to purchase a little stone turtle, frog or maybe even add a garden angel to watch over it all. A small birdbath can be kept filled and will help attract birds to the garden. A hand-painted sign with a child’s name also adds a feeling of ownership for your young gardener.
(From Arkansas Gardener Volume IV Issue III.)