Parents can use the power of variety to entice children outdoors to experiment in the dirt. A garden offers a myriad of lessons in sowing, tending, reaping, and resting, all critical processes to creativity. For kids, the goal should never be a perfectly manicured result, but a colorful canvas exploding with organic self-expression.
Let your child experience the joy of gardening first-hand by giving him a garden plot in which to experiment. Introduce him to all of the possibilities and then let him choose how to plant it. In life we learn from doing, and the lessons that stick with kids will come from personal experience, as well.
A Palette of Possibilities
A garden of your child’s own is a great metaphor for many of life’s experiences. Here is a list of possible things your child can grow in a window box, a four-foot by four-foot plot of soil, or a bed along the side of the house. Let her relish in the possibilities as she learns how to make choices most pleasing to her. Gardening can be an art, when you open up to the possibilities of personal expression.
1. Plant Annual Flowers.
By far the easiest to grow with the most immediate results are annual flowers. Start with annuals if your little gardener has never dug in the soil before. Hardy annuals for first-time planters include flower seeds that germinate quickly like sunflowers (various varieties and heights), cosmos, sweet alyssum, zinnia, pansies, snapdragons, gomphrena, strawflowers, tithonia, impatiens, petunia, and calendula. For even more immediate gratification, pick out a colorful variety of annuals at the store, plant them, and enjoy the results within an hour. Here’s a great site for seeds.
2. Invest In Perennial Flowers.
Once young gardeners understand the concept of annual bloomers, it’s time to introduce them to flowers that come back year after year. Be sure to convey the savings in time and money, since perennials are planted only once and enjoyed many times. Check perennials each year to see if they need to be split and spread out. You might also want to relocate a few of your re-seeding perennials so you can enjoy them in other parts of your yard. Good choices for first-time planters include: gloriosa daisy, ageratum, coneflower, coreopsis, sedum, peony, bearded iris, daylily, lily, lamb’s ear, hollyhocks, verbena, gazania, California poppy, and hosta. Pay attention to whether perennials enjoy shade or sun or both, and they will pay you back in beauty year after year.
3. Vote For Veggies.
Few things are as satisfying as watching food grow from seed to table. Or purchase veggie starters at your local garden shops. In cool weather try: carrots, lettuce, radishes, peas, spinach, kale, swiss chard, and broccoli. In Warm weather try: beans, cucumbers, spring onions, cherry, or grape tomatoes, round zucchini, and patty pan squash. All of these foods are super-easy to grow.
4. Favor Fruit Plants.
Children of all ages adore eating fruit fresh warmed by the sun. Whether you have a few plants scattered around the yard or a whole fruit garden, every berry swallowed is sure to fetch a smile. Try planting strawberries, thornless Blackberry, thornless raspberry, golden raspberry, and blueberries for years of enjoyment. Blackberries grow vigorously but can become invasive. Here’s a great local nursery that only carries Texas tolerant plants.
5. Let’s Hear It For The Herbs.
Herb gardens are great for tweens and teens, testing culinary skills in the kitchen, but herbs can also provide pleasure at any age. My daughter has been popping mint leaves into her mouth since she could walk. We enjoy a little mint or lemon balm in iced tea, thyme and chives in scrambled eggs, and oregano and basil in a fresh salad. Including herbs in your diet is easy. Try planting mint (many varieties but also invasive, so use containers), lemon balm, chives, catnip, oregano, basil, dill, parsley, rosemary, and thyme to get started.
6. Eat Edible Flowers.
Want to add a whimsical touch to ice cubes, cupcakes, and salads? Then experiment with edible flowers. Try planting colorful nasturtiums (annual), culinary lavender (perennial), pansies (annual), violas (annuals), roses (perennial), calendula (annual), and geraniums (annual and perennial). Try taste-testing petals alone, in combination with each other, and mixed into foods like shortbread (lavender) or used for decoration when serving food.
7. Make Way For Giants.
Pumpkins and melons can become quite large and over-crowd a small garden plot. For this reason, stake out a spot for them where they will have room to sprawl over a sunny, mulched area. Corn is another plant that likely requires it’s own space and can be grown in blocks of rows that get even sun all day long. Growing large plants is dramatic fun for young gardeners that is sure to make a lasting impression.
8. Fancy Flowering Bushes.
Create beds of sweet-smelling, flowering bushes if you want to attract lots of hummingbirds and butterflies to your yard. Butterflies like large, flat rocks in the sun and a sandy puddle for drinking safely. Choose a sunny, non-windy area. Try planting butterfly bush (non-invasive variety), bee balm, salvia, lilac, mock orange, glossy abelia, buttonbush, ninebark, spicebush, milkweed, and clethra.
9. Vie For Vines.
Nothing makes me happier than seeing sweet-smelling honeysuckle twining up the iron grate that holds our mailbox. Look around your yard for things that can be climbed or invest in inexpensive trellises. Then plant coral honeysuckle, cardinal climber, cypress vine, climbing hempweed, morning glory, scarlet runner bean, sweet pea, everlasting pea, and trumpet vine. Beans will also climb and can run along a garden-stake wall or climb a tee-pee.
10. Consider Fun Inedibles.
Some of my favorite things to grow are just for decoration, not to eat. Inedibles also make great fall gifts. Try gourds combinations for a nice basket display, Indian corn for wreathes, and bottle gourds to turn into birdhouses. Chinese lantern stems make bright orange fall décor and wreathes, just remember the plants can be invasive.