It is not necessary to go into a lot of details, but your child must be aware that certain plants will only thrive in full sun, while another plant
would certainly perish if it were planted in the same spot.
As you and your child thumb through your plant catalog, or wander through your favorite garden center, your child is likely to be drawn to
the most dramatic appearing perennials, and flowering shrubs.
Let them know that you are there to help, if they have any questions about which plants will do well in their garden.
By carefully wording your responses, you can guide your child to appropriate choices.
It may be helpful to suggest a couple of ideas of your own, before you even begin looking. That way, you can begin your browsing by looking at those options first, rather than having to eliminate hundreds of other plants (for one reason or another), before you even get to your own suggestions.
Your child may discover a plant which is completely inappropriate in your mind (because of size, shape, or because you reallllly don't like it). If you are unable to veto the choice because all other criteria are met, ("But, Daddy, it DOES need full sun!") don't tell them no right away, unless you are pushed into a corner with no escape!
When this situation arises, I would suggest that you respond with "we will keep that plant in mind, when we make our final choice... but let's go look at a few others first." This should give you enough time to direct their attention to another plant, which has that same particular asset which drew your child to the first choice. ('Mmmmmm... this one smells soooooo good!", "I reallllly like that red flower, Mom!". Remember that although this is supposed to be their garden project, ultimately you are going to be responsible for the results.
Some Easy to Grow Plants
- Although radishes may not be up at the top of your favorite food list, they are an excellent choice for your child's first seed growing experience. The speed at which they germinate and actually grow into food is sure to keep their interest. Suggest putting in a short row of them, in the front of the garden so they can keep an eye on the progress. If the weather has sufficiently warmed, and the seeds are planted according to the package directions, your child can be admiring their handiwork in as little as three or four days, when the first leaves emerge from the ground. Depending on the variety, your child may be harvesting food for their family's table as soon as a month later... A very satisfying and fulfilling experience for them, to say the least!
- The bright, cheery annual flowers, such as Cosmos, Marigolds, Zinnias, Nasturtiums, and Snapdragons will almost certainly please your child. These easy-to-grow, low-maintenance, 'color spots' are available in six packs of small starters, or they can be purchased in four inch pots (normally, already in bud or bloom) for much quicker results
- Many herbs are also available as starter plants. Children love to sniff the wonderful scent of lemon balm or mint when you show them how to crumble a leaf between their fingers. Most herbs are easily grown, but unfortunately, many of them tend to be invasive (especially the different mints). There are also many which will remain compact, so do a little research into the habits of the selected herbs before you commit to growing them. Unless you have adequate space to deal with the larger herbs, it is better to forget this category.
- The soft and woolly foliage of Lamb's Ears, (a perennial), will be the constant recipient of gentle strokes and attention by your child, from the moment it is brought home from the nursery.
- The Coleus is a fast growing annual, produces a rainbow of colored foliage from the moment it begins growing. The variety of colors is so nearly complete, that no matter what your child's favorite color is, you can probably find a Coleus that is just right. These plants are probably one of the best examples to use as a teaching aid...
They are easily started and grown from seed, either in the garden or as a house plant.
Although a Coleus produces a stalk of pretty blue flowers, the plant will last longer if the spikes are pinched off. Explain to your child that it is better, and healthier for the plant if the flowers are removed. This is a perfect plant for a youngster to learn how to pinch or disbud plants, because it would be next to impossible for them to inflict serious damage to this almost indestructible plant.
When the time is right to advance your child into the world of plant propagation, you can both enjoy the experience of taking cuttings, and creating a 'clone' of the original. A cutting can be taken at almost any time during the Coleus' life, but the best time is toward the end of the summer, so that you can keep your plant growing indoors, to enjoy all through the winter. A 4-5 inch cutting taken from the tip of a healthy branch, placed in a glass of water, and set in a bright warm spot will root, and be ready for potting in as little as a week to ten days. Another proud moment for your child!
- How tall is your child??? Three feet? Can you imagine how good they will feel about their accomplishment, when they grow a big ol' sunflower that towers over them by several feet? Sunflowers are easy to grow, and will be several feet high in no time at all. It will take a while before your child actually has a 'sun flower' on their plant, but with the rapid growth rate of these plants, they are sure to keep their interest. By the end of the summer, they can either munch down on their own home grown seeds, or save them to feed the hungry birds during the coming winter.
- Green beans...... hmmmmmph! Do I really think that any kid wants to grow green beans??? Probably not.....
What about if you work together, and build a teepee frame out of six foot bamboo poles or inexpensive 2x2's which have been joined at the top? A few bean seeds planted at the base of each stake, will quickly sprout, and begin climbing to the top of the pole. With a little training to keep the vines growing in the right direction, the entire frame will soon be covered with thick foliage, followed by dainty flowers, and then, (ick) the green beans. In the meantime, a cave of sorts has been created beneath this architectural wonder. A perfect, shady spot to take a quick break from all of those gardening chores, don't you think??
In case you can't tell, I am not a big fan of green beans. Personally, I think I will grow some Morning Glories on my teepee frame, instead of the beans. They will work out every bit as well!
Themed Gardens... Kid Style
In my own yard, I have several different gardens. Although it wasn't necessarily intended to work out that way in the beginning, many of them have developed a 'theme'. One garden is dedicated to butterflies and another garden was built especially for hummingbirds. One garden features different varieties of Daffodils and other bulb type plants. Another garden contains a collection of the shade plants which are native to this area.
I like the 'theme' concept, because it allows me to use my imagination and creativity, thinking of ways to improve and enhance them. Your child might be interested in creating their own type of theme...
- How about a critter garden??? Let me see,,,, we could plant our LAMB's Ears in this garden. A CATnip or CAT mint would definitely fit the category. TIGER Lilies, ELEPHANT Ears, SnapDRAGONS, MONKEY Flower, HENS and CHICKS, BUTTERFLY Weed, BEE Balm, CARDINAL Flowers, DEER Ferns... There are enough different 'animal' plants that your child should be able to keep quite content... and busy with this theme.
- Probably the simplest theme to adhere to, would be a garden consisting of like-colored flowers.
There should be no shortage of options here, no matter what your child's favorite color may be ....
- These plants are from.... An older child, having the ability to do more research, might be interested in pursuing a collection of plants from a certain country or region of the world.
Perhaps a different plant type from each continent, for an international garden?
- A Butterfly Garden doesn't have to be on a grand scale. Help your child pick two or three plants that attract and feed butterflies. A butterfly garden will not only help your child learn more about the plant world, they will be able to observe and enjoy the beauty and grace of these living garden ornaments.
- For just about any interests your child may have, with a little imagination, you should be able to come up some type of theme, that somehow fits in.
A few closing, but very important points!
The intent of this page is to help you to promote a good, gardening relationship with your child. As you and your child work together in your gardens, it should be a learning, helping and happy experience for both of you. Patience and understanding on your part is an absolute must, because gardening will be an entirely new world and concept for your child.
You will have to accept a less than perfect garden... Does it really matter if the row is straight? A forgotten weed growing out there, surely wont hurt a thing!
With time, experience, and your caring guidance, your child will gain the knowledge and skills to create a garden which will impress even the most experienced gardener. For now, enjoy the company of your most precious asset in the world. Let them know what an excellent job they are doing, and how much help they are to you in the garden.
Then give 'em a GREAT BIG OL' HUG, and stand back to admire the success of your gardening project together.
Don't ever forget to tell them how much you love them...... EVER!
Gardening with Children Part 1
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