hen gardening with kids, it helps to look back at your own childhood, and remember all the fun things you used to do.
I was fond of spending weekends at my grandparents’ cottage, which had a large vegetable garden. I grew up in the city of Antwerp (Belgium), and it was a real treat to be in the countryside.
My grandpa Va let me help sow the vegetables in neat rows (I wasn’t allowed to do circles) and I would watch over them like a hawk, jumping with excitement when the seedlings were up. My grandma Moe encouraged me to help her in the garden and look for worms, beetles etc. I would collect them in a jar for her. She also told me to keep my eyes open as I might find a baby sister or brother in the cabbage patch…. I never found a sister or brother, but I sure got stung by the gardening bug! It certainly was a memorable time and I believe that it is important to pass this joy on to our own children. Gardening is a great way to teach your children a real appreciation and respect for nature.
It does take a bit of patience and restraint on the parent’s side but it is well worth the effort. The main thing is to be a facilitator and depending on the age of the children and their abilities, keep it small.
The chosen spot for the garden should preferably be on good garden soil with lots of sunshine and good drainage. We want our kids to succeed in their gardening efforts and enjoy is as well.
To start out, show your kids how to work the soil. Let them feel it between their fingers and allow them to get real dirty. This is the part where they will need the most assistance. Raised beds work best as they are easier to maintain. Give the kids input in the layout of the garden and you will be surprised about their creativity. Straight lines are taboo with children! Show them how to prepare the soil, mixing in compost and manure and let them go for it. Let them decide what to plant in their gardens. Take them to the garden centre and let them pick out some seed packages and plants. We love having kids at the garden centre, they are so curious and excited about everything, so eager to plant their own and they have very strong ideas about their likes and dislikes in plants.
If you have more than one child, you might opt for giving each one of them their own piece of the garden. This worked the best with my three girls, as they were very strong minded from an early age on and this reduced the amount of fighting and arguing.
Show your kids how to plant seeds and they will be very eager to do it themselves. Let them loose, don’t worry about colour combinations, patterns or anything else that we adults are conditioned to worry about.
A fun way to mark their seeding is with homemade markers. We used to cut pictures out of old catalogues or seed packages and then laminate them and mount them on popsicle sticks. A great rainy day project.
Climbing beans are a good starter project. Create some teepees out of bamboo stakes and let the kids plant the beans. Show them how to water the beans in gently, stressing the ‘gently’ part. Kids tend to get carried away with water.
To reduce the maintenance of the garden, I would recommend mulching the pathways with bark mulch, wood chips or straw. Weeding is generally not the kids’ most favorite part of gardening at the start, so make it easier for them, you want them to succeed!
Here are some easy to grow plants, that will be a hit with most kids: morning glories nasturtiums, snapdragons, sunflowers, pansies, short marigolds, sweet peas, scarlet runner beans, edible pod peas, wax beans, carrots, cherry tomatoes, radishes, lettuce, zucchini, patty pans, pumpkins.
Have your children carve their name in the skin of a pumpkin with a sharp point when the fruit is still very small (or an adult, if the children are too young) and watch their name grow!