Do you like to garden? Do you have children in your life? How do these two fit together for you? Gardening with kids can be a challenge, and more so for the most avid of gardeners. Many years ago I had a phone conversation with an internationally renowned gardener who lamented both that his children weren’t much good in the garden and that they had little interest in the activity. At the time we didn’t have children, yet I couldn’t help but feel sad, as I thought about the wonderful memories I had from gardening with my parents and family. There are definitely some do’s and don’ts when it comes to gardening with kids.
Some Do’s for gardening with kids
- Communicate your love of gardening to your children. Talk to them about it. Show them what you’re doing. Invite them into this part of your life. This may mean that you learn to garden together. Some of my earliest memories are of my father showing me what he had going in his planter and in the garden. He shared simply, yet encouraged my growth in knowledge, experience and vocabulary by how he shared. He shared with passion and I got it. When we were quite small he even did things like tell us the story of Jack and the Bean Stalk and then… show up with special scarlet runner bean seeds (large and colorful) so we could grow our own bean Stalks! We never got to climb the vines, but they had gorgeous flowers and we got to eat our own beans.
- Make it fun before it’s work: I’ve met people who grew up tending huge gardens, but who felt that as kids they were slave labor. As soon as able, they dropped gardening altogether. This is sad. Remember: The most important “crop” you can produce is a new gardener. To do this we need to engage our kids’ minds, hearts and imaginations as we introduce them to gardening. We need to wrap it all in relationship. I can remember my father regaling us with amazing cultural anecdotes concerning the crops we planted. Many times, when he first came home from work, we kids would accompany him to the garden to check on special “projects” (new and unusual crops) we were working on.
“The most important “crop” you can produce is a new gardener.”
- Come up with challenges: For several decades we planted many kinds of hot peppers, looking for “the one,” which would make our friend, Rocky Mastro, sweat, gasp and say, “Wow, that was hot.” We never succeeded, but it sure was fun to try! Below is a short video about “making it fun.”
- When children decide to garden, free them to do so. Let them plant what they want and experiment how they please. If an experiment doesn’t work out, just encourage them to learn from the experience and help them plan for the next season.
- When they have a harvest, make a big deal about it and help them to fix it (if it’s food). The very first thing I ever grew was a watermelon (in my sandbox, when I was four). I can still remember my Mom helping me to pick and slice it. I thought it was the best watermelon in the world!
Some “Don’ts” for Gardening with Kids
- Don’t treat every child as if from the same mold. Some children will love to garden with a passion and some children will gravitate to other interests. It’s okay, even if you can’t comprehend their unique interest.
- Don’t overdo it. Those accounts about “slave labor” make a good point. One can cause a child to turn away from gardening by “rubbing their nose in it.”
- Never put your interest in the garden ahead of your child! I once spoke with an adult who had been really hurt, as a child, when their father exclaimed that he preferred plants over his kids because the plants did what they were supposed to do! On the other hand, one of the most vivid gardening memories I have of my father is of the time he asked me to weed a section of the garden and I accidentally mowed down the entire year’s carrot crop. He was obviously sad, but he took it as an opportunity to give me a lesson on recognizing carrot plants, and then… we went inside for a good supper with Mom and the rest of the family: end of the story.
- Don’t micromanage. Remember, they are the most important crop. Encourage them by letting them experiment and letting them grow what they like.
Here’s video about our daughter, Emily’s first garden, when she was only about four years old:
Some good crops for kids’ first gardens
Remember, “the crop is the person,” not so much the plant grown. To produce a bumper crop of young gardeners it helps to grow things which capture their imagination. Consider growing things that grow BIG or make beautiful flowers. Try asking the children what kind of crop might interest them. One possibility might be pumpkins. They grow fast and produce a lot. Children usually love them.
Other inspiring kids crops:
- Watermelon or cantaloupe (yummy and fast growing)
- Beans, especially climbing varieties.
- Sunflowers (Some get really tall and have spectacular blossoms. They also grow fast.)
- Zinnias (Fast growing, trouble free and prolific producers of beautiful flowers)
Can you think of other crops which would inspire a kid gardener? Tell us about it!