Gardening is good for the mind, body and spirit. It is also good for the youngsters in our lives. Research shows gardening helps relieve stress, improve focus, positively impacts mood and psychological well-being, builds a sense of confidence,and more.
Look for creative ways to get children involved in gardening. Tap into other interests or skills like art, reading, writing, insects, math and computers if you need to persuade reluctant participants into growing plants.
Include lots of colors and unique plants that kids will love. Crested celosia resembles brains, making it a good choice for the zombie fans in the group. Eyeball plant (Acmella oleracea), balloon plant (Gomphocarpus physocarpus) with its hairy inflated seedpods, snake plant, and kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos favidus) are a few to consider. Gardeners of all ages will appreciate the popcorn plant (Senna didymobotrya) with its buttered popcorn-scented leaves or bat-faced cuphea and the hummingbirds it will attract.
Consider adding features that make the garden a fun space to visit. There is a reason bean teepees, sunflower houses, and tunnels in the garden have remained popular with kids of all ages for decades. Or grow a garden shaped like a slice of pizza planted with all the key ingredients or a salsa garden. Everyone will benefit when using freshly harvested ingredients to create these dishes.
A pot or flat of grass makes a nice field for superheroes and a lawn for dolls. A bare patch of soil is perfect for digging, driving cars and trucks, or sculpting hills and valleys. All these build skills that can be applied to future gardening efforts.
Plant some salad radishes that are ready to harvest in 25 to 30 days. This will help keep the kids interested in the garden when waiting for the tomatoes, beans, and other vegetables to ripen. Call it harvesting when you are thinning the radish planting. Use these greens as a snack or in a salad. Harvesting and eating is more fun for all of us than just thinning the excess plants.
Use rainy days to create plant labels from paint sticks or stones. Paint individual words on some of the stones and place them in the garden. Let children leave messages for each other or write poetry. Or repurpose pickle jars into garden treasure jars. Have children decorate the jars. Then you fill the jars with messages or treasures before hiding them in the garden.
Explore ways to reuse and recycle landscape trimmings. Put twigs to use creating small-scale wattle fences for a fairy, gnome or zombie garden. This is great practice for building a larger-scale wattle fence for the garden.
Go on a bug hunt to see who is living in your garden, yard or neighborhood. Look for good bugs like lady beetles that eat plant-damaging aphids and bees that pollinate our flowers. Then log what you find in a backyard journal.
Gentle guidance, realistic expectations, and age-appropriate activities will help get kids excited about gardening. The gardens they create and the plants they grow are often amazing but more importantly, it is the experience of growing together that makes it worthwhile.
About Melinda Myers
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including the recently released Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition, and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” instant video and DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her website is www.MelindaMyers.com.