Thinking about getting the kids a little more involved in the garden this year? I can say from experience that it really is possible to have a beautiful garden that your kids are allowed to play in. The most important things (I think) that you need to do are:
1. Let go of a little perfectionism. Let the kids pick flowers if they like them. I have a few special plants that my kids know I don't want them to touch, and they know they are not to step on any plants, but otherwise they are free to enjoy the garden as they would like. Since I have mostly perennials, I also know that even if the kids pick all the flowers (which they don't generally do), the plant will still come back next year. Some plants even flower more if you cut the flowers off anyway!
3. Make sure the kids have some ownership in garden planning (this is related to letting go of some perfectionism!) Give them a spot to dig. Let them plant some easy-to-grow plants (plants from large seeds and bulbs are great). It's a nature, environment, and science lesson with fresh air and exercise to boot!
4. Plant edibles to snack on while playing outside. My only mistake is not planting enough - the kids seem to eat all the strawberries and tomatoes every year before I get any! Would you believe they even love salad if it comes from the garden? Plants that are interesting to smell or touch are also great for kids.
Here are some more ideas I've found recently from other websites:
A crawl tunnel from
I could easily see this made much taller (for bigger kids) simply by using longer poles.
Lots of ideas posted at the Garden Blogger's Design workshop on Gardening with Kids.
Also some tips below, mostly related to growing edibles with kids, from one of my favourite new websites, the Garden Girl's Urban Sustainable Living:
20 things to help get the youngest in the family involved in the garden!
Ever wish you could get the family more excited and involved in the garden? Here are some tips to help make that happe
- Start with a trip to the grocery or farmer's market. Let the kids show you what fruits and vegetables they like. Do some "compare and contrast" to talk about varieties - so leafy lettuce looks different than romaine, etc. Hopefully you'll be able to do some tasting too.
- Let each child select seeds to order from seed catalogues or from the seed packet displays at the grocery. Get them to talk to you about how they make their decisions (why this variety of tomato vs. that one)
- Divide up the garden so each family member can plant and tend her own garden. Square Foot Gardening is GREAT for this.
- Give each child a package of sunflower seeds and let them sprinkle them wherever they like, then watch them sprout and bloom throughout the summer.
- Be sure to plant a variety of seeds including some that sprout FAST and some that are slow. Sprout some seeds on wet paper towels so you can watch the progress indoors.
- Put a bird feeder in or near the garden - birds are great help with pest control. The birds might eat some of the harvest, but they usually leave plenty.
- Choose at least one new plant to grow each year - and make sure the family knows you are experimenting. You'll all try a new food and its more fun when everyone is learning together
- Grow pumpkins, watermelon, corn, peas, cherry tomatoes, anything "funny colored" like red carrots or purple beans.
- Get a few garden implements that the kids can really use. Hardware and garden stores and websites usually carry smaller trowels, and hand tools that can give the kids success. Try to stay away from buying the plastic rakes and shovels that don't really work and break easily.
- Get everyone involved in harvesting. Kids love picking beans, pulling up carrots and radishes, picking strawberries or grapes.
- Make a big deal about harvesting - show off the basket of fresh food to everyone in the family and then try to eat a least some of it for your next meal.
- If your garden space allows, put a table and chairs or a bench to your garden.
- Have dinner or afternoon tea in the garden.
- Invite the neighbors over for cocktails made with some of your garden herbs.
- Add a birdbath - Its so much fun to watch the animals drink and bathe.
- Let the kids release ladybugs.
- Make a worm-composting bin and let the kids be in charge of tending it. Worms are fun!
- An older child can install and tend a rain barrel for the garden watering.
- Even adults can be intimidated by knowing what to harvest. Show your sweetie how to tell if the tomato is ripe, or how to choose lettuces, onions, whatever. Then hand them the harvesting basket and YOU go take a break while they experiment, learn, taste, and have fun.
- Just for fun, see if you and the family can make a favorite food - like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from scratch! Can you grow nuts in your area? If not, try grinding nuts into nut-butter at the grocery. Do berries or grapes grow in your area? Grow your own, or buy some at the market and make some fresh jelly or jam. Even if you can't grow your own wheat, make a fresh loaf of bread and have your homemade PB&J sandwiches.
Cynthia McKenna is a writer, gardener, Episcopal Priest, and psychotherapist in the Texas Hill Country. To visit her blog click http://gardengateblog.com.