Kids can grow, too, with gardening tips

Posted: Sunday, May 09, 2004

Children are naturals at gardening.

Gardening sparks curiosity and creativity, gets the child outdoors and away from the TV set,and becomes precious and fun moments spent together. Including them can make gardening more enjoyable for you, open your eyes and teach you a few things, too. Try a few of the ideas below to share your love of gardening with a child.

Take a child to the nursery to pick out the annuals for one area. The colors may not be what you expect or want, but do not use anything more than gentle guidance to help choose once you tell a child that the selection is his job.

Admit you don't know the answer and look it up together. Don't just drop the subject with an "I don't know." Figure out how to find the answers. An Internet search or a reference book can help you find out why a dogwood has a funny name or what kind of butterfly is flying around the back yard.

Follow the growth of a newly planted tree: take a photo of the child standing by the tree every year and follow the progress of each.

Compost. This was a part of after-dinner clean up when I was growing up. It was very clear to each of us kids what went down the disposal, what went in the trash and what went into the compost and believe me, Dad knew when something went into the wrong container.

Give a child his or her own space. I love to design areas in a back yard for the kids to plant flowers and vegetables. Or let the child have a section of the vegetable garden.

Grow sprouts. There are great inexpensive supplies and sprouting beans in health food stores. This is an easy project to do, shows a child how a plant emerges from a seed, and really dresses up a sandwich or salad when you're finished.

Harvest for the hungry. Pick the extra vegetables and take them to a local food bank. Fresh fruits and vegetables are usually in short supply and very welcome at food banks.

Plant vines. Hyacinth bean is my favorite annual vine and a great plant for kids to grow. It grows very quickly, is easy to grow from seed and has fun purple blooms that are followed by purple beans. Three bamboo poles ties together into a teepee will be enough support.

Explain things according to a child's priorities. My niece had no interest in tomatoes until I explained that was where spaghetti and pizza sauce came from. Tomatoes instantly became a valuable commodity once she saw a use.

Find a chore that they enjoy. My niece has no interest in weeding, one of my favorite jobs, but she is a pro at cutting off spent flowers.

Keep a stash of vases. I always keep an eye out for vases or mugs on sale, so I can give away fresh flower bouquets from the garden. Let a child go through the garden and pick a vase full of flowers for a grandparent or family friend.

Grow flowers from seed. I swear plants are like puppy dogs they somehow know when a kid is involved and have more tolerance.

Buy them tools. Kids gardening equipment is bright and fun and sized for them. They have the responsibility to put their tools where they belong. I still have my first set of tools, given to me by my father.

Find out if there is a nearby botanical garden or nature center and discover it with your child in different seasons. Many offer great classes and events.

Look at a few things in the garden under a magnifying glass.

Some fun plants to grow with a child:

Plants that feel different: Lamb's Ear (Stachys), with fuzzy gray leaves. Portulaca or Hen & Chicks, which are succulents.

Flowers that look fun: Pineapple Lily (Eucomis), whose blooms look like a pineapple fruit. Bells of Ireland, with green bells. Wishbone Flower (Torenia), with a little wishbone inside each bloom.

Plants with fun names: Toad Lily (Tricyrtis). Lungwort (Pulmonaria). Spiderwort (Tradescentia). Hen & Chicks (Sempervivum)

Plants with their name: Rose of Sharon. Sweet Katie Spiderwort. Sweet William.

Fruits and vegetables.

Plants that attract butterflies: Find lists of butterfly plants at the library or local Extension Office or on the Internet.

Daffodils: This fall, plant the bulbs "pointy side up," then in spring, place blue food coloring into the vase of daffodils.

Connie Cottingham is a landscape architect registered in three Southern states and living in Athens, Ga. You can contact her at

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