Do you recall your very first plant? Your first garden? Perhaps it was the geranium seeds you planted in a milk carton or Styrofoam cup as part of a class project. Perhaps, if you were lucky, it was your own corner of your parent’s garden, staked out and set up just for the plants that you chose. My own garden memories include experiments with watermelon seeds (under the back porch where no one would step on them – and where, with no sun, they never grew), orange seeds (the ones in the garden never sprouted. The one I started in a paper cup on a window sill still grows in my mother’s back yard) and packets of all sorts of flower seeds.
Instilling a love of gardening in children gives them a lifelong gift on which they can draw – for pleasure, for sustenance and to add creativity and joy to their lives. There are so many garden-related activities and experiments that you can do with a garden. It boggles the mind that so many resources and references to gardening with children concentrate on ‘building a sunflower house’ when there are so many more creative ways to introduce children to the pure fun of gardening.
Packets of seeds that are labeled ‘kid gardens’ are one way to go about it – they do usually contain seeds for plants that grow quickly, at least in grownup terms. For a child, though, ten days is an eternity. Instead, take a trip to the local nursery with your child and let them pick one or two flats of flowers already in bloom. Invest a few dollars in a garden trowel and fork, and help your child transplant the seedlings into his own flower bed. That’s the sort of work/reward ratio that a child understands: one afternoon of digging and planting equals a flower garden. As the weeks go on, you’ll find their interest is maintained because they’re into the FUN part of gardening – watering, picking, and enjoying.
When they’re ready to start from seed, include them in early spring seed starting. Instead of buying plants, let them plant them inside to be ready to transplant in a few weeks. Take a tip from science teachers everywhere – plant several flats in regular trays, but plant one very special ‘demonstrator’. Fill a glass with soil, poke seeds down into the dirt against the side of the glass and put it on a sunny windowsill. Your child will have the fascination of watching what happens underground as his seedlings grow – the seed pod splitting, the roots spreading, and finally, the miracle of the first tiny shoots pressing upward toward the light and heat.
There are other very easy gardening projects that yield quick results for children, projects that have the bonus of being ‘winter-ready’. Cut up a potato, making sure that each chunk contains at least one eye. Plant it in a cup of dirt with the eye facing up – and watch it grow. You can do the same with an onion – just bury the onion in soil with the crown showing. It will only take days for the shoots to turn green and begin growing.
For more fun gardening ideas for kids, pick up a science activity book. You’ll find a world of growing and gardening experiments that children can try, including the ever popular cucumber in a bottle’ trick.