PLANTS FOR CHILDREN’S GARDEN DESIGN
There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place
where colors are brighter, the air softer, and the morning
more fragrant than ever again.
– Elizabeth Lawrence
Gardening with children is just plain fun. I started working with children when my son was in preschool. I designed a small garden in their playground and filled the space with butterfly loving plants, Zebra grass and a bean a-frame. Everyone from the teachers, parents and kids were involved in the project. I took such delight when I would see a child filled with excitement when they saw a passion flower, a hummingbird, or simply an insect for the first time. It always brought a smile to my face each morning as I walked Kristopher to school, passing the garden and watching its maturity along with his own rapid growth. I was hooked after that and have continued to create garden spaces, following my children down their educational path.
Last month I attended the eighteenth annual National Children’s Garden Symposium in Pasadena. I was truly inspired by the strong movement towards creating edible gardens at our children’s schools and youth centers. These outdoor classrooms were geared towards teaching kids about plants, soils, the environment, nutrition, and cooking. I also toured children’s public gardens and instantly was transported back to my own childhood while I played with outdoor musical instruments and romped through the grapevine tunnels.
How to Get Started:
It really begins with the kids. Engaging them in the process from start to finish will forever endear them to the garden. Ask for their ideas and try to incorporate at least some of them. Children can be a part of adding elements such as water, artwork, animal shelters, and handmade stepping stones. It would be fun if there were a wide variety of ages with young adults mentoring the younger ones. Begin small and allow the project to grow. Try a raised bed or a few containers. Let the kids plant and especially water. Vegetables, fruits, flowers, and herbs are all kid pleasers. I have listed some favorites to get you started.
Plants children adore: (Please remember to use organic plant material will be consumed.)
Sunflowers: I feel like a kid every time I see one of these huge beauties turn their heads towards the sun.
Beans and Peas: These vegetable are very easy to grow from seed. Bush beans can be grown in a pot. Kids also love to shell peas.
Radishes: This is the instant gratification plant here with harvesting just a month after seeding. They do fabulous in the fall through early spring.
Lettuce: There are so many colorful varieties available in seed.
Cherry and Grape Tomatoes: A great container plant.
Carrots: A favorite of my kids. The seed is a little tiny for young children, but picking and eating is a delight. I tried a red variety this year called Dragon that got rave reviews.
Potatoes: This year I made homemade potato chips from our crop which was an instant hit.
Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries: These are the jewels that I bribe kids with to help weed the garden.
Herbs: Great collection of plants that kids love to touch, smell and eat. Mint is the universal favorite.
Gourds: Easy to seed, great to cover a trellis and fun for art projects.
Edible flowers: Nasturtiums, pansies, borage and marigolds just to name a few. Toss a couple in a salad or freeze some in an ice cube tray.
Bulbs: Paperwhites and Amaryliss: These make wonderful gifts that children can help plant.
Lamb’s Ear: I cannot resist “petting” this plant.
Firespike (Odontonema): Hummingbirds love this vivid red bloomer.
Carnivorous plants: Venus Fly Traps and Pitcher plants are captivating.
Introducing children to plants enriches their lives. Gardening teaches patience while we wait for seeds to germinate. Growing the food we eat is an invaluable skill that incorporates good nutrition. The connection to nature with its complete cycle is all right there in the garden. My greatest passion in life is to pass on my own enthusiasm for plants to children and in return to see the garden through their eyes. It was a child that taught me that nut grass has the sweetest fragrance. I had thought of it only as a weed.
Inspiration and Sources:
www.seedsofchange.com Great for organic seeds, strawberry plants, seed potatoes
www.riverbanks.org The River Banks Zoo in Columbia, SC has an incredible botanical garden along with the zoo. It is not too large and can easily be seen in a day.
www.edibleschoolyard.org Alice Waters of Chez Panisse pioneered this kitchen classroom for children .
Project Sprout is an incredible endeavor started by Sam Levin who is a high school student. It is an organic vegetable garden created and maintained solely by the students.