Kids and gardens are a natural, and there are many simple ways to include children in your garden.
Gardening together teaches children that food comes from healthy soil, water and seeds, and that humans rely on creatures to pollinate plants and build healthy soil.
Here are a few ways to engage children in your yard:
• Plant vegetables that the kids like to eat. Surprise and delight them by planting unusual or interesting-looking varieties. Bush beans can be purple or yellow or striped like ‘Dragon’s Tongue.’ Carrots are easy to grow; try mini –sized ‘Thumbelina.’ ‘Chantenay’ varieties don’t need to be peeled and are quick and easy to cook (and tasty).
• Leave room for good, old-fashioned digging. Holes are a highly popular landscape feature for children. Look for worms.
• Build a runner-bean teepee. Runner beans climb 15 feet and can cover a structure, and a teepee makes for a great edible food fort. The tasty, sweet, crunchy flowers are an unexpected treat. Runnerbean pods are huge, with giant brown, white or scarlet seeds inside.
• Kids like to gather flowers for bouquets. Here are some flowers for cutting: zinnias, asters, statice, strawflowers, lavender, purple globe thistle, Sunflowers, cosmos, bachelor buttons, marigolds, Love-in-a-Mist, daisies, snapdragons and dianthus.
• Create root-viewing boxes by cutting a gallon milk jug in half, making holes for drainage, filling with potting soil and placing a seed near the edge. You can now watch the roots grow.
• Plant a theme garden. The “Peter Rabbit” books mention mint, rosemary, sage, hyssop, chamomile, lavender and lemon balm — all make for a great herb garden. These plants are great for cooking or to make herbal teas. Collect your favorites and make a smelly sachet to place in your sock or underwear drawer.
• Exploring the creature world is a great way for parents and children to learn about everything that helps make a garden grow. A quick bug house can be educational and fun, and if bugs are too icky or scary, think about building small fairy houses instead.
To do this, find a place in the garden that is part-shade. Dig a shallow hole for a water reservoir; put in a tofu tub or some other plastic container and fill with water.
Place rocks or bricks on the soil around and over the reservoir. Add sticks, broken pottery and leaves. Decorate your bug house with flowers and sidewalk chalk.
Keep the area moist and leave undisturbed for a few weeks.
Carefully take your bug house apart, explore and identify the creatures and then rebuild!
Here are a few things to watch out for when children are playing in the garden:
• Create a garden that is safe for everyone — Never use chemical fertilizers, poisonous weed killers or insecticides.
• Teach children how to use tools and provide smaller, kid-sized garden gear for family fun.
• Test your soil for lead — Homes built before 1978 often were painted with lead paint, which chips or leaches into soil around the foundations.
Also at risk: homes on busy roads and homes in current or former industrial areas.
• Watering the garden is a great job for kids, but even a bucket of water can be dangerous for a toddler. Always supervise children around water.
• Not all plants are safe to eat. Children should always ask an adult (who knows) which plants are OK to eat and touch.
Here are some places to get you thinking:
•Get growing with Seattle Tilth Children’s Garden programs for ages 2 to 14 at Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N., and at the Rainier Beach Learning Garden, 4800 S. Henderson St. For details about Seattle Tilth programs for children and families, see. www.seattletilth.org/learn/kids.
• Join Story Time at the Miller Library, for stories and activities that celebrate gardens, plants and nature: depts. washington.edu/hortlib/calendar/story_time. shtml.
Rent a Family Adventure Pack and discover the Washington State Arboretum with your children through self-guided tours. The Family Adventure Pack includes field guides, scavenger hunts, magnifying lenses and activity ideas for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. See depts. washington.edu/uwbg/education/Youth/family. shtml for more information.
• Explore the Magnuson Park Children’s Garden, a place built to “delight and engage children in the wonders and beauties of making things grow,” at the Magnuson Park Community Garden at Magnuson Park, 7400 Sand Point Way N. E.
• Discover the Bradner Park Gardens’ kids’ garden and play area (in the Mount Baker neighborhood, at 29th Avenue South and South Grand, Seattle). For details and a map, see www.seattle.gov/Parks/park_detail. asp?ID=401.
• Take a road trip to the Lake Hills Greenbelt Urban Demonstration Garden (also known as Bellevue Demonstration Garden) which includes a children’s garden and lots of walking trails (15500 S. E. 16th St.). For more details about the demonstration garden, see www.mgfkc.org/resources/demonstration-gardens/ bellevue-demonstration-garden.
• Sign up for West Seattle Nursery’s Growing Gardener’s Club for children ages 4 to 12. See www.westseattlenursery.comfor more information.
Find other ideas for family gardening activities at kidsgardening.com.
For plant-care recommendations and advice, call the Garden Hotline at (206) 633-0224 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sheri Hinshaw is a Garden Hotline educator with Seattle Tilth.