Updated: Jan 22
As a landscape designer and avid gardener, giving up control in my own garden can be challenging to say the least. I cringe every time I see my husband walking with a pair of pruners in his hand, so when it comes to sharing my garden space with a child it is an opportunity for growth to say the least. A few years ago, I got tired of trying to figure out how to fit my son’s orange marigolds in with my existing color scheme and wanted to give him something of his own that he could be proud of. Giving him his own space became wildly successful and a solution for both of us.
Kids and gardening go hand in hand. Most kids are naturals when it comes to gardening and getting their hands dirty. Put a trowel in any child’s hand, and they can’t resist the urge to dig and discover. We had to institute a “no more holes” policy in our own back yard because of this very point! Letting kids get involved with gardening is a greatly rewarding experience for kids, and can be for their parents as well. It brings a confidence and sense of wonder that is contagious. The lessons it teaches them about plants, soil, responsibility and life in general are endless. Not only that, but kids who grow up gardening become some of the best advocates of the environment around. So here are some steps to help you along your own gardening journey and create your own environmentalists.
1. Plan your space.
Take a look around to see what area you’d like to transform. Giving your child space for their own garden is one of the keys to success. Providing kids with their own space gives them ownership, responsibility and most importantly pride. Not only that, but you don’t have to worry about color clashes, power struggles and where to put that rock collection! Remember, that this space doesn’t have to be a new area, it could simply be an unused area in an already existing bed. Keep it reasonably sized so gardening doesn’t get to be an overwhelming task. We have a 2’ by 5’ section, which is just big enough to add some variety but doesn’t take too long to plant or weed. If you don’t have a yard, you can always garden in containers. An empty jug or bottle is all you need. Planning a designated space will help you to determine what plants to acquire and what you will need to get started. Remember that you’re lighting, water and space requirements will determine what you are able to grow.
2. Complete the necessary soil preparations.
This includes getting rid of any existing weeds or debris. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a garden area already prepared, you’ll need to weed the entire area and possibly turn over or till the existing soil (if the soil is compacted or lacking in organic matter). If tilling is required, you will then need to remove rocks and debris and add any soil amendments necessary. Starting with a good foundation is essential for every garden to thrive, so don’t be shy when incorporating amendments such as compost. For me, it is sometimes easy to forget including my son throughout this process, but completing this step with a child of any age is great fun! It also brings an appreciation and respect for everything that goes into gardens of all sizes. Digging in the dirt is pretty self-explanatory, so set them free. Make a few mud pies, wrangle some earth worms and dig for some dinosaur bones while you’re at it. Don’t forget to get dirty!
3. Get those plants!
This can mean a trip to the garden center, dividing existing plants from your own yard or a neighbor, or collecting seeds from your favorite garden (with permission of course). It’s important to let your child make choices when determining what plants they would like to use. These choices obviously need to be guided, so be ready to have numbers, sizes and types of plants prepared and parameters set. We always have a few ground rules surrounding these ideas before stepping out of the car at the garden center. It helps us to stay focused and get excited for the project ahead.
4. Planting day
Before planting, layout the locations for where you would like your plants to go. Let your kids be the garden designer! Set a few ground rules to guide choices will eliminate having a 6” plant being overtaken by a larger sunflower, but let your kids be involved as much as possible. It is their garden after all, so be ready to loosen the reigns a bit. After this step is completed, plant away! This is usually the part where kid’s attention can be easily diverted, but taking this slowly or planting in smaller allotments can help. It’s important for your kids to take part in every process, so use your creativity to keep them interested. Remember to keep your expectations reasonable on planting day as well! After planting, make sure to apply no more than 2” of a lighter consistency mulch and water everything in well.
5. Maintain your garden
Yes, it’s true- there is no such thing as a maintenance free garden. You will have to water frequently when first planting your garden and weeding will be necessary as well. But with the help of those little hands, this problem has an easy solution. I have never met a kid who doesn’t like to water plants, and weeding is easy when you keep up on it. So every time you come out to appreciate your garden or cut flowers, plan on spending an extra five minutes to pull a few weeds as part of the process. You will be amazed at how eager children become to water and even weed the garden.
6. Let them go!
Let them wander, cut and add anything fitting to their gardens. Although plants always need a time of establishment before you really start cutting flowers, it doesn’t take long until you will have tons of blooms. Your garden will become a great place of wonder and discovery as the wildlife begins to uncover the bounty you’ve created.
Creating a garden together with my son has been a greatly rewarding experience for both of us. I’m amazed at his knowledge of the garden, his ability to identify plants and his eagerness to maintain and weed. Surprisingly, I think weeding is his favorite thing to do! It has given him a respect for what it takes to maintain landscapes and public spaces as well as the amount of work that goes into every garden. Kids who garden are scientists in the making. They learn so many things it’s hard to list them all; entomology, ecology, soil science, ornithology and the power of observation. They learn about color, design and the fact that creative expression comes in many different forms. Now at the age of 6, my son even notices design elements of gardens and what looks “natural” to him. Add in some herbs and vegetables to the mix, and curiosity blossoms both in the kitchen as well as on the dinner plate. All in all, I can’t think of a reason not to garden with kids. So get those trowels ready and get dirty!
Kid Friendly plants
Mint (can be aggressive)
Buddleia (Butterfly Bush)
Monarda (Bee Balm)
Nepeta (Cat Mint)
Rudbeckia (Black Eyed Susan)
Peas (these need to be early season)
Heuchera (Coral Bells)
Dicentra (Bleeding Hearts)
Lily of the Valley
Please keep in mind, that not all of these plants are edible! Keep an eye on your little ones.