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Mendo Lake Family Life

It’s the Perfect Time to Garden with Kids

By Christina Katz

Kids grow. Plants grow. Why not teach kids to grow plants? Here is a list of possible things to nurture in a window box, a four-foot by four-foot plot of soil, or a bed along the side of the house.

1. Plant annual flowers. By far the easiest to grow with the most immediate results are annual flowers. Start with annuals if your little gardener has never dug in the soil before. Hardy annuals for first-time planters include flower seeds that germinate quickly, such as sunflowers, cosmos, sweet alyssum, zinnia, and pansies.

2. Invest in perennial flowers. Once young gardeners understand the concept of annual bloomers, it’s time to introduce them to flowers that come back year after year. Be sure to convey the savings in time and money, since perennials are planted once and enjoyed for many years. Check perennials annually to see if they need to be split or spread out. You might wish to seasonally scatter a few of your perennial’s seeds in other parts of your yard. Good choices for first-time planters include: gloriosa daisy, ageratum, coneflower, coreopsis, and California poppy. Pay attention to whether perennials enjoy shade or sun or both, and they will pay you back in resurgent beauty.

3. Vote for veggies. Few things are as satisfying as watching food grow from a seed. But it’s also great to just purchase veggie starters. In cool weather try carrots, lettuce, radishes, peas, spinach, kale, swiss chard, and broccoli. In warm weather try beans, cucumbers, spring onions, cherry or grape tomatoes, round zucchini, and patty pan squash.

4. Favor fruit plants. Children of all ages adore eating fresh fruit warmed by the sun. Try planting strawberries, thornless blackberries, thornless raspberries, and blueberries for years of enjoyment. Watch out for blackberries, which grow vigorously but can become invasive.

5. Let’s hear it for herbs. Herbs provide pleasure at any age. My daughter has been popping mint leaves into her mouth since she could walk. Herb gardens are especially appealing to tweens and teens testing culinary skills in the kitchen. And herbs can also provide pleasure at any age. We enjoy a little mint or lemon balm in iced tea, thyme and chives in scrambled eggs, and oregano and basil in a fresh salad. Try planting mint (it’s also invasive, so use containers), lemon balm, chives, catnip, oregano, basil, dill, parsley, rosemary, and thyme.

6. Eat edible flowers. Want to add a whimsical touch to ice cubes, cupcakes, and salads? Then experiment with edible flowers. Try planting colorful nasturtiums (annual), culinary lavender (perennial), pansies (annual), violas (annuals), roses (perennial), calendula (annual), and geraniums (annual and perennial). Try taste-testing petals alone, in combination with each other, and mixed into foods like shortbread (lavender) or used for decoration when serving food.

7. Make way for giants. Pumpkins and melons can become quite large and overcrowd a small garden plot. For this reason, stake out a sunny, mulched area where they will have room to sprawl. Corn is another plant that likely requires its own space and can be grown in blocks of rows that get even sun all day long. Growing large plants is dramatic fun for young gardeners.

8. Fancy flowering bushes. Create beds of sweet-smelling, flowering bushes if you want to attract lots of hummingbirds and butterflies. Butterflies like large, flat rocks in the sun and a sandy puddle for drinking. Choose a sunny, non-windy area. Try planting butterfly bush (non-invasive variety), bee balm, salvia, lilac, mock orange, glossy abelia, buttonbush, ninebark, spicebush, milkweed, and clethra.

9. Vie for vines. Nothing makes me happier than seeing honeysuckle twining up the iron grate that holds our mailbox. Look around your yard for things that can be climbed or invest in inexpensive trellises. Then plant coral honeysuckle, cardinal climber, cypress vine, climbing hempweed, morning glory, scarlet runner bean, sweet pea, everlasting pea, and trumpet vine. Beans will also climb, for instance, a garden-stake wall or a tee-pee.

10. Consider fun inedibles. Some of my favorite things to grow are merely for decoration, not to eat. Inedibles can make lovely fall gifts. Try gourd combinations for a nice basket display, Indian corn for wreathes, and bottle gourds to turn into birdhouses. Chinese lantern stems make bright orange fall décor and wreathes—just remember to contain the plants because they can become invasive. 

Often on sunny days, Christina Katz cheerfully dons her patched jeans, floppy hat, and garden gloves and hangs out in the dirt.