Luther Burbank, owner of the above quote and inventor of the shasta daisy as well as the burbank potato which McDonald’s uses for fries, gets to share his love of gardening with adults and children every day when they see his flowers or eat a french fry.
As a parent, we may never get to share our love of gardening with as many people as Luther Burbank does but we can instill our appreciation for gardening in those we love the most, our children, and share a few tender moments with them along the way.
Kids experience the world differently than we do, so if we want them to fall in love with cultivating flowers or growing their own food we have to appeal to their sense of wonder while fulfilling their eagerness to be a big helper to Mom or Dad.
There are lot’s of fun and creative ways to do this other than simply letting them help or mindlessly play in the dirt. While those aren’t terrible options we have a few ideas that will empower them with a sense of truly making a meaningful contribution while giving them some mind blowing moments you can share with them along the way.
Give Them Their Own Plot
Before you dig your first hole set aside a small part of your garden that is just for your son or daughter to tend to. Even if it’s a small three foot square area, they’ll be super excited to have a garden of their very own.
Make it special for them and define the space with a small border, the more colorful the better. Even if that means simply hardscaping with a few painted rocks or a couple pieces of short picket fencing that you just push into the ground. It doesn’t have to be complicated or pretty, it just needs to be theirs and that will be enough to fill them with a sense of pride.
Make A Sign For Their Garden
You can do this in the beginning but I would save it for later for when their interest starts to wane a bit in the middle of the summer.
It’s a fun project that you can do together to bring their attention back to the garden even when their interest has started to turn to TV and video games.
Get Them Their Own Tools
You can get a cheap kit at Home Depot that will include the basics or you can paint a couple of the handles of tools you already own their favorite color. They really don’t need a lot of tools, a trowel and a watering can is all they really need.
When my son and I were gardening together we had our own wide brim hats that we only wore when we were outside working in the garden. Putting on the hats was a fun way to transition from whatever we were doing indoors to getting outside and watering the plants or collecting some of our vegetables. The hats served double duty too because that summer sun is strong and the last thing we want to do is end up with a burn on the back of our necks.
Choose Fast Growing plants
If you’re starting from seed you’re going to want to choose ones that will germinate quickly. Every day they’re going to want to see if their seeds have srouted yet and if it takes a couple weeks for them to see shoots sprouting from the ground they’re going to lose interest.
As a general rule vegetables germinate and are ready to harvest sooner than fruit. In order of fastest to slowest germination periods, here is a list of fast growing veggies.
Let Them Choose Their Plants
They’re defintely going to want to grow their favorite foods and I think they should, even if those plants aren’t on the above list. Just make sure to include at least a couple from the top of the list above to keep them from losing interest in the first week.
If your child loves to eat watermelon and carrots then they’re going to love eating ones that they grew even more. Try to strike a balance between what will give them near instant gratification and what they’re going to love to eat.
Grow Sunflowers And Corn
I’m recommending these two plants in particular because they grow so impressively tall. Some varities grow to eight feet tall, can you imagine what it feels like to be three feet tall and feel responsible for growing something so large? Heck I’m over 40 and over 6’ tall I’m still impressed when I stand “eye to eye” with a sunflower that I grew.
Start Your Seeds Indoors
Seeds need warm soil to germinate and depending on exactly where you live the soil won’t get warm enough to quickly germinate seeds until late spring. Germinate your seeds indoors in late winter/early spring and move them to the garden around Memorial Day or earlier if you live in a warmer planting zone.
If you want to keep things as simple and cheap as possible all you need to buy is a bag of potting soil and seeds. Throughout the winter save your yogurt cups as they are the perfect size to start a few plants off in. After you transplanting your seedlings you can toss the cups in the recycling bin or save them for next season.
Build A Scarecrow
At some point their interest is going to wane a bit, especially as they are waiting for their vegetables to grow big enough to eat. Building a scarecrow is an easy way to bring their attention and some excitment back to the garden.
Don’t Try To Control Their Garden Too Much
You’re defintely going to have to pitch in here and there with the weeding and maybe a little secret watering when they aren’t paying attention. But when it comes to what to plant and where try to be more of a spirit guide than a perfectionist.
They’re probably not going to want to put their plants in perfect rows and others will more than likely be a little close together. That’s quite alright, let them express themselves as they need to. You can always quietly tidy things up a bit for them while they are napping so that they can have a successful first go at gardening.
As they grow older they will listen to instuction better and be able to do more on their own. For now we are only cultivating an interest in gardening, but in time they will grow into adorable self sufficient gardeners that can do it all on their own.