Kids in the Garden

Article written by Saturday6TM blogger Helen Yoest from Gardening with Confidence.

My garden at home was designed specifically with kids in mind. We moved in when my oldest was one - and now my youngest is thirteen. So you can imagine that I would have been remiss if I hadn't created the opportunity to make my garden a welcoming place for the kids.

When I was designing Helen's Haven, what I actually envisioned was a haven for my whole family to enjoy, especially my kids. I wanted to create a space where they could spend a bit of every day outdoors. While, admittedly, I find it tiresome picking up the bats, balls and other toys from under bushes and strewn across the lawn, the fact that they are there is a clear sign my kids are indeed using the garden, just as I had hoped and designed.

If you are outside, it won't take much persuading to bring your kids outside. Our family looks for reasons to be outdoors. If nothing else, it's where we spread a blanket on the green grass of the backyard soccer field and read, watch the clouds or do homework. Each experience outside is unique and different. I can only imagine if the garden was just visited for work, for such jobs as mowing the lawn or pulling weeds, then 'outside' would become a frightful word.

With a little forethought, kids can be made to feel special in the garden, whether or not they have a big, dedicated play-set. Give the kids areas to sow their own seeds. Lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, carrots and beans are all easy for kids to grow. Annuals, such as pentas or marigolds, keep the kids wanting to visit "their" garden each day.

Include plants in your garden that engage your children on a sensory level. Kids will revel in the sight of red strawberries, the feel of the soft lamb's ear (Stachys byzantina), the sound pigsqueak (Bergenia cordifolia) makes when they rub the leaf between their thumb and forefinger, the smell from rosemary or lavender, or the taste of sugar at the end of a honeysuckle blossom. By making the garden a place of discovery, it will become the place your children want to be.

Get children their very own child-sized garden tools. They sense that you trust them in the garden, and it gives them confidence to grow. They can learn about preparing the soil, placing the seed, and how to nurture their plants in the absence of rain. When it's time to harvest, kids will often eat food at which they would otherwise turn up their little noses if they had a hand in growing it. During the meal, give special praise to the kids for their care of those fruits or vegetables. My dad would always beam when we ate produce from the garden, saying, "It's fresh, it's from the garden." This proclamation made me feel proud about having been a part of bringing that produce to the table.

I often work with clients who took years off from the garden when their children were young because they felt overwhelmed by the prospect of maintaining a garden with little ones underfoot. There is no reason to neglect your garden because of your children. Engaging your children in the garden can have a calming effect on you and your kids. Do not worry that the kids will destroy it with their playing. Plants are resilient. Kids also learn where to step and where not to step. Adding paths through the garden will serve as a road map to guide children through, particularly when they have friends over. The happiness you will get from seeing your kids exploring, learning and having fun in the garden will far outweigh your worries about maintenance.

Here are some ideas for building a child-friendly garden:

  • Have children participate in the process of selecting and growing plants. This will give them a chance to learn and get excited about gardening.
  • Don't forget wildlife. Include plants and water to attract birds, butterflies and beneficial insects that children will enjoy watching.
  • Give kids some active space in the garden - a treehouse or fort they can climb, winding paths to run or a veggie patch that needs tending.
  • Create space just for kids - such as a child-sized bench for reading or a teepee made by staking beanpoles and planting flowering vines on them.

Remember that adding structures and other creative elements to a garden makes it inviting to both kids and adults. But the best reason of all to garden while your kids are still at home is to get them outside to discover, enjoy and learn. Don't pass up this wonderful experience.


The Dirt from Troy-Bilt®, July/August 2014