By Jeanette M. Endres, Master Gardener
What do gardens and children have in common?
They both are a lot of fun! Soon we will experience warmer weather. It is time to start thinking about children’s experiences in the garden. I am planning a children’s garden this year for a young child, using the following five steps.
Start with the library and read stories about gardening to the young child or, for the early reader, have them read to you.
My first stop was the library.
I visited the Centralia Regional and the Nashville Public Libraries. Librarians were helpful and presented me with over 30 books that were age appropriate and included vegetables and flowers that grow well in our area.
Two favorites from Centralia Regional Library included:
• Pierro’s ABC Garden: A Little Golden Book by Anita Lobel
• Zinnia’s Flower Garden by Monica Wellington
From the Nashville Pubic Library I selected:
• Green Bean! Green Bean! By Patricia Thomas
• What’s in the Garden by Marianne Berkes
If you don’t have time to complete the next four steps, at least choose a book to read. Note what vegetables and flowers interest the child while you read the stories.
2. Choose a location. Choices might be a container for the very young child, a raised bed or a portion of your garden. Containers can be close to the house and observed daily. I prepare a 3’x3’ square in a corner of my garden. The child can make it heart shaped, round or square with bricks or rocks delineating the area. We are using bricks. Be sure there is direct sun for most of the day for the vegetable garden. Preparing the soil is my responsibility but the child can help draw out the plan. Where will you put the Marigold or beanstalk for Jack to climb? If you haven’t had the soil tested, as Spring approaches, it is a good time to take a cue from Doc McStuffins and show the young child that even the soil sometimes needs a “check-up” (Contact the U of I Extension Office).
3. Consider the seeds or plants. Look for seeds and plants that were found interesting from the stories. A look at seed catalogues can give ideas but by looking at seeds sold in bulk you can see the size of the seeds. I use the power of persuasion to get larger seeds selected for planting with small hands. I include both seeds and growing seedlings of flowering plants and/or vegetables. I avoid using plants that produce vines or large leaves that tend to crowd out other plants in the child’s garden. Some combinations I have used include marigolds, cosmos and sunflower seeds to go with a cherry tomato plant, green beans and radish. With pen or marker make signs for each seed/ plant selected.
4. Select child-sized tools. Purchase tools heavy enough to do the job. I purchased a sturdy hoe, rake, and spade. I added a ruler for measuring space between plants and a watering can that holds no more than a gallon of water. A wagon or wheelbarrow is important for hauling compost, plants, water and tools.
5. Plant and maintain the garden. With signs in hand and a location selected, planting begins. Do not figure on more than 15-20 minute sessions for the young child. Visit the garden every couple of days to see if any plants emerge. Pull the occasional weed from the area or give the seeds and plants a drink if needed. When reading and writing improves encourage them to keep a journal of what was planted and where. Have fun gardening!