“Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you could have them plant a garden?” – Robert Brault

I will admit it.

I should have thought of writing this one sooner.

Sometimes you get so caught up in the hustle and bustle that the kids kind of get left out. There are weeds to pull, plants to water, play equipment to fix, seeds to order, guests to talk too, and I don’t think any parent could fault me. How many times have you got caught up with the day-to-day that you forget to include the kids in your day-to-day?

To plant a garden is to be intentional. To raise a child is to be intentional. You have to make room for plants and children to expand and grow. You have to be OK if they get messy and grow (or go) places where you hadn’t planned. You must take time for the late bloomers or the quick sprouts. Make sure you trim off the bad parts and train as needed. Yes, children and plants are a lot alike, so why not grow the two together?

One of my first jobs when I was growing up was to pick daisies. My mother would send me out with my mismatched socks and a sun dress with big, wide-brimmed hat to pick the Shasta daisies that grew in the flower bed behind our house. She taught me how to deadhead them and to cut the prettiest one to go in a vase on our dinner table. As I grew, my next job was to set out the sprinkler on our vegetable patch and turn on the water every day before it got too hot, and to turn it off before the water bill got too high. I was trusted with picking green beans (which is still one of my favorite things to do) and finding zucchinis for supper. Once my mother explained what a was and wasn’t a weed, I would pull weeds and throw them on the sidewalk so they would shrivel up in the sun. I would play with the dry weeds and sticks from our trees and make little thatched-roof houses for Toady-the-Famous-Toad-Who-Doesn’t-Die (yes, that really was his name) our little garden guardian.

No wonder I ended up working here.

A woman guides two young gardeners as they mix potting and conditioning soil in a raised planter box.
Appropriate tools make the job a lot easier. (Photo courtesy Department of Agriculture)

To plant a child’s garden is really easy, but the one thing I will say is that consistency is key. My mother took the time each day to be out there with me – especially as I was learning the ropes. She made sure I had my own child-sized tools and equipment, and showed me how to use them. She showed me a lot, and most of it was just from watching her. The easiest way to get a child to start gardening is just to say “Hey, I’m going to work in the garden. Do you want to help me?” I do this a lot at work. If I’m weeding in an area that is mostly weeds or an area that doesn’t have a lot of plants in the first place, I will invite children in the garden to help me. I rarely get a “No.”

A young child helps plant a pollinator garden.
Children love to help, so let them! (Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Northeast Region)

If I’m pulling vegetables, I ask the kids if they want to help. They love to pull carrots and dig for potatoes. They love to pick peas and green beans. But think of planting smaller or brightly colored varieties. Purple peas or yellow green beans make harvesting a lot easier, as everything isn’t all green. Little watermelons fit well in a child’s hands, and small pumpkins make hauling them back to the house easier. Plus, I have found that if kids pick their own food, they are more likely to eat them. No more supper time stare-downs when they won’t eat their broccoli!

A gardening tool is left on the corner edge of a raised bed. There are sprouts growing in the garden bed.
Maybe set aside their own raised bed for kids to play and plant in.

Even before you head outside, involve the kids in the planning and planting in the garden. Ask them what they would like to see. What kind of flowers or vegetables do they like best? What colors are their favorite? Plant accordingly to their responses. Then give them a little responsibility. Let them have one or two plants they’re in charge of. Have them start them from seed if you can, and watch how they and the plant grow up over a season. Have them decide where they want to plant it and help them put it in the ground. Try pumpkins and squash for new gardeners, as the seeds are quite large and the plants rather quick to sprout. They also produce large plants and fruit that anyone under 4 foot would be proud to say “I planted this!”

As kids get older, increase the responsibility level. You find them capable with one plant. Increase their little veggie or flower patch to three or four plants. As they outgrown the three or four plants, given them a designated area if you can, or a large pot to do what they please (within reason). But embrace their vision. Make gardening not a chore, but a fun thing they get to do – not have to do.

Growing a child and growing a garden don’t have to be hard or taxing. They both just need consistency and the time to grow and mature. Nothing really grows overnight. But you should enjoy your kids and your garden because soon this season will end. So make the most of it while you still can.

Allyson Ernst
Nature Interpreter, Glenwood Gardens