“Come choose what to grow in your garden this year, Quinn!” Emma hollered as she rattled the seed catalogue pages back and forth. At eight years old, my daughter’s excitement about gardening was contagious. Before long, her six-year-old brother was beside her, choosing seeds. The result: purple carrots and tiger-striped tomatoes. Seven-foot sunflowers and thumbnail-size watermelon relatives. Ground cherries (encased in lantern-like papery husks) and dry beans that have to be shelled. Wonderfully weird warty pumpkins.
Practical choices? Nope, not really. But kid-led gardening presents great opportunities to learn about the environment, healthy eating and life cycles. It’s also training in patience and optimism. If you’ve never gardened with your kids, this is the summer to do it.
Worried it’s too late in the season? Even in June you can plant seeds for veggies like carrots,beets, beans (try purple beans) and many leafy greens directly in the garden. And garden centres have ready-grown vegetable and flower plants that you can transplant. Here are some other tips to get you going.
• Follow your child’s lead. If he likes birds, choose plants that are known to attract birds. If she’s fascinated with bugs, consider plants that appeal to butterflies.
• Try a theme. Consider a rainbow garden (with flowers of every colour of the rainbow), an alphabet garden (plants with names starting with different letters of the alphabet) or one coordinated by colour (everything purple).
• Make time to garden with your kids. They’ll follow your lead.
• Be prepared to let go of your standards. Don’t expect neat rows and perfect beds.
• Let them get dirty. If muddy hands and dirty fingernails bother you, take a deep breath and don’t let it show.
• Volunteer. Maybe you don’t have enough space, or you waited way too long to get started? Volunteer at a community garden. Along with gaining experience, children will learn about teamwork and co-operation.
• Relax! Kids won’t garden with the same diligence you do. They’ll get distracted and collect bugs, sticks or stones, and drive toys through the soil. And that’s just fine.
A version of this article appeared in our July/August 2015 issue with the headline "Try it: Let your kids plant a garden themselves," p. 94.
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