2007-05-03 / News

Get your kids involved with their own garden

By Roger Marshall

Recently, a study by Washington State University suggested that people who love to work with plants and enjoyed nature had grown up amid plants and the outdoors. Visiting parks and gardens during childhood gave the child an awareness of nature that lasted all his or her life. Giving a child their own garden helps them appreciate how things grow and how nature works together in ways that even experienced observers still don't understand.

As an added extra, having a garden to care for helps give a child independence even though it might take a lot of help from an adult to get the garden going and to keep it going. Gardening is a family experience in that everyone can enjoy being outdoors, digging in the dirt and generally having fun. My own experience stems back to the days when I grew flowers and vegetables in my family's garden. It was fun to sit between the rows of peas or beans, picking what we felt like eating and imagining that no one could see us as we raided the garden. Going indoors with sticky red mouths from eating raspberries or strawberries always got us into trouble with mom who wanted the fruit for preserves, but was it fun!

You can make a garden for your children quite easily. Just give them a patch of freshly tilled soil, a few packets of seeds or a bunch of plants and let them enjoy it. You may find that toy cars have a road that take precedence over the strawberries, that a colorful bottle holds greater interest than a tomato plant, but let the first humming bird come to the feeder or a heron land beside the pond - as happened in my son's garden once, and the child will be enraptured with the outdoor environment. Note that the pond became known as the sushi bar after the heron ate most of the goldfish! Let your child grow sunflowers, pumpkins, moonflowers (for after dark expeditions), pansies, and other easy to grow plants. After the pumpkins grow large enough, let your child carve them and you will have created a gardener for life.

Let your child grow vegetables (give them extra plants from your plantings) and make a point of putting the child-grown tomatoes in a salad. Not only will you have a gardener, but you'll have someone who likes to grow and eat what they grew. Buy your child miniature garden tools or make them. I put a small handle on a little rake, bought a kid sized shovel and fork. I found the shovel years later near the garden with a rotted handle, but while it was being used much fun was had.

Reflecting balls, colorful bottles, old tree stumps, large pieces of quartz all found their way into my child's garden. Encourage their use to create fantasy wonderlands that kids can enjoy. From such humble beginnings can spring the gardener who helps to preserve open space for future generations, the gardener who volunteers to grow food for the needy, who enrolls in the Peace Corps to help cultivate foreign soil to feed less fortunate people. Who knows where your child might end up if you let them have their own garden patch now.

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