Parents and grandparents are looking for activities for children other than tv, cell phones and games where they can learn something new. What better gift for a child than to have a garden just for them. They love to dig in the soil, plant seeds and of course, water. Planning a garden for children means that the design must accompany active children where they can learn the joy of growing their own vegetables and flowers.
The garden should be kept simple to keep it fun. Encourage the children to examine the soil, feel a leaf, look at the different between stems and roots and look closely at a flower showing all its parts. Just remember getting started with a children’s garden is the part that is exciting, not the final product. Show them but let them do it.
Choose plants with large seeds, such a beans, pumpkins, sunflowers and peas for the younger children. Planting the eye of the potato is easy and teaches them that not all plants come from seeds. Fast growing lettuce, spinach, carrots and radishes are good starter plants. Sunflowers, marigolds, zinnias and other flowering plants make a great addition to any children’s garden.
A children’s garden can be an extension of the main garden or a separate plot. The garden layout is important to utilize the area efficiently, but don’t get hung up on straight lines or seeds evenly spaced. Remember it is their garden and should show their work.
Start small. A plot measuring 6 feet by 10 feet is big enough for children to learn about growing plants. Make sure it is accessible from all four sides and that the rows are wide enough to accommodate small bodies moving around. Allow room for a bean or cucumber teepee or a path through the corn for a secret hiding place.
Turning over the soil the first year may be too hard for children, but let them help break up the clumps of soil by whatever means they can use. Use hand tools instead of noisy tillers so everyone can join in the fun of turning the soil.
The best tools for children are their hands. Since children love to imitate their parents, tools are desirable objects from an early age. Young children are capable of digging with a pointed trowel or hand rake. Most grownup tools are too heavy for children to use, but children’s tools can be found at garden or toy stores.
Keep the garden rows short, not more than 3 to 4 feet long. Use a string to mark the rows, but again, if they don’t follow the string don’t worry, it’s their garden. Use a hoe to make a furrow to plant the seed. Measure the distant between the seeds with a ruler then count out enough seeds to be planted in the row. Some children like to do their own measuring with their finger or a ruler.
Sowing seeds takes some practice so be patience. If the seeds spill out of the package, which often happens, spread them by hand and cover with soil.
Children will be more excited about going into the garden to weed and water if their parents are out there with them. Parent’s participation is important in making the garden a successful experience for the children. Encourage them to do the chores they can handle like spreading mulch around the plants with hands or watering the plants with a hose.
Children love to harvest the fruit of their labor. Show them the vegetables and flowers that need harvesting and let them do the picking. Having a basket available can not only help with carrying the vegetables but can reinforce the pictures of a basket of vegetables seen in many of their children’s books.
Jim Coe lives in Lawton and writes a weekly gardening column for The Lawton Constitution.