Gardening with Kids

Turn digging in the dirt into a lifetime of love and respect for nature with your children.

By Marti Ross Bjornson

Photography by Eric Hurlock

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Sprouts for Sprouts

These simple and fun-to-grow seed selections are favorites of young gardeners. Smaller varieties of all these seeds are terrific in containers as well as in the ground.

Flowers

Alyssum. (Lobularia maritime). Great for creating a carpet in miniature gardens as well as for creating borders around a child's plot. 'Carpet of Snow' is classic and easy to grow.

Cosmos. (Cosmos spp.). In shades of pink, lavender, and white, as well as in bright orange, cosmos is drought-tolerant, free-flowering, and self-seeding, giving color and grace to all kids' gardens. Choose any variety, or get seeds from a neighbor.

Marigolds. (Tagetes spp.). Marigolds, especially the tiny and mixed French varieties, are hardy and so fast-growing that children can plant seeds in pots for Mother's Day presentations that are always a treat. Planted within a child's garden, the marigold is a natural pesticide and a common companion plant to tomatoes.

Morning glories. (Ipomoea spp.). Nothing beats 'Heavenly Blue' morning glories that grace a trellis, a fence, an arbor, or a garden "house" with walls made of sunflowers. Morning glories also come in white, pink, and lavender.

Sunflowers. (Heliantus annus). Sunflowers do best in full sun; because tall varieties can sometimes reach for the sun, they often flourish unexpectedly. The basis for a sunflower house, the tallest varieties are a delight, and strong enough to support the morning glories that entwine their stalks. Seek out the familiar golden petals surrounding a dark center, but don't overlook the myriad varicolored varieties now available, as well as small varieties. Sunflowers are beautiful in the garden and attract birds and insects, as well as small rodents, when the seeds ripen. Simply a must for you and your child gardener.

Zinnias. (Zinnia spp.). Zinnias germinate readily and produce bright spots in your garden and your hearts as children enjoy them growing and to cut for bouquets. Although the "giant" varieties are great, they may not be as delightful to children as Z. elegans, the popular 'Thumbelina', or some old fashioned mixes. Choose quick-maturing vegetables for spring salad gardens and for sustaining interest, while waiting for slower-maturing plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and pumpkins.

Vegetables

Choose quick-maturing vegetables for spring salad gardens and for sustaining interest, while waiting for slower-maturing plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and pumpkins.

Beans, bush. Bush beans are quite easy and trouble-free, maturing earlier than pole varieties. Choose from many varieties, including brightly colored ones. The purple or burgundy variety is vibrant-colored outside and green inside, but the exterior turns green with cooking. Magic! Most delicious when picked young.

Beans, pole. Choose these for the bean pole tepee. Pole beans are great space savers and continuous producers when picked often. 'Blue Lake' and 'Kentucky Wonder' are classic varieties.

Beans, runner. Easy to grow, these vines make great fence covers. Scarlet runner beans are beautiful in bloom and extravagant in the pod, producing delightful seeds of many colors. (Jim Flint of Burlington Gardens recommends them for bean pole tepees.)

Beets. Select either red or golden early varieties, 'Early Wonder' or 'Golden'. Tops and very early pickings are edible raw in salads or sauté as greens. Carrots (Daucus carota). For early eating, choose 'Thumbelina', a bite-sized shorty carrot, perfect for containers or heavy soils and for anxious eaters.

Corn. Not everyone can grow corn in the space they have available, but when it is possible, corn is a staple of the Native American Three Sisters Garden, in which corn, beans, and squash are interplanted. Once again, choose smaller-eared, early varieties. Check out corn selections from local seed producers, when possible. Popcorn is easy to grow, but like ornamental corn, it requires a longer growing season.

Greens. Greens are the staple of many diets, African American, European, and Asian among them. From mustards and collards to dandelion and purslane, greens in many varieties belong in all gardens. They are beautiful and good for you. And kids love them fresh from the garden.

 

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