Marin Master Gardeners
University of California
Marin Master Gardeners

Marin IJ Articles

Children in the Garden

July 3, 2006
D. F. Braun
by D. F. Braun

When I think of my grandmother I picture her in her kitchen garden hard at work on vegetables and herbs for the table. All the beets, spinach, cabbages not consumed during the growing season would be preserved in some way for the winter. This was serious business! And I, as a small child, "helped" by "testing" the baby carrots and radishes. There were no flowers grown but for a climbing cabbage rose on the garden shed.

When I was five, shortly before school began for me, I arrived to find a deep trough my grandmother had dug up against a fence. I was given many handfuls of black seeds to place in the pit; and together we covered the long bed with soil and mulch. My grandmother was very secretive about what we had sown. I thought no more about it until the spring and my first visit of the year to her garden. Against the fence were many woven vines of fragrant sweet peas in many lovely shades of pastel. At the end of each visit I left for home with armfuls of these lovely flowers. And I was hooked! Imagine such beauty from such innocuous seeds! I had to plant those sweet peas again and again and again. In fact, I've gardened, thanks to grandmother, ever since.

If inspiration other than a grandmother's ploy is needed there are books available for the younger gardener-to-be:"First Book of Colors" by Carle, the author of "The Hungry Caterpillar" is a lovely introduction to flowers through color; a comparable book is "Planting a Rainbow" by Lois Ebert. "Jack in the Garden" by Henry Cole is a bit more comprehensive with bugs, seasons and the influence of weather.

There are a number of excellent how-to-do books: "The Gardening Book" by Jane Bull will help you make your own garden with 50 green activities and gifts. "Kids Gardening—A Guide to Messing Around in the Garden" is co-authored by teachers Kevin and Kim Rafferty in an amusing comic form. It does an excellent job of explaining gardening basics. This would be a fine primer for primary age children. "Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots" by Sharon Lovejoy is a superb introduction for children to the world of the garden. Lovejoy, a Californian, shares with me the similar growing love for gardening through a grandmother's influence. The book of 160 pages is an excellent resource for suppliers, seed companies, nurseries and catalogs. There is a richness to the contents, from Native American "waffle" gardening to the use of herbs, as well as basic tools to be purchased for small hands. Lovejoy's clever drawings add much to her homey descriptions and activities.

In order to begin gardening I quote Lovejoy, "the surest way to destroy the enthusiasm (is) to dictate a steady regimen of rules and routine. Instead, greet each day as an adventure and learn to look for and expect miracles."

It is probably best to give a novice a small, healthy patch of earth to get started. No more than 10 minutes a day should be given to instruction. Easy to grow annuals that may be planted in spring and enjoyed throughout the summer and early fall are best as a start and offer a quick gratification. Basic instructions on watering needs should be an early part in learning to care for ones seeds or plants. Children love to "over water"! Perhaps suggesting a poke with a finger in the soil to see if it is dry and if so, water thoroughly but gently, if needed.

Finally, a word of caution: Not all parts of every plant are edible. Potatoes and tomatoes have stems, flowers and leaves that are poisonous! Children should never sample anything in the garden until they check with a knowledgeable adult. (Even the beloved sweet pea is poisonous.)

Look to activities during the summer for the young gardener. Starting in July Sloat Garden will be holding a series of morning garden art workshops for parents and children. Copia in Napa will hold a "Child's Exploration of the Gardens" in June in their edible garden where "children will hunt for bugs, dig in the dirt, pick flowers and nibble fresh vegetable while learning what makes a garden grow." How lovely!

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