By Carrie Strohl, UC Master Gardener of Napa County
Gardening has always been a great way to grow food, connect with nature and stay physically active, and these benefits are no different for children. Nonetheless, kids don't have the same abilities and attention span as adults, so keep the following tips in mind if you're gardening with young people or designing a garden for them.
Remember that kids are not adults! This is the most important takeaway from the book Gardening with Emma, Grow and Have Fun: A Kid-to-Kid Guide (Storey, 2019). The author, Emma Biggs, is just 13 years old. In this book, she confidently compares the features that adults value in a garden with the ways kids prefer to interact.
Whereas adults mostly want their gardens to look nice for other adults, kids want to “paint themselves with mud” and “pick unripe fruit.” Children will feel invited to engage and explore if the garden offers features that align with their perspectives. Three simple tips from Emma are: plant the right plants, do fun projects, and make spaces to play.
Kids of all ages love flowers. I could make an A-to-Z list of flowering plants, but let's just start with the ABCs: alyssum (Lobularia maritima), borage (Borago officinalis) and calendula (Calendula officinalis).
These three cool-season annual crops are all self-sowing; they drop seeds that produce plants the following year. Alyssum is a low-growing spreader with small white and purple flowers. Borage makes a blue-purple star-shaped flower, and its fuzzy leaves smell like cucumber. Calendula, a relative of sunflowers, makes orange and yellow daisy-like flowers with C-shaped seeds. Edible crops to plant in a children's garden alongside these three flowering plants include beans, peas, carrots, potatoes, popcorn and pumpkins, as well as annual herbs like basil and chives.
Kids love many perennial plants, too. Plants with common names related to animals come to mind, such as lamb's ear (Stachys byzantina), kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos manglesii) and lion's tail (Leonotis leonurus). All these plants have interesting form and foliage.
Sages of all types are easy to grow, but pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) or Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa) is a must-have for its scented leaves or nectar-filled flowers.
No matter which plants you choose for your children's garden, make sure they are safe, neither poisonous nor too prickly.
Perennial herbs such as lavender and rosemary can be used for projects like making lavender wands or rosemary cuttings. Re-use or re-purpose boxes, bottles and scraps of wood to create bird feeders, bug hotels and bee houses. These structures and other play areas are inviting to children.
A team of Master Gardeners has been keeping these ideas and design tips in mind lately because we hope to transform a 2,500-square-foot lawn into an interactive learning space for our community's youngest gardeners. As part of a larger collaboration between UC Master Gardeners of Napa County and the City of Napa Parks and Recreation, we are hopeful that theLas Flores Learning Garden (http://napamg.ucanr.edu/DemoGarden/) will include drought-tolerant plantings, food gardening and a dedicated children's area.
Drawing on our kid-tested or teacher-approved experience to refine our vision, the team keeps the end user in mind. Not only are we considering how children's needs differ from our adult ideas, but we are also trying to identify which children might use the space and how.
We've made a list of the most common features of children's gardens, inspired by botanical gardens and living museums we've visited, as well as from online photo galleries. We also ask the kids directly. Among the features they tell us they like: messy paths, interesting edible plants, a living wall, vines, places to sit, a fairy garden and succulents.
Although children are not the primary audience for the community work that UC Master Gardeners do (most horticultural research is a bit too advanced for youngsters), we do have access to substantial research on engaging children in outdoor spaces. We regularly consult these well-respected resources, including KidsGardening (https://bit.ly/3jjPlAI) which has a step-by-step design guide and numerous other resources.
You, too, can design a garden for children, whether it be in a backyard, at a daycare center or preschool, or in a public or private school setting. You can also keep up with our progress for the Las Flores Learning Garden on Napa. Visit usat: http://napamg.ucanr.edu/DemoGarden/.
Food Growing Forum: Napa CountyMaster Gardeners will present a discussion of “Pests in the Summer Garden” on Sunday, July 11, from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., via Zoom. Register here to receive the Zoom link: http://ucanr.edu/2021FoodForumJuly
Free Guided Tree Walk: Join Master Gardeners of Napa County for a tree walk in Fuller Park in Napa on Tuesday, July 13, from 10 a.m. to noon. Limited to 12 people per walk. COVID safety protocols will be followed. You will be asked health questions and asked to sign in. Face masks and social distancing are required. Register here.
Workshop: Napa County Master Gardeners will conduct a workshop on “The Art of Growing Succulents” on Saturday, July 17, from 10 a.m to noon, via Zoom. Learn how to care for these unique, colorful and unthirsty members of the plant community. Reserve here: http://ucanr.edu/2021SucculentsJuly
Got Garden Questions? Contact our Help Desk. The team is working remotely so please submit your questions through our diagnosis form, sending any photos to email@example.com or leave a detailed message at 707- 253-4143. A Master Gardener will get back to you by phone or email.
For more information visit http://napamg.ucanr.edu or find us on Facebook or Instagram, UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.
By Cynthia Kerson, UC Master Gardener of Napa County
For the past few years, I've been researching beekeeping. Recently, I decided to simply supply the bees with food and to let them live where they naturally would. I'm not that fond of honey, and I live in a woodland area near a creek, so this is my best option.
In addition to planting or already having lots of salvia, lavender, milkweed, sunflower, wild berries, fruit trees, herbs and veggies, in April I created a bed for pollinizers, planting it with a container of Renee's Garden Scatter Garden Seeds expressly for pollinator flowers.
The bed is about a foot high and 6- by 10 feet. I used concrete corners, redwood sides and metal gopher netting on the bottom. I created a simplified “lasagna compost” with cardboard and newspaper on the bottom of the bed and left it to get rained on for a few weeks. I then filled the bed with a layer of compost and then a high-end garden-quality soil and more compost from the recycling center. I scattered the contents of the seed container and covered the seeds with about an inch of mixed soil and compost in a 70-30 blend. The bed is in full sun all day.
At first, as the seedlings were popping up, I couldn't tell which tiny plant was a pollinizer and which was a weed. I didn't pull anything I didn't clearly recognize as a weed. I am an organic gardener and so did not spray or feed with anything that would be harmful to bees.
I watered right away, and about every two weeks afterward I watered with a mixture of fish emulsion and kelp, a good all-around food for soil and plant health. I also fertilized with an organic fertilizer about once a month. The bed was watered every other morning for about five minutes.
The seed blend I used contained seeds for Chinese forget-me-not, baby blue eyes, single Chinese aster, cornflower, Shirley poppy, sweet mignonette, tidy tips, Virginia stock, creeping daisy, clarkia, globe gilia, lemon mint, California bluebell, lacy phacelia, tall white alyssum and plains coreopsis.
I noted when each flower type bloomed, how long it bloomed and how abundant the bloom was. The container listed the percentage of each variety, so I looked for that. I didn't find the stated percentages to be perfectly correlated with the flowers that appeared. The most prolific were the cornflower, creeping daisy and lacy phacelia. Lemon mint didn't appear (or I missed it). Most of these flowers have continued to bloom for four to six weeks, and the individual blooms lasted about two weeks. Shirley poppies lasted the shortest time, blooming for two to three weeks, with individual blooms lasting about a week.
The first to bloom, starting in the beginning of May, were Virginia stock, California bluebell and tall white alyssum. Toward the end of May, Chinese forget-me-nots, tidy tips, baby blue eyes, creeping daisy, globe gilia and lacy phacelia bloomed. The beginning of June was the most prolific time (about two months after sowing). The big bloomers then were cornflower, Shirley poppy, sweet mignonette, Virginia stock and clarkia. All the varieties continued to flower and die off, so every day the garden bed had a slightly different array of color that was fun to study.
Bees seem to have preferred another area of my property with large beds of lavender and salvia over this bed of many varieties within a small area. Possibly large expanses of one flowering variety are better for attracting bees since that's how they naturally forage. That said, the bees loved the mix. I see dozens there at any given time. Should you have only a small area to devote to pollinators, a dedicated bed of pollinator flowers is a beautiful option.
It appears that the garden will keep the bees (and me) happy for the rest of the summer. I have cut back the watering to every four days since the plants are mature.
If I let them go to seed, the plants will return next year. One drawback to this particular mix is that a few of the varieties are not native to Northern California. Next year I might supplement with more natives to support the health of the bees and other pollinators. With natives, they are digesting pollens that are natural to them; and they need all the help they can get.
For further information on building layered garden beds to plant those wildflower seeds, click the link:
The UC Master Gardeners of Napa County are volunteers who provide University of California research-based information on home gardening. To find out more about home gardening, upcoming events or to submit gardening questions, visit the Master Gardener website (napamg.ucanr.edu). Our office is temporarily closed to walk-in questions but we are answering questions remotely and by phone or email. Submit your gardening questions through our website, by email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a phone message at 707-253-4143. Master Gardeners will get back to you within a few days.