As daytime hours lengthen and temperatures warm, consider growing a little garden knowledge with children, sparking creativity and curiosity. American anthropologist Margaret Mead told the story about visits with her grandmother on the farm. She recalled being handed a branch of flowering blackberry vine and asked to go out and find more plants in the same rose family. Mead credited that lesson with launching her lifelong work studying families worldwide.
The shapes and colors of flowers and leaves is a simple way to begin studying plants with children. With youngsters under 5, make color samples with construction paper and help collect matching flowers in the garden. With older children, note the various shapes of flowers in the assembled bouquet, including the bowl shape of yellow narcissus, the lip shape of red fringe flower, the trumpet shape of the pink rhododendron and the saucer shape of the royal purple princess flower.
Plants produce flowers to attract pollinators, which then fertilize the sexual reproductive organs of flowers to make seeds. Explore the different shapes of leaves, too, and observe how they are arranged on the stem. The leaves of the flowering rhododendron are lanced-shaped and arranged spirally in a whorl on the stem. The leaves of the fringe plant are oval, pointed and arranged alternately on the stem. And while the blue flower of the rosemary is hiding, note its narrow leaves are opposed on the stem. Leaves are the power house of the plant, capturing sunlight for photosynthesis to make food for the plant. Growing knowledge in a garden increases enjoyment of bouquets.
Another creative project is to plant a herb garden to teach about seeds and germination. It takes about one hour to assemble, but will take up to three weeks to grow. Supplies needed are six seed packets of easy to sprout herbs and flowers such as basil, chives, lemon balm, calendula, nasturtium and marigolds, one small bag of potting soil mix, six craft sticks, a permanent Sharpie, one spray bottle, a clear plastic ruler and notepaper to record observations. With family help, the project can be accomplished even by young children.
To begin, cut off the lid of the recycled cardboard egg carton and place it under the bottom section to absorb moisture. Fill carton holes with potting soil and make a small indentation in the soil. Measure each seed type and record planting date in journal. Place three to five of the same seeds in the hole along with craft stick to identify the plant.
When all holes are planted, sprinkle a little soil to cover the seeds and spray with water. Place your herb garden in a warm location with lots of indirect light keeping soil moist, but not soggy, so seeds have air, besides light and moisture. Germination should occur within one to three weeks. When the seedlings are about two inches tall, transplant into bigger pots. Be sure to keep your journal observations measuring growth rates and recording success and failure.
The final project pays tribute to trees around us. Take a walk through your neighborhood and collect five different leaf specimens, preferably fallen. Take a photo of each tree, estimate its height and note its shape and whether the crown is broader than tall, rounded, drooping, narrow, cone-shaped, irregular or symmetrical. These characteristics will get easier to notice with practice.
Bring this data home and have your young scientist place each leaf on a sheet of paper, identify the tree and write its name. Common names are fine, but older children will happily research scientific names. Cover the specimen with clear packing tape or place in a self-adhesive pouch. Go online to identify trees. One such online resource is urbantreekey.calpoly.edu.