Discover the Wonders of the Garden
by Sylvia Ehrhardt

I have always loved having my grandchildren be part of my life and working with them in the garden has been a special treat. For me this is a double pleasure. Together we love harvesting fruits and vegetables in the summer. When the strawberries are ripe they head for the strawberry rows with a box in hand to pick the berries. Unfortunately most of the fruit is eaten before it comes to the packing shed. They feel as though they have been helpful, and always remember the sweet, warm strawberries they pop into their mouths.

Having children enjoy the rewards of gardening starts early, and can be carried on all year long not only during the summer. Over the years I have found ways to encourage my children and grandchildren to enjoy the garden. Recently I ran across some ideas from the American Association of Nurserymen and have added them to my list. Iím sure there are many more I have missed, but here is the list I came up with:

1. Windowsill gardens. Even if it is cold and snowing outside children love the idea of a windowsill garden. All that is needed is a sunny spot, a few containers of dirt, seeds, and transplants Anything can be grown from lettuce to herbs. Onions and garlic sets are a good choice. Cutting the tops off and watching them grow back is fascinating for children.

2. Worm Farm. Worms are a good way for children to understand the interdependence of plants and organisms. Line a large cardboard box with a garbage bag. Fill it with soil, organic matter, kitchen scraps, and a few worms (nightcrawlers or red wigglies). Donít add any meats as this will attract rodents, dogs, and cats. Keep the box shaded, moist but not wet, and donít let it freeze. If done correctly there is no smell. The children can watch the worms turn kitchen scraps into valuable compost.

3. Greenhouse. All winter and spring children love to play in the greenhouse. Helping transplant and water little seedlings is a great joy. Playing in the mounds of potting soil also is great fun. Just make sure newspaper is on the floor to catch the falling potting soil. 

4. Watch Seeds Sprout. Line a glass jar with a damp paper towel and insert several medium to large seeds between the glass and the towel. Place a lid on the jar, leave it on the kitchen counter, and check the paper every day to make sure it is moist. In a few days those seeds will burst into life.

5. Unusual Plants. An insect-eating plant is irresistible, and can keep a child occupied for hours. An excellent choice for this is the plant Venus Flytraps. This plant can be found in many garden centers in the house plant section.

6. Terrarium Garden. Carefully place some soil and a few plants inside a clean jar. Keep this garden moist with a plant mister and cover the opening with clear plastic wrap with punctured holes and watch the plants grow.

7. A Pizza Garden. Plan ahead for spring and plant a pizza garden. Mark off sections of the garden in pizza wedges. In the individual wedges plant tomatoes, oregano, basil, and peppers. As the plants are harvested have the child help make a pizza.

8. Hidden Treasures. For young children, digging up carrots, potatoes, or radishes is like searching for buried treasure. My grandson loves to dig up a carrot, clean it off on his jeans, and eat it right in the garden.

9. Watering Bucket. Outside have a 5 gallon bucket filled with water for watering the plants. Let a child help with the watering. As the plants get watered a good soak in the bucket to cool off is great fun.

10. Kid Size Tools. There is nothing as much fun for a child as having tools the right size. Being able to push around a small wheel barrel or the right size shovel for digging gives hours of pleasure.

11. Scarecrows. Have a child search for old clothes and stuff them with hay or straw. Put the creation in the garden to ward off birds.

12. Giant Produce. Children are impressed with giant versions of pumpkins, gourds, and squash. Scratch the name of a child on one and watch the name grow.

13. Marigold Leis. These sunny flowers bloom into fall. Pick blossoms and string along a heavy thread for a colorful lei. When daisies or dandelions are in season the same can be done, or wind the stems together and place on the childís head.

14. Books for Children. Peter Rabbit or The Secret Garden will have children dreaming of spring gardens all winter long. Ask a librarian or book seller for additional titles.

15. Their Own Garden. Give older kids their own plot - a three foot by five foot space is adequate. Let them choose which vegetables they want to grow and have them plant the garden. Easy to grow veggies such as radishes, squash, cucumbers, and corn keep them coming to the garden to check the progress. Stay in the back ground as much as possible.

16. Jack and The Beanstalk. Hyacinth beans, with their large leaves and speedy growth, are said to be the legendary beanstalk. Children love the heights to which this bean grows.

17. House of Vegetables. Children love to have their own hideaway. When vegetables are grown on a teepee or A frame it makes a perfect little house. Vine crops such as peas, beans, and cucumbers do very well.

18. Homegrown Gifts. This takes advanced planning to give a gift from the garden. Here are a few ideas: tie dried herbs and flowers with decorative ribbons or package flower seeds collected from the garden. One year we gave home grown caraway seeds as gifts.

19. Painted Pots. Let children indulge their natural creativity by painting inexpensive terra-cotta pots to use on the patio or as a gift. Craft stores have safe, durable paint selections.

20. Pot People. Draw or paint faces on pots and plant grass seed or trailing vines in the pots for hair.

21. Leaf Detectives. Collect leaves with unusual shapes and color and try to identify them with the help of a vegetable or tree guide. Press and save them in a scrapbook.

22. Build a Birdhouse. Birdhouse kits and plans are easily found. Great activity for a cold day indoors. A Purple Martin house is especially helpful in the garden as the Purple Martin eats its weight in insects each day.

23. Visit Your Garden Center. Look for child friendly garden items. Many centers have special seeds, tools, and garden clubs for children that are educational as well as fun.

Giving a child the thrill of discovering the wonder and beauty of the garden is something that will stay with them all their lives. I know because my grandmother did this for me.

Sylvia Ehrhardt of Ehrhardt Organic Farm grows certified organic produce in Knoxville, MD. She was recently appointed to the Advisory Board for the Gore/Chernomydin Commission Agriculture Committee's Working Group which includes extension, research, and sustainable agriculture.