Gardens help children connect with nature, their environment and most importantly, the source of their food. Gardens are places for kids to learn new skills, build their confidence, have fun, learn to take care of plants and build respect for their environment as well as improve their health.
“In an age of instant gratification, a garden is one of the few places children can learn patience and delayed gratification by watching and waiting for rewards.” – Anne Gibson
One of my passions is showing children how to grow their own food and have fun gardening.
I think of a garden as ‘nature’s classroom’ – a place to:
- learn, be still and observe
- find an outlet for creativity
- dig and get dirty
- watch nature at work and play
- learn respect for the earth
- see the humour in life and explore new ways with fresh produce
- explore all the senses: taste delicious flavours; touch different textured plants; smell wonderful aromas; listen to the sounds of nature’s symphony and feast with the eyes on the amazing palette of colours, shapes and ever changing delights
- connect with the source of our food
- and much more than I have space for here!
With child obesity on the rise and more children brought up in cities, often missing out on the opportunity to connect with nature at a variety of levels, coupled with the stresses children live with in today’s world, I believe now more than ever it is important to share a love of the earth with our kids. One of the simplest ways to do this is give them a small garden of their own.
I have seen first hand that children who are given the responsibility of growing a vegetable seedling will go to great lengths to take care for it. They learn to nurture it and watch it grow, understand what it needs and have the joy of harvesting the reward at the end.
I have had the privilege of helping hundreds of children learn how to plant seedlings with Veggie Doctor workshops at local libraries and schools. For the majority of children it has been the first time they have ever planted anything!
They are so excited and proud of themselves – they learn how to pick up their ‘baby’ plant correctly, put it to ‘bed’ in a new pot and find out what the plant likes to ‘eat’ and ‘drink.’ Simple but powerful concepts that in many cases turns out to be the beginning of a life-long love of nature, the earth, fresh home grown produce and re-connecting with the source of their food. Fresh food that doesn’t come in a packet, on a supermarket shelf or out of the freezer – but out of the earth in their own backyard!
“Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden.” – Robert Brault
Getting A Garden Started with Kids
“The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.” – Gertrude Jekyll
One of the most important keys to success with a child’s garden is letting them make it their own. A reflection of what THEY love most. It can be a tiny space – a single seedling in a pot, a container or a garden bed – but allow children to be creative in THEIR space.
Make it easy for children to succeed, take ownership and enjoy the process:
- Choose a garden design theme together.
- If you only have a very small space, let them choose a container and get creative decorating their own pot. Check out some creative container ideas and sensational shoe planters for a little more inspiration.
- Let them pick their own colour theme if they want to. If a child is crazy about pink or another colour, use some non-toxic water soluble eco-paint (zero or low VOC) and jazz up a pot and accessories to coordinate or grow plants in a variety of shades of their favourite colour.
- Let them decide what they want to grow and eat. Read on for a list of easy plants to grow first.
- Get them started with easy plants to grow.
- Give them their own child-sized garden tools – or show them how to make their own.
- Encourage them to make their own plant labels and garden signs.
- Build excitement by ‘preparing the bed’ for their new ‘baby’ plants before going shopping for seeds or seedlings – then they can come home, give them something to ‘eat’ and ‘drink’ and ‘tuck them in.’
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Tips for Micro Gardening with Kids:
- Start with a pot or a small garden area and child sized garden tools.
- Think about how much space you have – start small – your little green thumb can always grow more!
- You may consider giving them a section of a raised garden bed in your own garden or start growing on a window sill.
- Incorporate colour and creativity – let them paint, choose their own pot or make a sign to brighten up their special space.
- Make it fun and rewarding! Make food ‘faces’ and ‘veggie men’ from whatever your child likes to eat on their plate. Even if they’ve started with sprouts, add this to the other food on their plate and encourage them to grow more ‘hair’ for another meal. Kids LOVE eating what they’ve grown.
Now for a little inspiration to get you started – then check the ‘Easy Plants to Grow First’ list below.
Here are some Ideas for Kids’ Pots and Plots
If children are into art and craft, try funky handmade terracotta pots.
There are many containers, toys and bits and pieces around the home, garage sales and recycle centres that can be turned into a creative low-cost garden bed.
Just about anything goes …
Let children be creative by adding some garden art as well …
Choose Easy Plants to Grow First
Kids are impatient – especially young children! So the faster a plant grows, the better!
Sprouts: I recommend children start with growing sprouts. They are easy to grow, mature in a matter of days, are extremely nutritious and there are varieties suitable to sprout all year round. Check out the article on How to Garden on your Benchtop – Grow Sprouts.
Seeds or Seedlings: The next choice is whether to plant seeds or seedlings. Raising seeds is a fun and easy project and requires minimal effort and time. I like to encourage using recycled materials like toilet roll pots and egg carton seed starters for children to reinforce the importance of taking care of the earth by re-using materials rather than having a ‘throw away’ mentality.
Start with larger seeds like beans. Check out the article on Frugal Gardening – 5 Thrifty Recycling Ideas for inspirational ideas and photos for making your own pots for free.
Seedlings are available at garden centres, nurseries, markets, produce stores and organic food stores. I prefer whenever possible to purchase organic or heirloom seedlings – those grown from certified organic seed or heirloom seeds which are non-hybrid varieties that have been passed down in history and not usually used in modern agriculture. They are usually adapted to grow locally but unfortunately, not many growers do this. What is great though is that organic seedlings don’t cost any more to grow so you shouldn’t be paying more than conventionally grown seedlings. In fact, they are often cheaper because organic growers don’t use expensive chemical fertilisers, fungicides and herbicides.
What is not commonly known is that commercial conventionally grown packeted seeds are treated with chemicals so consumers are not able to save seed from what they grow (as they will not grow ‘true-to-type’ or with the same characteristics of the original plant). This is a greedy and unethical practice because it forces unsuspecting consumers to buy more seeds. Many of these conventionally grown seeds have a ‘terminator gene’ which means the plant has been cultivated so it is not able to reproduce viable seed. A horrific concept that is contrary to nature’s amazing capacity for abundant reproduction. This is a BIG topic – one for another day!
Needless to say, that’s why I advocate buying organic or heirloom seeds – so you are only growing and eating what comes from nature – no added chemicals or hybridised plants!
Sourcing organic or heirloom seedlings:
So where do you buy seedlings? Network with others in your area by visiting:
- a local Community Garden – seedlings are often for sale at a low cost for members and visitors
- Farmers Markets – ask the growers directly what kind of seeds they use or visit the organic produce stalls
- Permaculture groups – Permaculturalists grow food organically and often share/sell seedlings at meetings and field tour days
- Plant Nurseries and some Health Food Stores/Organic Food Co-ops
- Local Gardening Groups like B.O.G.I. in Brisbane or Garden Clubs
- Produce Stores – particularly in semi-rural and regional areas
- Seed Savers groups (share/sell cuttings, seeds, seedlings and plant material)
These are all ways to source organic seedlings and plant material.
Organic organisations can also put you in contact with where to source organic seeds and seedlings in your area. As the Coordinator for Eudlo Seed Savers, I purchase, share or swap organic seeds as they are much better value for money and last a long time. Joining a group is a great way to pick up growing tips too. You can also source open-pollinated seeds from many reputable companies in Australia. Check out the list to find organic and heirloom seed suppliers.
There are also some excellent organic seed suppliers online. Check out Frugal Gardening – How to Get Plants for Free for plenty of other ways to start your garden for nothing!
Easy to grow vegetables, herbs and flowers for Beginner Gardeners include:
- Lettuces (these are ready to start harvesting outer leaves in non-hearting varieties in 3-4 weeks).
- Tomatoes (always a favourite, start with cherry tomato varieties).
- Radishes (fast growing hardy salad veggie that are great fun for kids to grow).
- Rocket (like its name, it grows extremely fast and is ready to harvest in 3-4 weeks).
- Silverbeet (fast growing and can produce over a long period).
- Rainbow Chard (an attractive colourful variety of spinach that is popular with kids).
- Beans (dwarf varieties and climbers can be grown in a tepee or design a ‘Jack & the Bean Stalk’ garden themeentirely around this yummy veggie).
- Beetroot (eat the tender new leaves in a salad from this easy to grow root crop)
- Zucchini (whilst it takes up a bit more personal space, 1-2 plants will feed an average family)
- Herbs like Mint, Basil (try Sweet Basil or Lemon Basil), Parsley and Lemon Balm – try growing a Herb Tea Garden.
- Flowers like Sunflowers, Marigolds (Calendula is edible), Scented Geraniums (which have a huge variety of colours and scents) and Nasturtiums (all parts of the plant and flower are edible).
You can find out how to plant seedlings in the Garden in a Box for Kids project – a fun, cheap and colourful alternative to growing in a plant pot or garden.
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Related articles: You might also enjoy Design Ideas and Themes for Kid’s Gardens, Inspirational Small Garden Ideas, Micro Gardening in Small Spaces, Gardens & Projects for Kids or come along to one of my Small Garden Workshops.
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