Believe it or not, spring is just around the corner (at least in the Northern Hemisphere). I visited a flower and garden show a couple of weeks ago, where there were beautiful blooms inside while it snowed outside. I am itching to get out and play in the dirt.
I have been leafing through a nursery catalog (ooh, I think I’ll try a potted peach tree on the deck!), I have some seeds and at the garden show I bought lilies, and seed potatoes (where I’ll be trying the trashcan potatoes again).
Pictured above are some of my favorites for kids (and me!). I like small colorful plants, first because I have a small yard and second because I think even edible plants can be decorative. That is why there is colorful Rainbow chard, small Sugar Pie pumpkin, and even popcorn. This year I am trying Early Pink popcorn, but previously I did heirloom Tom Thumb popcorn. The stalks are only a about meter high, and the cobs are about the length of a standard playing card. After they were dried I would put one in a paper sack and heat them in the microwave for fresh popped corn. I also found in a local store a set of seeds with container tomatoes, lettuce, chard, basil and tiny round carrots.
Even if you cannot get kids to help in the garden, they will notice that food can be grown. Plus it is just cool to watch the plants grow.
Gardens can show a child that a plant can be useful and beautiful in the yard, plus there is plenty of science to learn. Even a trip to the grocery store will reveal all the different types and parts of plants. The onions and garlic are bulbs, where sometimes green can be seen sprouting a new plant. Broccoli is a not quite finished bunch of flowers. Beets, carrots, parsnips, potatoes and turnips are different kinds of roots, and sometimes their greens are nearby (or the whole plant is shown). Ginger is a rhizome; the same type of root as many irises. Cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, apples and pears are all fruit, despite some being called vegetables.
A garden is its own ecosystem where there are good and bad insects, and with an edible garden there is a reason to learn how to cultivate plants without poisons. Plus we love our bees, and our ladybird beetles! And the worms and parasitic wasps. I mostly use a spray of insecticidal soap with some baking soda mixed in. There is lots of literature on pest control, and I have often used the local extension website for help. I did come up with a way to keep slugs from munching my flowers by making a small protective fence out of copper window screening from the hardware store. I cut a strip about three to five inches wide and ten inches or so long, since it is in a roll it wraps a bit around the plant when placed on the soil (the slug slime reacts to the copper and creates an electric shock!). I also put socks on my apples and pears!
My kids have helped in the garden, and they did enjoy the tiny Tom Thumb corn field. When one wanted to dig, I pointed him to an area that needed some turning over. More than once one has required a bouquet for a teacher or friend, and I made sure they knew the name of the flower they were getting. The Linguist has photographed many aspects of our small garden, including the intricate spider webs, and she enjoys sitting in the apricot tree with her camera (it was planted when she was small). They all laughed when I planted a persimmon that looked just like I stuck a stick in the ground, and then claimed I glued leaves on it. Now they laugh at my battle with the squirrels over the fruit (I now but socks on the persimmons!).
My Google-Fu failed at finding good sites with gardening projects for kids. I think the best one I found is located on the list to the right, the Science-at-home blog. At the garden show a local independent bookstore had wonderful display of garden books for kids from toddler on up, so go visit your local independent bookstore for ideas. Some projects in my collection of books include growing bean seeds pressed against a jar with paper towel to show the little plant sprouting, making sunflower tent, growing a sweet potato in a jar in a window (my mother did that!), and on and on.
Now pictures of the garden show! Starting with a really cool kid project from the children’s section, grass heads! First take the toe end of panty-hose or a sheer knee sock and place a tennis ball into the toe. Have the child take markers and draw a face of their choosing. Remove the tennis ball. Then sprinkle grass seed (or any reliable seed like chives) into the end of the sock/hose, take a scoop of soil, tie it off into a ball. Spray the hose ball with seed and soil with water; also you can place it into a jar with the tail sitting in water (capillary action!). It is like those ceramic plant heads you see advertised on late night television.
The theme of this show was children’s literature. Here are some of my favorite bits: