Welcome back to my Gardening With Kids Series!
In Part 1, I talked
about some very basic ideas for encouraging your kids to enjoy gardening. This
time I want to dive into some specifics. Let’s start with that preschool
favorite: the 5 senses. We all take things in through our senses, but kids are
especially aware of these sensations—maybe because they are experiencing some
of them for the first time. The more you can make your garden exciting to look
at, smell, touch, taste, and hear, the more engaged your kiddos will be with
it, especially your younger ones. As they get older, encourage them to seek out
their own colors, tastes, smells, etc. that they want in their gardens.
Let’s talk about each
First up: Sight
This should be an
easy one! There are so many colors of flowers to choose from, and even
vegetables come in different colors. Choose bright colors in varying hues, or
ask your child what their favorite color is and do your best to put in plants
that are that color. You could even make a list together of all the vegetables
that are red, for example, then find some of them to plant. Another way to do
it is to take them with you to the nursery or garden center and just walk
around looking at all the blooms. I’m sure you’ll find some in almost every
Lots of bright colors
from one harvest!
I know that my kids
are always drawn to the varieties of vegetables that come in different colors,
like ‘Rainbow Carrots’ (a mix of white, orange, purple, and red), ‘Royal
Burgundy’ (purple) and yellow wax beans, and tomatoes with a variety of colors.
The one exception to that was the purple potatoes that were purple on the
inside too. Purple outsides? Awesome. Purple insides? Highly suspect and
probably gross. They wouldn’t eat them! Ha! Lesson learned. The next year we
planted purple potatoes that were still white on the inside! By the way, did
you know that purple beans are magical? That’s right. They change colors from
purple to green when you cook them. Fun times!
Beyond just colors,
there are other ways to make your garden visually interesting for children. Put
in a whirligig for them to watch, or paint some rocks together and let them
decide where to put them outside. You can also add playful or whimsical touches
for them to find—fairy doors at the base of trees or sheds, a fun little statue
hidden amongst the flowers—that kind of thing. My in-laws have an assortment of
different little statues placed around their flowerbeds, and the kids enjoy
seeing them and finding them all.
Here’s an idea from
Pinterest that I just loved: Glass Marbles in Your Fence. The idea is that you drill
holes in your wooden fence, just slightly smaller than a marble, then push the
marbles into the holes. The wood should hold them there. As the sun hits them,
they catch the light and glow! Alas, I found the idea many years ago, and we
have yet to have the right type of wooden fence to try it out on! Maybe I need
to do it to something else around here…
My first thought with
this one is wind chimes. As it turns out, I am quite picky when it comes to
wind chimes, and I have yet to find a set that makes that type of sound I would
enjoy on a regular basis. (Not that I’ve made a concerted effort to find one,
you understand, just a casual perusal of the selection in various stores.) If
you’re the DIY type, I would again direct you to Pinterest. There are many,
many DIY wind chime ideas, with everything from old utensils, to metal washers,
to actual instruments (think tamborines) hung up on a string. Let your kiddo
pick one that suits their fancy and make it together!
If you’re not so much
into wind chimes, you may also consider putting up a rain chain from your
downspout. The water trickling down the chain will make a music all its own.
Along those same lines, any type of fountain or water feature will provide some
soothing sounds. Of course, with little ones you have to be careful putting in
a water feature, but I’m sure you already thought of that!
If you’re really
getting into it—and maybe have neighbors that are gone during the day!—you
could even add a musical wall outside. Turn one section of your fence into the
music room, and include things to bang on or plink, bells to ring, and so on.
On the other end of the spectrum, you could do a Sound Scavenger Hunt, with
specific sounds from the natural world to check off: a bee buzzing, a bird
chirping, water trickling, and so on.
If there are
unpleasant sounds that come into your garden often—like traffic—consider adding
some of these just as a barrier to help everyone tune out those less enjoyable
This is a category
that some intentional effort can really make a difference in your child’s
enjoyment of the garden. Let’s face it, a “hands-off” garden won’t be very
appealing to kids. Not that you can’t have your flowerbeds or other places that
are off-limits, but create a special flowerbed or even a flowerpot full of
things that they CAN touch. They will love it!
There are many plants
that are soft and silky, and practically beg to be touched and petted. Some of
our favorite plants that are soft on the hands (or feet!): lamb’s ears, bunny
tails grass, regular lawn grass, and individual flower petals. There are some
slightly prickly plants that make for an interesting variation as well, like
the cones of the purple coneflower.
This was a sensory
container I made for the kids one year. It includes mint, pineapple sage, and
lamb’s ears. Proof that adding interest for your kids doesn’t have to be a big
or overwhelming project!
For this one, I would
also think about having some flowers in the garden that they are allowed to
pick. I’ve always said dandelions are fair game for any child who wants to pick
them! Most of the others they have to ask me first, unless it’s just one they
found out in the back field. One of my favorite shrubs is the snowball
bush—it’s a type of viburnum. I remember picking a “snowball” as a kid and
shaking all the florets loose to “snow” in the summer. My kids did the same
thing with our snowball bush in Washington! Something about those soft white
flowers falling down is so delightful.
Be on the lookout for
any plants that should definitely not be touched, like poison ivy, and get rid
of it as soon as possible. I have some friends that don’t have any roses in
their gardens, because they hate the thorns! I am not in that camp—I put at
least 1 rose in every flowerbed!—but I do try to choose shrubs that are less
sharp to put near sidewalks, pathways, and anywhere the kids play on a regular
come with some good smells, so this one shouldn’t be too hard to get going. For
the vegetable garden, put in some herbs! We grew pineapple sage one year that
smelled amazing. Mint of any kind should probably be grown in a pot to contain
it, but most other herbs can grow right in the ground. It’s wonderful to have
an assortment, so that the kids can pick a leaf of each one and smell the
Of course, many
flowers have a delightful fragrance. Have you ever noticed the scent of a
bearded iris? It is one of my favorites. Honeysuckle, roses, mockorange,
petunias, pansies, and many more. Good smelling flowers are one reason I am a
Not every scent has
to be floral, however. Some plants just have a strong smell of their own. Have
your kids see how many scented leaves they can find in your garden. They may
come back with tomatoes, marigolds, or geraniums, in addition to the herbs.
good-smelling things yourself, and point them out to your kids. Even just the smell
of the dirt after a rain, or an unusually scented weed (pineapple weed anyone?)
can add to the gardening fun.
This is the main one
I covered in part 1, so I won’t go over it too much again here. Just—grow
things they can snack on! Fruits, vegetables. Let them taste some of the herbs
you grow, or if they’re old enough, introduce them to edible flowers. Of
course, you’ll want to make sure they know only certain flowers can be eaten
safely! Nasturtiums, pansies & violas, and squash blossoms are all edible,
for a start. Make a salad garnished with edible flowers, or freeze one per ice
cube for a pretty addition to summer lemonade.
Wouldn’t these look
pretty in an ice cube?
Speaking of lemonade,
do you know what’s REALLY good? Make some blackberry mint lemonade sometime. It
is amazing! To add in the mint, put a generous handful of leaves in a blender
with a small amount of water and blend it up. Then pour it through a strainer
to just let the liquid go into your pitcher. Make your lemonade as usual, but
also add in a cup or so of blackberries. Use a spoon to partially smash the
berries before adding them, to get more of their delicious flavor and pretty
color in your drink. Yum. Now I’m craving blackberry mint lemonade!
These ideas are just to give you a start. I’m sure you’ll come up with more as you think about how to incorporate the 5 senses into your garden. I would love to hear what you come up with!