Monday, April 27, 2009

Family Gardening: Planning a Garden with Your Kids

It’s late April, and the spring gardening season is in full swing! The average last frost date (April 18th here in the Charlotte area) has passed. While this doesn’t guarantee that we won’t have another frost, it’s a pretty good bet. So, consider the ribbon cut and get out there and dig!

Planting a garden is one of the best—and most economic—family activities I know. If you want to have a great adventure with your kids this summer, consider planting a garden together. You’d be surprised how many special moments you and your children will have checking on and maintaining your garden together.

Although there are endless ways to enjoy gardening with your children, I’ve accumulated some tips and advice as I’ve worked with kids and families over the years. I’ve listed a few below that relate to garden planning. I’ll post a few more each week for the next couple of weeks on what to grow, and garden maintenance. (It could grow to more... we'll see!)

Shared ownership. We all like a say in what goes on around us, and kids are no exception. The garden is the perfect arena to include them in decision-making; besides, they will wander out to the garden much more often if they feel like they have some ownership in it. Let them in on the decisions about what to grow. Provide a few choices for them to select from, or peruse the garden catalogs or local garden center together. Ask everyone in the family to choose one crop, or perhaps everyone gets to choose one type of tomato and then have a contest to see whose tomato produces the most fruit.

Start small. If you are planning your first garden, start small. You don’t need a half-acre in order to produce a lot of food. In fact, you will be surprised how much produce you can harvest in a small plot. I recommend starting with a 4’ x 4’ plot, or a few containers on the patio or balcony. Better to smart small and have fun with it than to create a large garden that becomes a chore to maintain.

Don’t worry about perfect. Perfect gardens really only exist in books—don’t worry about it! Your rows do not have to be perfectly straight, nor your garden weed-free. Instead, focus on enjoying your garden together. Family gardening time is some of the best family time you’ll get—no TV, and just each other for company. You’ll have actual conversations! The important part in planting is that you do it together and keep it fun—a few minutes at a time a few times a week may be all the time you and your kids have to spend in the garden, and that’s okay. The entire garden doesn’t have to be planted at one time. Let it fit your schedule—you’ll all be happier in the end. You can always add more later or next year.

Be adventurous. Don’t be afraid to try new things together—one of the best lessons you can give your kids is to model being an enthusiastic and curious learner yourself. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking you have to know all the answers; instead, teach your kids the joy of trying something new and waiting to see how it will turn out. Remember, all great gardeners have killed a lot of plants as they learn and discover what works in their gardens. If you see a plant that looks interesting, but that you don’t know how to grow, that’s okay—investigate it with your child and then try it if it seems appropriate for your conditions. Gardening is an ongoing investigation, and you never stop learning.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to keep your garden project interesting and engaging for you and your kids. Have fun with your kids in your garden this summer, and turn them into lifelong gardeners. It’s one of the best things you will ever do as a parent!

Have some feedback, or some additional tips based on your own experience? I would love to hear them—please post a response and help foster family gardening.

Thanks for reading-- now get out there and garden!


1 comment:

  1. Great article, the key is starting small and do not be afraid to try new things.
    We run a childrens gardening and environmental website at