Mighty oaks, from tiny acorns grow…and the same is true with human beings. Every accomplished person was once a tiny child, a child who was sparked to strive for excellence. As parents we are in the unique position of being entrusted with a precious soul and it is up to us to protect and nurture that soul for a lifetime.
No parent can make a child great. However a parent can help a child want to be great. Much depends on the early childhood years. With the proper encouragement and praise, your child will follow the path you forge.
Nothing succeeds like success. When your child’s first garden bursts into bloom, that pride and joy of accomplishment will be a cherished memory.
So start out by making it easy to succeed! The task involved should fit your time frame. Avoid the disappointment of an unfinished project. However, sometimes things just don’t work out and showing your child how to pick up and start over is also a life lesson.
Here are just a few examples of almost foolproof projects that will give great rewards. Quick and simple-to-do, they will be favorites for your whole family.
Planting Seeds for Children Ages 3 and Up
For small children, prepare the seedbed ahead of time. Older kids can be put to work digging their own bed. For it to be your child’s garden, it is enough for them just to plant the seeds. Show them where to place the seeds and how many. Large seeds are best for little fingers. Flowers that are easy to grow as well as plant are Nasturtium. An ideal vegetable for the cool season is radish. Their large seeds sprout quickly and they may be ready to harvest as soon as 3 weeks. Though radish may be perceived as a bit sharp to be a childhood favorite, my experience is that the kids don’t care so much about eating the crop. The joy of harvest overshadows all. Be sure to take photos of the kids with their hands full of the bounty. These trophy shots will inspire them for years to come.
Other flowers such as tough old favorites like marigolds, can also be planted from starts bought in a nursery. The advantage of this is instant gratification, although the downside is that lessons in patience are lost. Perhaps the easiest vegetable from a start is tomato. Cherry tomatoes, especially, are favorites with kids. They may eat them all off the vine, so plant extras if you want some to make it to the table.
Amaryllis for Children Ages 3 and Up
Amaryllis is an incredible bulb. Very easy to plant and grow in the house, it is absolutely spectacular in bloom. Buy the bulbs in winter, and help your child to plant one in a six or eight inch pot. The bottom 2/3 of the bulb should be buried in the planting mix with the shoulder and top of the bulb exposed. Be sure the planting mix drains well. Water thoroughly once and wait for growth to begin. Don’t let it dry out – that means you may have to water more than once! Regular watering should only be done once growth begins. As with most houseplants, check the soil regularly and water thoroughly when it gets dryish. Soon, the flower stalk will grow to an almost impossible height and the mind-boggling amaryllis flower will amaze everyone.
A Miniature Desert Garden for Children Ages 6 and Up
All you need is a 12-inch or so diameter shallow (about 4 inches deep) bowl, a sandy soil mix and some rocks, pieces of wood and, of course, succulent plants. Make sure the bowl or pot has drainage holes or the roots will rot.
For young children, the best plants are succulents, but not cactus. The spines are sharp and some that look harmless like the Bunny Ears Cactus (Opuntia) have hairs that can be extremely irritating if they lodge in the skin. Some succulents are easier to care for than others, so ask your nurseryman what he would suggest. Of course, taking your children along to pick out the plants adds to the fun.
Favorite plants to include in your miniature desert garden: Sedum (stick with the small ones), Sempervivum (Hens and Chickens), Haworthia species such as the Zebra Haworthia, and Dwarf Aloes.
Over time your plants will grow and deserts have relatively sparse vegetation so do not plant too close together. Remember, you are making a miniature landscape. Allow enough space to put in some rocks and weathered wood. My kids spent an afternoon collecting items. They trained their eyes to seek miniature boulders, partially buried in the sand they seemed to have been there for centuries. Small weathered twigs, when seen in the right scale, became gnarled logs. The finishing touches were different textured sand and a few bits of gravel then the tiny desert was ready for display.
Water everything well, be careful to avoid a stream of water that will upset the new planting. The easiest way to break the force of the water is by having it spill onto a saucer.
Do not be concerned with the absolute aesthetic level of your child’s project. The beauty is in their eyes and will be expressed with that look of wonder and joy when looking at their own creation. We may not agree, but our job is just to support and reassure. My kids always insist on putting a plastic lion or rhinoceros in their desert garden. I grit my teeth and leave the toy there.
There is no limit to the projects you can do with a child in the garden. With a bit of thought you can come up with countless ways to make them a part of your gardening experience.
These are just a few ideas to get your child involved in gardening. The lessons in patience, observation, and responsibility will imbue them with character traits that will continue to blossom throughout their lives. Just about any metaphor you might attach to gardening applies to your children. Preparing fertile ground, giving the essential raw materials, encouraging growth in the right direction, all apply to garden and child alike.
Keep focused as to what is really important and make that your priority. As I am fond of saying, the most important thing I raise in the garden is the children.