By Jeff Lowenfels
Gardeners are made, not born. If you want your children to become enthusiastic gardeners, take steps early to get them on the proverbial path.
It’s not difficult, but it may require adjusting your attitude towards children in the garden.
The first step is to pique your child’s interest in plants. It becomes more difficult due to screen competition. A trip to a nursery or two where your child can literally smell the flowers should do the trick. Plants will stimulate interest.
Then let your child buy a plant. I still remember the beginning of lantana, barely a rooted cutting, which my father helped me choose when I was 6 years old. This plant has put the hook. Its first flowers enchanted me.
If your child is not old enough to care for a plant on their own, you are there to teach and help them. Perhaps the best way to get kids into gardening is to show them how much you love working with plants. Children imitate adults. (How do you think they learned to use these electronic screens?)
Another great way to get kids into gardening is to have them grow plants from seeds. This is especially effective when plants are things they like to eat. Carrots are preferred. The same goes for tomatoes and even radishes, although they have very small seeds, and you don’t want to frustrate the kids.
If they can’t handle the seeds, have them fill the flats with moist soil. Show them how to water and place labels and provide the right light.
Of course, there are plenty of seeds big enough for little fingers to pick up and plant. Marigolds, cosmos, zinnias, sunflowers, corn, peas and beans fit this bill. They are also easy to start in containers as well as directly in garden soil.
Remember that children like responsibilities. Find an age-appropriate gardening chore just for them. My first gardening job was (when I was 5) planting dandelion flowers in a bucket.
When my own children insisted on being underfoot in the garden, I gave them worming permits and put them to work. Only a licensee could collect worms. They were gardeners from then on and soon graduated to picking chickweed and culling my own dandelions.
Most important, however, is having the right attitude as a head gardener and teacher. Learning is making mistakes, and with gardening, that means stepping on plants, pulling things that aren’t weeds, and accidentally spraying your dad with the hose. As a parent (or grandparent or neighbor), “go with the flow,” lest your child garden forever.
I remember working to clean the plants the day before a local garden club visited our long raised flower bed. I didn’t realize my 4 year old son was following behind me, “helping” by removing all (and I mean all) the flowers.
I could have snapped, and believe me, as the City Garden columnist, I was very angry and upset. Instead, I took a deep breath, walked in, and picked up lots of bottles and jars. We made beautiful flower arrangements and placed them all around the bare plants.
The history and lesson imparted is what visitors took away from this tour. Thanks to a little attitude adjustment on my part, 40 years later, my daughter still enjoys gardening. And she’s also very good at flower arranging.