Whether you've got a green thumb or you're all thumbs, planting a garden can be a wonderful way to celebrate spring with your family. Gardening with kids provides opportunities to laugh, build memories, strengthen relationships, gain earth science knowledge, and teach responsibility. More importantly, gardening is a natural way to help children develop an appreciation for the beauty and wonder of God's creation as they discover earthworms, ladybugs, and all the delights of the earth.
You can have a garden experience anywhere. Just be sure your garden stays manageable so that it's a source of happiness, not stress. Horticulturist and botanist Jason Trites suggests that a child's garden have a variety of colorful plants with interesting textures or appearances.
"Allow children to assist in selecting seeds, but choose untreated, larger seeds that grow well in your area, sprout quickly, and are easy for kids to handle," says Trites. "Know your soil. You may need to enrich it for better success. Most gardens need an inch of water a week, but sandy soils will need more." The people at your local garden center can give you tips on tending your soil.
Books and gardening magazines offer lots of suggestions for gardens with kid appeal. Here are some of my boys' favorite gardens:
- Sunflower house: Use a variety of sunflowers to make the "walls" of your house. Choose an area that gets full sun. Trace the outline of your sunflower house in the dirt with a hoe and leave space for a doorway or two. Plant your tallest variety along the outline. Trace the same shape one row closer to the center of your house and plant the next tallest variety. Plant morning glories among your sunflowers to add brilliant color. Sunflowers are spectacular growers, so changes are visible almost daily. For a fun science activity, choose one flower and record its weekly growth. You'll be amazed!
- Pizza garden: In full sun, plant a marigold border to define an outside circle (approximately 8" diameter) and six sections of your pizza garden. Plant tomatoes in two sections, and fill each of the remaining sections with onions, peppers, chives, and oregano. Use the ingredients on your favorite pizzas at harvest time.
- Butterfly garden: Colorful blooms that produce lots of nectar throughout the growing season will bring beautiful butterflies fluttering to your garden. In full sun, plant ageratum, marigolds, purple coneflowers, zinnias, and monarda, or ask a local gardening expert about plants that attract butterflies in your region.
- Container garden: While the above gardens prefer sunshine, a container garden can be adapted to sun or shade. Choose a fun container with a drain hole. Line the bottom with gravel to promote healthy drainage and add all-purpose soil. For shade, try planting New Guinea or other impatiens, wax or tuberous begonias, or coleus. In a sunny spot, petunias, alyssum, geraniums, and marigolds work well, as do greens like asparagus ferns and vinca vines.
Enjoy "growing" in the garden with your child as you explore analogies between gardening and the Christian walk. Explain the responsibilities of tending a garden to keep the plants nourished and plentiful. When harvesting your garden produce, remind your child that much like your garden, people are waiting to be told of God's love and "harvested" for his kingdom.
Copyright © 2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today magazine.
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Summer 2002, Vol. 14, No. 3, Page 8