Category Archives: gardening with children

Kids of Summer-Garden Related Activities

We’re lucky in that our kids are surrounded by nature. It’s a big world out there, filled with plants to taste, smell and touch, birds that sings, insects that buzz, lizards that do push-ups and mammals to watch. Our connection to the earth is one of the most valuable lessons we can share with our children. Kindle a child’s curiosity early and you create a gardener, horticulturist and naturalists for life.

With a long, warm spring and summer to spend outdoors what fun, educational and interesting things can you do with kids?

Adelyn playing among hostas

Want some help out in the garden this year? Then get your kids interested. I’m not talking about getting the kids out before breakfast to help with the wheat crop harvest but fun things the entire family can enjoy.

Growing our own food is now common place. Even those who only have room for a couple of containers are vegetable gardening. Plant a pizza garden. On the ground use a hose to form a round garden shape and border it with stones or another type of edging of your choice. Divide the “pizza” into slices using stakes or one of your plant varieties such as basil. Add stepping stones for the pepperoni slices and plant each section with one tomato plant and one green bell pepper and fill in with garlic, oregano, chives and basil. By summer you’ll be harvesting the makings for a delicious home made pizza. A container pizza garden would be similar but on a small scale. Both are fun to create, plant and harvest.

Kids, even older ones, like hiding places, so grow one in the garden. You can plant tall sunflowers in a circle, leaving a space for a “door” that kids can crawl through once the flowers have grown. Or build a simple teepee out of fallen branches or long garden stakes and plant bean seeds around the outside. Scarlet runner beans have tender, young pods like green beans in addition to scarlet red flowers that attract hummingbirds. Beans grow fast and soon make a great secret hiding place.

Adelyn watering garden

Another fun project is growing birdhouse gourds. This fast growing vine can beautify fences and trellises during the growing season. In the fall, dry and hollow them out to make birdhouses or gorgeous crafts. You can burn patterns into the surface and stain the gourds with shoe polish making beautiful objects of art that make great gifts.

Edible flowers are fun for kids to grow, too. Some common ones to try are tuberous begonia petals that taste like lemon. Calendulas are spicy as are carnations and marigolds. Dianthus are clove-flavored, nasturtiums give a hint of horseradish and violas, pansies, hollyhock, squash blossoms and Johnny-jump-ups taste like mild lettuce. You can also freeze flowers like violas, fuchsias, geranium, stock and thyme in ice cubes.

Flowers that kids can pick for bouquets will be interesting for them to grow also, especially when planted in their own garden. Cosmos, planted from six packs, provide instant color as well as attracting butterflies. Zinnias come in a rainbow of colors and are a favorite of swallow-tail butterflies. Other easy to grow flowers for cutting are snapdragons and who hasn’t pinched these to make faces?

Pettable plants are a sure hit with kids. Usually we tell them, “Don’t touch”, so to actually have someone encourage this is a rare treat. If your own garden doesn’t have plants that look and feel so soft that you can’t resist petting them, consider adding lamb’s ears, artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ or fountain grass.

Fragrant flowers and foliage teach us to stop and savor our surroundings. I always love it when I can introduce a youngster to the different plant smells. They never forget the experience and will go back again and again to a fragrance they like. Fragrant flower choices include sweet alyssum that attracts pollinators, chocolate cosmos, nemesia and heliotrope. Foliage plants that smell great are lemon basil, lime thyme, orange and chocolate mint.
Teach children about beneficial insects like butterflies and lady bugs. Good bugs help plants by pollinating flowers or preying on insect pests. Make your garden a more inviting place for these helpful insects by planting lots of flowers and herbs to attract them. Flowers with umbrella shaped clusters of small flowers such as cosmos, zinnia, black-eyed Susan and yarrow are favorites of butterflies. Lady bugs like a pest free garden and will patrol your plants looking for any tiny insects and their eggs.

Adelyn drawing the landscape

Be sure to leave some time after a busy day out in the garden for kids to draw what they’ve enjoyed outside. I have my friend Adelyn’s drawing on my wall so we both remember the fun we had in the garden.

It’s fun to explore outside with kids. Their natural curiosity is infectious as you get down to their level with nature.
A couple years ago I got the idea to make a nature guide for my friend Adelyn from pictures of the birds and flowers here in my own garden. She’s now almost 5 years old and still has her well-worn book. What’s a nature book if you can’t take it outside?

Adelyn’s book has photos of other things besides birds and flowers. There are butterflies and a tree frog as well as pictures of family. It’s fun to watch her run around and identify which bird or flower from the pictures in her book.

Adelyn with her nature guide

Later this spring the black-headed grosbeaks will return but for now Adelyn and her little sister Scarlett can find juncos, chickadees, purple and gold finches and nuthatches in her nature book. The flowers are the easiest to find as they don’t fly away and later the blue hydrangeas will be blooming.

The next time Adelyn and Scarlett come to visit we’ll take more pictures and print them out on the computer to add to her nature guide. The book is one of those inexpensive four by six inch photo albums with sleeves for photos. Maybe the chipmunks will be here and pose for a photo. We can also do some face painting to showcase the flowers we find.

Scarlett showing off face painting

Another fun thing to do outdoors is a visit to Camp Joy in Boulder Creek. Camp Joy welcomes children to learn about growing and preparing food, seed saving, bees, goats and garden crafts. They also offer garden tours for school age children or groups of any age.

When I visited the farm a while back everyone was busy working but happy to share their knowledge with me. In the Kid’s Garden there were plants to be picked, harvested, weeded or just enjoyed. Just to walk around the garden is a sensory experience in tasting, touching, smelling, listening and seeing. After touring the farm, you can have your lunch or snack in the center of this beautiful garden.

On the beautiful day I visited I was greeted with a smile by the person spreading compost. Compost is regularly added back to the soil and used to start seedlings in a special blend of “real soil” allowing them to transplant and continue to do well in the garden. Kelp and fish emulsion are used as fertilizer but mostly it’s the compost that makes the seedlings so strong. It was clear that there is a respect for the cycles of the earth and the changing seasons at the farm.

Entry to Camp Joy garden

Later in April or early May Camp Joy will hold their annual plant sale of seed starts of veggies, herbs and flowers that are successful for our area. Take a lunch and make a day of it.

To share one’s excitement and knowledge of the outdoor world with a child is fun and rewarding. The wonder on a young person’s face as they discover a swallowtail butterfly or a flower just starting to open or a bird feeding in the garden is priceless.

Gardening with Kids

Adelyn in hostaAdelyn and the giant hosta

My friend Adelyn came to visit the other day. Adelyn just turned three. We always have a good time exploring my garden and checking out the forest. This time was even more fun.

I didn’t have any cherry tomatoes to share because Mr. Gopher got to the plants first but there are always lots of flowers to admire and some have a wonderful fragrance. Over a dozens hummingbirds visit my feeders daily and they love the flowers that produce nectar, too. Songbirds have their own feeders plus suet to eat and all the little seeds that nature can provide. My sunflowers will soon be ripe for the goldfinches to enjoy.

To share one’s excitement and knowledge of the outdoor world with a child is fun and rewarding. The wonder on a young person’s face as they discover a swallowtail butterfly or a flower just starting to open or a bird feeding in the garden is priceless.

Sure it would be great to have a large vegetable garden to share with Adelyn. We could build a teepee out of fallen branches and plant scarlet runner beans around the outside. Or we could grow a pizza garden in a circle divided like pizza slices with long wooden stakes. We’d plant tomatoes, sweet red peppers and basil in the slices and use stepping stones to mimic pepperoni slices.

But I have lots of other cool things so when Adelyn comes to my house we become a couple of naturalists and horticulturalists and that’s OK with us.

Adelyn_with_bird_book-closeup.1600Adelyn with her new bird book

For her last visit I made Adelyn her own bird book with pictures I took here at my house. It has photos of other things besides birds – butterflies, flowers, a tree frog and pictures of family when they have visited. It was fun to watch her run around and identify which bird or flower had a picture in her book.

In a short time, she had seen the grosbeak, junco, chickadee, purple finch, goldfinch and nuthatch all snatching a seed from the feeder. The flowers were easier to find as they don’t fly. She really liked the blue hydrangeas and the red flowering maples. Hiding among the huge hosta leaves was fun for her, too.

We took some more pictures during the afternoon and printed them out on the computer to add to her little book. The book is one of those inexpensive four by six inch photo albums with sleeves for the photos. We looked for the chipmunks to photograph for the album but they were out feeding elsewhere in the forest.

Adelyn playing in the gardenAdelyn playing in the garden

Finding things to do in the garden is easy. You probably already have some edible flowers in your garden. Tuberous begonia petals taste like lemon. Calendulas are spicy as are carnations and marigolds. Dianthus are clove-flavored, nasturtiums give a hint of horseradish and violas, pansies, hollyhock, squash blossoms and johnny-jump-ups taste like mild lettuce. You can also freeze flowers like violas, fuchsias, geranium, stock and thyme in ice cubes.

Flowers that kids can cut will be interesting for them, too, especially when planted in their own garden. Cosmos, planted from six packs, provide instant color as well as attracting butterflies. Zinnias come in a rainbow of colors and are a favorite of swallowtail butterflies. Another easy to grow flower for cutting is the snapdragon.

Besides flowers, fragrant plants like lemon basil, lemon verbena, lime thyme, orange mint and other herbs engage the senses and can be included in a kid’s garden. Lamb’s ears are soft and furry.

Get a kid into gardening and nature and they’ll be good stewards of the land for a lifetime. Plus you’ll have a lot of fun in the process.

Chocolate in the Garden

Chocolate_Flower_Farm_perennial_beds 2Gardeners are always on the look out for new plants. I recall when I worked at a nursery looking over the showy dahlia shipment for the one that was a deeper, more vivid shade than all the rest. One color that always gets my attention is chocolate.  Whether I find it in the foliage of a plant or the flower itself it's one of my favorites. You can imagine my delight when I discovered the Chocolate Flower Farm in Langley on Whidbey Island while I was visiting the Puget Sound recently. I was a kid in the candy store.

As a landscape designer I often get requests for certain colors to be included in the plant palette. Mahogany,burgundy, deep magenta, midnight blue, eggplant often make the list. Many people like dark flowers or foliage paired with ivory, others prefer peach or chartreuse. I marveled at all the combinations at the Chocolate Flower Farm.

Some plants are the color of chocolate and some smell like the real thing. Chocolate cosmos looks and smells chocolate_colored_flowers 2just like a dark chocolate bar. The warmth of the day releases this delicious fragrance. A favorite flower for the perennial bed it's always a winner with kids.

In addition to chocolate cosmos, a wildflower called chocolate flower or berlandiera lyrata grew at the farm. I also enjoyed the fragrance of warm chocolate in the flowers of chocolate akebia, chocolate mint and chocolate snakeroot.

Strolling the grassy paths at the Chocolate Flower Farm  I admired a Sparkling Burgundy pineapple lily. The foliage, nearly black, glistened in the sun growing next to a white-flowering Nine Bark called Summer Wine.
Nearby a clump of two-tone chocolate and ivory daylillies bloomed. With grazing horses nearby and a dozen ducks taking turns bathing in a kiddie pool the scene was idyllic. At every turn a different pairing of chocolate flowers and foliage caught my attention.

One section featured plants for a kid's chocolate garden. Easy to grow chocolate pincushion flower, chocolate viola, chocolate nasturtium, chocolate snapdragon, chocolate sunflower and chocolate painted tongue would be fun for any child to have in their own garden.  

I loved a penstemon called Chocolate Drop as well as a Mahogany monarda the color of deepest magenta. Blooming black sweet peas grew up and and over an old bed frame. A dark purple-black clematis from Russia called Negritanka intertwined with lime green hops covering an arbor. Toffee Twist sedge, Royal Purple smokebush, Chocolate Sundae dahlia, Sweet Hot Chocolate daylily, Chocolate Plant and Hot Cocoa roses grew in many of the flower beds.

Himalayan_pheasant_berry 2What makes dark foliage or dark flowers pop?  At The Chocolate Farm each bed pairs the deep rich chocolate color with another contrasting shade. I don't know which was my favorite. One area featured peach, pink and silver to offset the darker shades. Pink dahlia and fairy wand, blue oat grass and rose colored sedum 'Autumn Joy' made a lovely vignette. Another bed paired the yellow flowers of phygelius 'Moonraker' and digitalis grandiflora with white anemone and ivory dahlias set among Chocolate Baby New Zealand flax.

Not to be ignored the dark chocolate shade of black sambucus growing next to a golden Himalayan Pheasant Berry made an impression. All-gold Japanese Forest grass at the base of dark leaved Tropicana canna lily was also a show stopper.

If you are up on Whidbey Island, the Chocolate Flower Farm is a great place to spend an afternoon. If your vacation plans don't include the Pacific Northwest, plant some chocolate in your own garden.

 

Camp Joy, Boulder Creek

Camp_Joy_sign2If you've ever eaten a Camp Joy cherry tomato you'll know why I was excited to be given a tour of the new seedlings in the greenhouse by Jim Nelson, the creator of this beautiful, organic family farm. Since 1971 this non-profit farm has been providing educational, creative programs for kids and adults. It is an example of and encourages others who wish to begin their own sustainable farm.

It was a warm, spring day when I visited and Jim was gently watering the herb, vegetable and flower seedlings by hand using water from a large can that had warmed to room temperature and given off any chlorine that was present. Camp Joy has a spring plant sale coming up April 27th and 28th and another on Mother's Day weekend and Jim was pleased with the progress of the seedlings. They grow proven varieties that do well in our area. Group paintings done by charter school children decorated the wall of the greenhouse.

Outside we were accompanied by Jim's two dogs, Ruby and Rownya, as we admired the garlic crop that will rotated90.kids_painting_in_greenhousebe braided after harvest and offered for sale in the fall along with dried flower wreaths and onion braids.

The farm offers a Camp Joy Cooperative weekly for 3-5 yr olds encouraging them to explore their surroundings through all their senses. Garden tours for school age children or a group of any age are also offered. Everyone at the farm is happy to share what they've learned about growing and preparing food, saving seed, bees and other insects, goats and garden crafts. And there is always something to be picked, harvested, weeded or just enjoyed while having lunch in the gazebo.

Walking along a path bordered by phlox, aster, oregano, iris and nigella we admired a blooming Buff Beauty rose covering an arbor. Jim planted this as well as his favorite Madame Alfred Carrier 42 years ago when he first came to the property. His friend at UCSC, Alan Chadwick introduced him to it. The soft fragrance blended with the blooming lilacs and wisteria.

To maintain fertile soil, a cover crop of fava beans was just starting to bloom in a several areas. Ladybugs were plentiful on the flowers. The beans will be cut down, Jim explained, in about a month. Members of the farm will eat some of the beans while young and sweet and let some mature so they can save the seed. The goats also enjoy fava beans at the flowering stage. There is a fund-raising art program, called Kids for Kids, offered in May, the proceeds going to help improve the goat barn and yard.

lilac_wisteria-arborNext we visited the Kid's Garden. Art, cooking and gardening projects are ongoing in this area. Wholesome, healthy food and beautiful flowers are all part of the farm. The plot of godetia was setting bud and will be offered as cut flowers during the upcoming sales.

Everything is grown with care at Camp Joy. Jim explained that compost is regularly added back to the soil and used to start seedlings in a special blend of "real soil" allowing them to transplant and continue to do well in the garden. He sometimes used kelp and fish emulsion as fertilizer but mostly it's the compost that makes the seedlings so strong.

Camp Joy offers lots of classes for kids and adults alike. Family members and interns are passionate about the farm and enjoy sharing. On this beautiful day, we were greeted with a smile by the person spreading compost.  It was clear that there is a respect for the cycles of the earth and the changing seasons at the farm.

Take advantage of the Spring Plant Sale at Camp Joy. Bring the family and walk through the garden. Visit their website for more information about their events and classes.  http://www.campjoygardens.org 

 

Gardening with Children

The other day a young girl asked me, "Are you the lady that writes the flower column in the paper"? I was thrilled to know that my readership includes middle schoolers.  Our conversation soon turned to vegetables. Which are good to plant at this time of year and how late can they be started. Gardening can be a wonderful learning opportunity for all of us but especially for children.

In a garden, children can breathe fresh air, discover bugs and watch things grow. And, of course, a garden offers kids and everyone else fresh, tasty homegrown food. What better place for kids to play than in a place where they can use their hands and connect with the earth? Where else can they make a plan for a plot of land and learn the lessons of hope and wonder, suspense and patience and even success and failure? In a garden you can have conversations about life and even death in a way that doesn't seem so sad.

With the school year just starting, now would be the perfect time to encourage your child to grow something, keeping track of the progress by pictures and notes. Their daily actions really can make a difference for a sustainable future. Maybe what they learn could even be used for a school project. Here are some ideas.

September is the perfect time to start cool season vegetables. Carrots are fun to start from seed as they can be harvested even when small. For flavor it's difficult to beat a Nantes.   Nantes Coreless or Little Finger are two popular varieties.  They're not a carrot you'll find in the grocery store because they're difficult to harvest commercially and don't store well.  Both are juicy and sweet.  Nantes coreless grows to 6-7 " long, is blunt-tipped and fine grained.  Little Finger is unmatched for snacks, pickling or steaming.  It grows to just 3-4" long and is ideal for container gardening. too.

Red Cored Chantenay has broad shoulders and strong tapered tips.  This wedge-shaped carrot is also rarely grown by commercial growers.  For the home garden it produces 6" long carrots that keep well when left in the soil, store well after digging and are sweet and crunchy.  They perform well in heavy soil, too.

Danvers Half Long are another variety that are tasty raw, cooked, or juiced. They are one of the best carrots for storage as they stay crisp.  Carrots found at the super market are usually Imperators just so you know.

You can still start peas, beets, spinach, arugula, mustard and radish now from seed but it's better to start other veggies like lettuce, chard, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, onions, leeks and brussels sprouts from starts. If your veggies haven't gotten a good start before the soil cools, they'll just sit there until spring. Remember to rotate your crop locations so insects  and diseases don't cause problems. Also be sure to amend your soil with compost to replenish the nutrients that have been used by your summer veggies and flowers.  

Flowers in winter are always welcome so I like to plant early blooming types of sweet peas at this time of year. These varieties flower in the shorter days of late winter. Winter Elegance and Early Multiflora are common early flowering types. Also plant some of the more fragrant spring flowering heirlooms and Spencer's at the same time to extend your harvest time. My very favorite sweet pea with long stems for cutting and an intense fragrance is called April in Paris. Large ruffled blossoms are a soft primrose cream, tinted at the edges in dark lilac that deepens and increases with age. You can't go wrong no matter what color or style sweet pea you choose. They are all beautiful.

If you grow roses fertilize now to encourage another round of blooms.  A well-fed rose not only rewards you with beauty and fragrance but can stay healthy and resist attack from insects and diseases.   Roses grown in sandy soil or containers need more frequent feeding than those grown in loam or heavier soil.  Make sure the soils is moist before fertilizing and water well afterward.

Whatever you grow, include the kids in the garden. It's a free and fun activity.