By Summer Miller
Photography by Carole Topalian
Gardening with children can be a wonderful experience. All it requires is a few tips, a little creativity and willingness to get dirty. At Edible Omaha, we’ve compiled a list of garden ideas, resources and tips to make this year’s growing season a great one for you and your kids. A theme garden is a wonderful way to engage kids in lessons about healthy eating habits, the alphabet or their five senses.
Grow Your Own Pizza
If you have the space to spare, planting a garden in the shape of a pizza slice is a fun and easy way to get kids excited about digging in the dirt and helping with dinner. Use sticks or whatever you have around the house to stake the area, then plant vegetables and herbs that would go on your child’s favorite piece of pizza—oregano, basil, garlic, tomatoes, onion and peppers are a great place to start. Remember, this is about letting go and having fun, not about perfection. If your children want to plant some cheese to see what will happen, let them. When the time comes to harvest the fruits of your labor remind your children that they grew the food you are eating. Then celebrate with a pizza picnic by your garden.
Many plants have animal-related common names like zebra grass, lamb’s ear, elephant ear, bee balm and the butterfly bush. A quick Internet search will yield lots of plants with animal names. Better yet, suit up in safari gear and take your children to the nursery in search of wild animals. Animal gardens are wonderful conversation starters with children. “Why do you suppose that grass is called zebra grass?” Animal gardens are even great on rainy days. Gather some popsicle or craft sticks and draw the animals needed for your plant zoo as homemade plant markers. The next sunny day, head outside to identify your plants and put your freshly decorated markers in the ground.
Explore Your Senses
It could be argued that every garden is a sensory garden, but taking the extra effort to help children explore their sense of taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell can teach valuable lessons all season long. Assuming your children won’t taste every leaf and blossom, feel free to mix food and nonfood plants. Herbs are a natural choice for the taste part. Try to select those that your children might want to sample, like mint in iced tea or basil on pizza. At the nursery, let your children choose their favorite colors and beautiful bloomers to help them learn about sight and smell. Remember to select opposing textures, like lamb’s ear for something soft and prickly and succulents for something rough. Sound might seem more difficult to come by, but on a windy day, the breeze blowing through tall grasses can create quite the symphony.
Pot Your Garden
Not everyone has the backyard for a garden, but that doesn’t mean the opportunity is lost. Potted herbs on a windowsill or porch work just as well, especially when using food themes. Grow peppermint, dry the leaves and drink peppermint tea. Strawberries, lettuce and even tomatoes (if you have plenty of light) will work well in potted gardens. Keep in mind that potted gardens tend to dry out quickly and will require daily watering, especially during peak summer months. When purchasing pots, don’t forget kid- and adult-size watering cans.
If pots or plants in your own backyard are simply not an option, or even if they are, you might want to join in the fun of a community garden. Some counties, such as Douglas County, Nebraska, have organized programs where those eager and with access to the Internet can search for a garden in their neighborhoods. Call your county extension office and ask if someone can help you find a community garden in your neighborhood.
Check Out Books and Online Resources
Your local library is a great resource for kids gardening projects. The Omaha Public Library recommends two books for those who want to research a little further on gardening with children. Kids’ Container Gardening: Year-round projects for inside and out by Cindy Krezel and The Family Kitchen Garden: How to plant, grow and cook together by Karen Liebreich, Jutta Wagner and Annette Wendland. The latter provides seasonal recipes and month-by-month planting guides. For those who want to check out a website or two visit www.KidsGardening.org , www.MoreNature.info or www.SproutRobot.com
Summer Miller is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in Every Day with Rachel Ray, Eating Well, AAA Living, The Reader and more websites than room to note. She lives with her husband and two children in