Gardens are magical, fun, and always full of surprises. Watch a child pull a carrot from the earth, brush off the soil, and take a bite, or see the anticipation in the eyes of a youngster creating a bouquet of flowers she grew. There is a natural magnetic attraction between children and the earth, whether it’s making mud or discovering a germinating seed emerge from the earth. Gardening with children, from toddlers to adolescents, opens new windows in a world dominated by technology.
Whether you are an accomplished gardener or a novice, gardening with children is your chance to partner with Mother Nature to make magic. Don’t worry about achieving horticultural perfection. Just dig in and grow something beautiful or good to eat. Your garden is your treasure chest; you and your young gardener—exploring together—can discover its priceless bounty for an afternoon’s delight or for a lifetime.
Memories last longer than one season. Adults who fondly remember a childhood spent in a garden often recall a parent, grandparent, or neighbor who guided and encouraged them to explore the natural world. Jim Flint, executive director of Friends of Burlington Gardens, in Vermont, takes pride in planting a straight row, which he learned from his father, and in preparing food he’s grown himself, which his mother taught him. His strongest memory of gardening in childhood, however, is of being with his grandmother. In the garden, “she talked and explained things, and not just gardening.”
Flint gardens with his own children and has helped hundreds of other children become involved in school and community gardening. At first, he says, they just play in the garden, “grazing” on vegetables. Incorporate planting and play, and kids become more comfortable. We can teach even the tiniest child garden etiquette, such as where to walk. Later, they learn the consequences of good (or poor) care: watering, weeding, cultivating.