Gardening With Children In Thurston County



Submitted by Cathy Johnson of Dandelion Gardens

gardening with childrenSpring is a wonderful time to garden with children.  My son, who is now 13 (and taller than I am), has always loved to garden with me.  From the time he was a baby, Foster has journeyed to garden shows, garden centers, and everywhere in between.   He’s also a great help in the landscape – he hates to pull weeds but he loves to drive the lawn tractor and is pretty good at leaf raking.  There are many ways to encourage children to garden, here are a few of my favorites.

When Foster was old enough to walk, he wandered the numerous plant nurseries with me.  He was given a choice of pulling the plant cart or enjoying a ride on the wagon.  Foster pulling the cart obviously required more patience and time on my part, but his entertainment allowed me more time to browse.  He was also allowed to select one plant during our shopping excursions – he absolutely loved this!

As a child, Foster loved the color purple, so we typically came home with an herbaceous plant with purple flowers:  liatris, lavender, coneflower, campanula, etc.  The plant he selected was always “his idea”, but I often quietly helped direct the selection.  The plant never cost more than $10, and it was worth every penny to have quality plant and son time.  It was never a battle to visit a garden center because there was something in it for him.  Now that he’s 13, I don’t have to resort to plant rewards and he’s too big to ride on a cart!  And as a special bonus I have beautiful plants in my garden to enjoy and remind me of our time together.

Foster always had his own garden boots, gloves, and tools.  He would work beside me in the yard and I had all sorts of ingenious garden games to encourage his activity.  We played weed bucket basketball – we pulled weeds and tossed them into a bucket – whoever made the most weed points won.  (Note:  if you want a generous amount of weeding time, make sure the child wins.)

Another favorite was who could fill his/her bucket the fastest with rocks.  We had fabulous snowberry fights (and still do).  We also still enjoy stick weed fights.  I don’t know the proper name for the weed, but when you place it on a person’s clothing, it sticks really well.  The two of us skulk around searching for the prize weed and then skulk some more to surreptitiously place it on the other’s clothing.

I’m also ashamed to admit we made quite a few batches of slug soup years ago.  We had and still have a large number of very hungry slugs on our property, so I would fill a bucket with soapy water and we would toss slugs into the “soup”.  Not very tasty but still very satisfying in a sick sort of way!  We also played many games of dodge weed – I would pull weeds and throw them at him while he tried to avoid being hit.  Of course the trick with this one was to get close without actually hitting him – he wasn’t very happy and the game didn’t last very long if he got hit.

We enjoyed many insect treasure hunts – what is under the rock, under the plant leaves, or in the “throat” of the plant?  Rollie pollie ollies were and still are a favorite insect discovery.  He had his own explorer’s kit – magnifying glass, collecting jar, gloves, and flashlight for his garden expeditions.  Now that he’s older, Foster helps me prune.  What is it about boys and destruction and cutting tools?!  With some direction, he does a pretty good job of cutting back my herbaceous perennials and butterfly bushes.  Some of my favorite memories of Foster are our times in the garden together.  What’s cuter than a three year old with a small shovel dressed in just his undies and rubber boots??

Foster and his dad have a fruit and vegetable garden.  Because Foster does so much gardening with me, it’s a treat and quality father/son time for the two of them to garden together.  They grow various kinds of pumpkins every year to carve at our very popular pumpkin carving party.  When Foster was fixated on purple, the boys grew purple carrots, purple leaf lettuce, purple statice, etc.  My boys still peruse garden catalogs and wander through garden center seed racks to find the perfect vegetable or flower.  Zucchini used to be a great favorite since it grew so quickly and was an instant gratification plant.  Foster isn’t a big vegetable eater, but he certainly enjoys the growing and harvesting process.  He’s enjoyed garden art projects like making scarecrows, birdhouses, windchimes, stepping stones, and garden signs.  He’s also gained an appreciation for the science and biology of gardening – pollination, life cycle, how weather affects plant growth, fertilizing, etc.

You too can create garden adventures, educational opportunities, and memories with your children or grandchildren.  The Thurston County Master Gardener Program has fun summer classes for children.  “Slug University” is a great favorite.  Thurston County garden centers and home improvement stores have great child size tools and clothing to get your little one excited and ready to garden.  Downtown Olympia’s Wind Up Here and other retailers have kits for stepping stones, mosaics, birdhouses, etc.  Many antique stores have fun items that can be repurposed for garden projects.  Little fairy gardens are also a fun project for children.  The pint size gardens are fun to design and decorate.  Container gardens are another great way to garden with children since the containers are at kid level, can be used at any location (apartment, condo, house), and you can easily control the growing conditions.

Now is the perfect time to select garden seeds, bare root fruit trees, and berry bushes for an edible garden.  Now is the perfect time to plant ornamental plants.  Now is the perfect time to plant garden memories and grow roots for your children by gardening together.

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