Many schools now have food gardens and gardening clubs that encourage students to learn about growing plants.
However, children can learn about gardening before they head out the door to kindergarten. If you are keen to start gardening at home, in a daycare, or in your community with very young children (as young as one-year old if you’re eager!) here are some tips for getting started.
Start with your end goal in mind
What are you aiming for in getting children into the garden? This will help inform the design of the garden and the choice of plants to grow. If you just want to spend time outside pottering in the fresh air, then you can choose something as simple as planting annual plants with bright colours that young children will be excited by. Even the smallest hand can make a whole in potting soil that a small annual can be popped into. The smallest, shadiest spot with one pot can become a great source of fun if you just want to keep small children busy (just have a brush nearby to sweep up all the soil that makes its way out of the pot!)
If your goal is to use the garden to introduce basic science or ecology, plan to incorporate plants that encourage pollinating insects into the garden, or install a compost bin or worm composting bin. Pollination, insect lifecycles, composting and worms are topics that can be enjoyed and understood at the most basic level by very small children.
If your main aim is to encourage fussy eaters to try more fruit or vegetables, choose easy crops that children find fun and enjoy eating straight from the garden.
Set yourself up for success
To get young children engaged in the garden, you want to make sure that they can see progress and interact with whatever crops you decide to grow. To get the very best out of the experience, a bit of planning in the garden layout and design will make a big difference to the end results. Here’s some basics to consider before you get started.
- Find the best spot for the plants you want to grow: if you want to plant food crops, most fruits and vegetables require at least 6 hour of sun each day. If all that is available is a shady spot, consider growing herbs or leaf crops (e.g. spinach) that don’t require lots of sun.
- Consider using raised beds: raised beds are a good options in children’s gardens for several reasons. Firstly, you can add a really good quality soil instead of having to work with the existing soil at ground level. This is particularly important if you are growing vegetable crops, where the right balance of organic matter, nutrients and soil acidity really makes a difference to the quality and yield of the crops. Secondly, you can build the beds to be at the right height for the children using the garden. Think about whether children will be standing or on their knees (and if on their knees, choose a surface that will be soft enough to kneel on) and how far a small child can lean in. A comfortable dimension for adults using a raised bed is 3′ x 3′. Smaller beds may be required for children, or adult assistance will be required to reach the middle of the bed.
- Use good quality soil: for fruit and vegetable drops, you will see the best results when you use a soil that drains well and contains ample organic matter to feed the crops. If using raised beds, consider filing them with a ‘veggie mix’ soil that has been blended specifically for growing food, and contains the right amount of organic matter and best acidity for food crops. If you are using existing ground level beds, add compost to the beds in the early spring before planting. If you want to grow organic vegetables, you can buy an organic veggie mix or compost. For crops grown in pots (especially herbs) its very important to have enough drainage, so that roots do not become too wet. Again, you can a potting mix specifically for food crops. Make sure the bottom of the pot has plenty of drainage by adding a layer of stones at the base.
- Choose crops that are easy to grow and that children will enjoy: the good news is that the crops that are the easiest to grow can be the ones that children like best. It’s great to have a mixture of crops that can be eaten right off the vine and some that you can involve your children in cooking. Also aim to plant crops that give you the longest growing season possible, from early spring snap peas, to fall pumpkin and winter swiss chard.
Make it inviting to children
Make the space look fun and inviting, and young children will be more likely to want to spend time there.
If you are interested in having us design and install a children’s garden at your home, school or daycare, please contact us. We would love to work with you, no matter what size your space or budget!