with Children: Choose the whimsical, giant and miniature to delight kids
My friend Lawrie once designed rose gardens, heirloom flower gardens and
romantic getaway gardens. But now that she has retired, her gardening skills and
expertise are lavished on a small fruit orchard that surrounds her bungalow. In
the middle of the orchard stands a honeybee hive for bees to pollinate her plums,
apples, cherries and raspberries. She expected a steady hum of busy honeybees.
What she didn’t expect was the small throng of neighborhood kids who watched
her from afar, ventured in and now help her with the task of harvesting honey—complete
with their own beekeeper’s uniforms.
Children who enter a rose garden can be charmed by the world of winged
creatures, worms or other crawly insects. They are amazed by giant sunflowers,
whimsical curling squashes, tiny alpine strawberries, or radishes the size of
their thumbs. And now that many parents are putting in a vegetable patch or
collection of apple trees, it’s worth designing a garden just for kids. Teach
them how to grow a vegetable and they may be inclined to nibble it during
So where to start? The local library is just the place to sample a collection
of storybooks that include garden themes. Find books on bees or birds, worms or
ladybugs and get kids started. From there it’s a quick jump to books on plants
and wildlife. A simple summer at home can slide into a seminar on nature for you
and your kids. And if you’re lucky enough to have a seasoned gardener in the
neighborhood like my friend, rely on that person for advice and encouragement.
Here are a few ways to launch your own edible backyard.
Choose tiny plants or giant plants. Find whimsical vegetables that will catch
the attention of young gardeners. Mammoth Russian sunflowers are a good start. Tall
sunflowers with stalks like tree trunks hold up giant heads of seed-filled
flowers. They might come from a fictional world to the novice gardener. More
importantly, these are a ticket to understanding how sunflowers follow the light
with phototropism. Kids will see them face east in the morning and west in the
evening. And a thicket of Mammoths provides a forest of sunflowers that dazzles
the eye, provides pollen for bees and screens a garden for privacy.
Colorful flowers like bright zinnias make up a confetti garden. Zinnias also
offer nectar and pollen for pollinating insects. For the budding scientist,
growing a pollinator’s garden is an introduction to studying the scientific
world. If you’re lucky enough to attract hummingbirds, plant Scarlet Runner
Beans or Sunset Hyssop—both hummingbird favorites. Sunflowers, zinnias,
beans and Sunset Hyssop all grow easily from seed in a single season.
Now for tiny veggies and fruits: Alpine strawberries form a dense mat for
ground cover but they’ll also provide small plants with strawberries about the
size of a pinkie fingernail. Search for tiny tomatoes, miniature sweet peppers,
lettuces like Tom Thumb. Purple potatoes and tromboncino (long curling squashes)
are sure to please. Carrots are favorites for the young and some grow short and
squat, but any carrot can be pulled at an early stage. The same is true for
leaf lettuces, spinach and chard. Edible flowers like violas will decorate a
salad or ice cream; fresh mint leaves from the herb garden provide mint tea for
tea parties. Many seed catalogues offer small cucumbers (for pickling), baby
beets, Wee Be Little pumpkins and other miniature versions that are fun to grow. Plan a
garden for pizza with oregano, basil and tomatoes, a garden for salsa with
peppers and cilantro, a garden for fruit salads with small watermelons and
cantaloupes, a garden for birds and bees with sunflowers, coneflowers and cosmos.
My next door neighbor, aged 7, loves to build a secret garden of flagstones,
umbrellas, garlands of flowers, a petal-strewn entrance and teacups on a board.
With a friend and an imaginary menagerie of characters, an entire summer spent
in the garden can be filled with scenes from books or make-believe. A garden
forms a temporary play area to be redesigned anew each morning. If you don’t
have enough backyard for a garden, consider pots. Many small edibles are pot
friendly and, when grouped together, form an impressive garden on a porch or
patio. Strawberries fall into this category and some, like alpine strawberries,
will be decorative, too.
Most importantly, ban all pesticides from your garden. This is important for
the benign pollinators you wish to attract but even more important for the
health of your children. For more information on the effects of pesticides on
the health of children, go to the website of the American Academy of Pediatrics:
and search for pesticides. You’ll be linked
to the most current research about these dangers.
Books recommended by three gardening moms:
The Year’s Garden by Cynthia Rylant
Bear and Bunny Grow Tomatoes by Bruce Koscielniak
On One Flower, Butterflies, Ticks and a Few More Icks, by Anthony D.
The Dandelion Seed by Joseph Anthony
Carlos and the Squash Plant
There’s a Hair In My Dirt—A Worm’s Story by Gary Larson
The Garden is Open by Pamela Pease
The Tiny Seed, by Eric Carle
How a Seed Grows by Helen Jordan
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss
Planting Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert
Round the Garden by Omri Glaser
The Gardener by Sarah Stewart
Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden by Edith Pattou
The Pea Blossom by Amy Lowry Poole
How Groundhog’s Garden Grew by Lynne Cherry
Yucky Worms by Vivian French
Cecil’s Garden by Holly Keller
Mail-order sources for kid friendly gardens: alpine strawberries and
miniature veggies, John Scheepers,