Introduction by Safe Baby Healthy Child Founders Sandra Blum and Samantha Fox Olson
It has been such a pleasure having a small garden to share with my little girl, the gifts of LIFE. She loves picking her own strawberries and delights in all the colors of each flower.
We use organic potting soil and I also purchased organic veggie starts and herbs. I was surprised at how rewarding it can be to have your own, little organic garden.
When planting sunflowers with her daddy she giggled about the worm in the dirt. Each day we go out and say, “hello sunflower,” and “good morning flowers,” to her new planted friend.
And at the same time, we get to talk about how beautiful, big, and special the life in our garden is. We stretch tall like the sunflowers, and learn about being gentle and nice to the plant life too. Another favorite of hers right now is to help me water our garden. We talk about how she is “feeding” the plants and helping them to stay alive.
In order to support the Safe Baby Healthy Child community in the enjoyment of safe gardening with children, we are delighted to bring you this expertise advice from Sharon Lovejoy, a nationally known garden writer and author of “Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children.”
Home Grown Fun: Gardening Adventures for Kids
When I was a child, my Grandmother blessed me with a gift that endured and grew through the years. Her gift to me was a love for gardening and all its attendant pleasures and discoveries. It is a passion that I, in turn, passed to my son and the thousands of children who have been a part of my life.
Kids are never too young to enjoy the gardening experience. It is the perfect opportunity for them to experience a mixture of shared joy, history, botany, natural sciences, ecology, cooking, design, recycling and the full beauty and mystery of each of the four seasons.
You do not need lots of land or money to give children this gift that will enrich their lives forever. You do need a sense of adventure (and sometimes a great sense of humor); a few pots or a small plot of land; a few child-sized tools that make it much easier for children to work alongside you in the garden; and the commitment to share gardening experiences with youth.
Think small so that you do not become overwhelmed by chores. Think creatively and use the garden as a huge outdoor classroom. Do not be afraid to let your children know that you do not have the answers to every question, but do let them know that you will help them find the answers in the library, at the museum, at the local garden center or on the internet.
Spend a few minutes together every day noting the changes that occur in your garden. Keep garden notes, drawings, photos and pressed specimens in a journal. Cut bouquets; harvest tiny tomatoes; sprinkle your own homegrown herbs on a pizza; make dolls out of hollyhock blooms and musical instruments from a gourd; build a scarecrow together; and grow your own giant pumpkins. Enjoy all these pleasures and more when you garden together with your children.
Top Ten Safe Plants for Kids
Here is a selection of quick, easy and interesting plants for kids to grow in containers or in a small plot of ground:
1. If I had to choose only one plant to introduce kids to the wonders of gardening, it would be pumpkins–in all shapes, sizes, and colors. If you have limited space, choose a mini such as Baby Boo or the hand-sized Pumpkin Munchkin and grow them in a half barrel, bushel basket or a child’s wagon. Mound, or hill, the soil above the rim of the containers, add some bagged manure and drop in some seeds.
2. Sunflowers are the whimsical floral personalities in a child’s garden. If you have plenty of space and sunshine, try ‘Giant Gray Stripe,’ ‘Paul Bunyan,’ or ‘Russian Mammoth’ sunflowers. Plant them in a large circle or rectangle to form a flowery hideout for your kids. Many of the smaller sunflowers adapt well to containers. Try ‘Music Box,’ ‘Elf,’ or ‘Sunspot,’ which reaches only eighteen inches at maturity.
3. Gourds are Mother Nature’s all-purpose plants that can be used for everything from birdhouses to bath sponges and drums to dolls. A garden draped in gourds can supply children with endless hours of fun and discoveries. Small, ornamental mixed gourds are easily grown in containers and on walls and trellises. ‘Luffa’ gourds, also known as vegetable sponges, and ‘Bottle’ gourds quickly engulf clotheslines or pole tepees that children can use for summer hideaways.
4. Mini Indian Corn and Strawberry Popcorn are content to grow in close quarters and thrive in half-barrels, baskets, boxes and pots. Kids find it hard to believe that the needle-like seedlings that pierce the ground someday will produce exploding kernels or a harvest of jewel toned ears. If you have plenty of space, treat your kids to a giant ‘Six-Shoots’ corn which can reach a towering fifteen feet, or plant a winding maze of corn for hide-and-seek play.
5. Kids love the hunt for berries almost as much as they enjoy eating them. Alpine strawberries are perfect container plants and form thick mounds dangling with tiny red fruits. Plant an ever-bearing strawberry in special, pocketed pots available at most nurseries.
6. Hollyhocks, with their spires of colorful, silk-skirted flowers, belong in every child’s garden. Plant a fence line with hollyhocks, or tuck some into a large container in a sunny location. Your kids will be rewarded with a supply of materials for outdoor projects (puppets, dolls, crowns, leis, and jewelry), as well as rainbow-colored blooms that attract hummingbirds and bumblebees. If you notice spiny caterpillars nibbling the leaves of your hollyhock, be kind to them! One day they will turn into Painted Lady butterflies, one of the prettiest visitors in your garden.
7. Carrots are the buried treasures in a child’s garden. Kids love to grow the small, round ‘Thumblina’ and ‘Parmex’ and the baby, finger-sized ‘Minicor’ in containers. Just for fun, plant some of your seeds in a container filled with soil and rocks, or pebbles, mixed with aged manure. The rocky soil and manure will cause the carrots to fork, creating odd shapes that resemble dancing people.
8. Mimosa, or sensitive plant, is perfect for a sunny window sill or small garden. Plant it where your kids can touch it and watch their amazement as it quickly folds its leaves.
9. Poppies are a brilliant, carefree addition to a child’s garden. Sow the old-fashioned ‘Shirley’ poppies with their tissue-paper skirts of pink, salmon, rose-red, and white. Fuzzy ‘Iceland’ poppies put on a performance as they emerge from their hairy, green jackets. Satiny ˜California’ poppies are known as dormideras, little sleepyheads. Watch as they doff their wizard’s caps in the morning and tightly close their petals at the end of the day. Cut a bouquet of these poppies and they will perform their opening and closing rituals indoors.
10. Tiny tomatoes are the main snack food in a child’s vegetable garden. Kids love the golden currant, yellow pear-shaped, red cherry and marble-sized, green-grape tomatoes. Plant these easy-to-grow beauties in hanging baskets and containers, and make sure that they are within your child’s reach for healthy snacking.
We asked Sharon if she could add any additional information about the above plants. In particular, SafBaby was interested to know if different parts of the plants, such as the leaves of a strawberry plant, could be poisonous. Here is what she shared:
“I owned an herb and garden shop for 15 years and sold raspberry, boysenberry, blackberry and strawberry leaves picked and canned by the Shaker’s colony in Sabbathday Lake, Maine. I also sold other teas made from these leaves. Many people dry them in an oven or a microwave (I actually did that microwave drying for a book). Native Americans used leaves to cure dysentery and stomach upsets.
While a child might mistakenly grab a leaf when reaching for a fruit or vegetable, I can’t imagine a parent, and no child (especially a baby) should EVER be roaming and grazing alone in a garden. Parents need to begin the obligation of training a child NEVER to put anything in his mouth without a parent’s ok.
I think a caveat could be added that a child always be under the watchful eye of a caring adult and that only the parts of a plant grown for food should be eaten.”
Thanks Sharon, and may we all enjoy the wonderment of this gift of life.
About Sharon Lovejoy
Award winning writer and naturalist Sharon Lovejoy is the author and illustrator of four books that introduce children to nature. Her works include Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children (Workman Publishing, 1999); Sunflower Houses: Inspiration from the Garden-A Book for Children and Their Grown-Ups (Workman, 2001; Interweave 1991); and Hollyhock Days: Garden Adventures for the Young at Heart (Interweave, 1994). The Little Green Island with a Little Red House (Down East Books, 2005) won the 2005 National Outdoor Book Award for children’s literature. She welcomes correspondence at www.sharonlovejoy.com.