When you plant a seed with a child, you never know what will grow. I have a vivid memory of sowing sweet pea seeds with my mother; I must have been all of three or four years old. We dug a trench against our back fence. Then my chubby fingers placed each seed exactly in its place. I can still close my eyes and see the lavender, pink, and white seeds, coated to indicate what color the flowers would be. Then we covered them up and I patted the dirt smooth. In a few months we had armfuls of fragrant blossoms filling vases all over the house. Growing those sweet peas turned me into a life-long gardener, and to this day they are my favorite flower.Although sweet peas don’t grow well here in Colorado (happily, they flourish in the Pacific Northwest, where two of our granddaughters live), they provide a good example of a child-friendly plant. They have big seeds, they’re easy to grow (at least where I grew up), they’re impressive, and they germinate within a week or so. Unfortunately, they fail the most important test—sweet pea seeds are thought to be mildly poisonous!
Little fingers need large seeds, so look for seeds that are easy to plant. Sunflowers, zinnias, marigolds, peas, beans, squash and pumpkins, chard, and corn are some suggestions. Older children can handle smaller seeds—lettuce, broccoli and cabbage—but save the tricky, tiny ones for teens and adults.
If the seeds for your child’s choices are too hard to handle, consider buying seedlings instead. Children appreciate instant gratification, and learning to transplant small plants is a useful skill.
Choose plants that will be easy to grow. Make sure they’re adapted to the climate in your part of the country. Follow good garden practices. Prepare the soil beforehand. Sow at the proper time of year. Provide a near-by water source that’s easy to use. Protect against pests. Early success encourages kids to try again.
Select seeds that turn into something impressive. The larger sunflower varieties will eventually tower overhead, and even the dwarf ones can have huge flower heads. Cosmos can grow up to five feet tall, and has large, brightly colored pink or white flowers. Other tall-growning annuals include Tithonia (Mexican Sunflower), Cleome (Spiderflower), and Amaranthus (aka Love Lies Bleeding). Broom corn reaches 10 feet!
Big isn’t always better. If you have children fascinated with fairies, plant a fairy garden. Bell-shaped flowers (delphiniums and campanulas come to mind) can be hats for little fingers; hollyhocks turn into skirts for fairy-sized dolls. Ground-hugging veronica or Scotch moss might be a soft carpet or bed, with soft, wide leaves for the covers. Parsley or poppies can become fairy-sized trees.
Browse a garden center for inspiration, then add ceramic mushrooms or other decorations to complete the effect. How about flat pebbles as stepping stones, or a dish of water for a pond? And don’t forget to add the fairies!
To be continued…