Kids and Gardening

By Paul James

Getting kids interested in gardening is really quite simple -- just think like a kid! That means forgetting about everything being neat and tidy and orderly and exact. In fact, it often means doing quite the opposite. My first suggestion? Let them get filthy dirty like my grandson pictured here. Does he look happy or what?!

Years ago I did an episode of “Gardening by the Yard” that was all about kids and gardening. I recruited 20 or so of my own kids’ friends – most were between 4 and 8 years of age – and we spent the better part of a day playing in the yard and completing a variety of projects.

The first was making mud pies. I gave each kid an aluminum pie pan and had them fill it with mud that I’d prepared in advance. Then I told them to wander about the yard and decorate their pies with seeds, berries, flowers, leaves, and stones – pretty much anything that caught their eyes while also reminding them not to put anything in their mouths. The results, for the most part anyway, were beautiful.

Over the course of several hours, we planted beans from seed by throwing the seeds into a prepared bed in the most haphazard way imaginable, and planting them where they fell. We turned the compost pile in search of earthworms and other critters, and discovered a nest of garter snakes. We made transfers of tree bark on paper, released lady beetles and tied praying mantis egg cases to the branches of various shrubs, harvested strawberries and doused them (and each other) with canned whipped cream, and picked lettuce and spinach straight from the garden for lunch (I had PB&Js standing by).

But one of my favorite projects was planting broccoli. I gave each of the kids a transplant (for instant gratification) and showed them the bed where I wanted them planted. Then I showed them how to carefully remove the transplants from the pot and tease the roots before planting. When they were finished, I asked them if they liked broccoli, and most said only if it was covered with cheese sauce. So I went inside, grabbed a package of shredded cheddar cheese, and had the kids sprinkle each transplant with cheese.

All the kids, quite unknowingly, connected to the natural world around them. And to this day many of them – now in their 20s and 30s and avid gardeners – tell me how much fun they had that day. I had fun too, especially when I sent all the kids home to their parents filthy dirty and soaking wet.