1. Engage kids by temperament: some love flowers, others prefer to look at worms, toads, bugs and butterflies, while still others enjoy growing veggies or helping to edge a bed.
I don’t have kids, but when I first started gardening, Hilary, the seven-year-old next door (now 20-something) used to keep me company. She loved the Flower Fairy books by British artist Cicely Mary Barker, who created charming, childlike fairies personifying garden flowers. Hilary enjoyed matching the columbines, irises and daisies in my garden to the fairies in her books, and she often brought along a flower press and collected blooms to preserve.
If you show your love of gardening and surround your home with beauty, kids will respond to the good vibes. This makes for great memories that can inspire them to create their own gardens as adults; when Hilary has a home of her own, I bet she’ll make a flower garden.
Tips for nurturing budding gardeners
2. Tailor activities to age: for the youngest gardeners, focus on mucking around with soil and water. Also, show them bugs, worms, roots, sprouted seeds and how drainage works (by watching water disappear into the ground). Give grade-school children their own patch for growing annual flowers and veggies, and let them choose the plants and seeds—make sure most are easy and fast-growing (see Great plants for kids).
3. Give them colourful and age-appropriate tools.
4. Relax your standards: crooked rows and a few weeds are okay, so is intermingling veggies and flowers with abandon. Remember: it’s their patch!
5. Encourage older kids to enter vegetables or flowers they’ve grown at local fairs; keep in mind that garden topics make good biology projects or science fair entries.
6. Teach children the roles insects play in the garden: they pollinate flowers and become food for birds and other animals; even pests can be interesting to watch and learn from, and children will likely be more than happy to help pull slugs off the hostas.
7. Don’t make gardening a boring chore: when it’s time to weed, join in and make it a game; don’t insist on completing tasks when it’s hot and uncomfortable. Keep “work” sessions short, and remember, watering is always more fun than weeding.