“ Might I,” quavered Mary, “might I have a bit of earth?
Fans of “The Secret Garden” will recall orphaned Mary Lennox’s timid request of her uncle for space “to plant seeds in – to make things grow” on his huge English estate. What started with an ivy-covered door, revealed by a friendly robin to a lonely little girl, ended with a garden and a family brought to life again through a child’s longing for “a bit of earth”.
It’s no secret that kids like to get dirty. Even trusty Dr. Spock felt the point important enough to include in his famous baby book.
“A small child wants to do a lot of things that get him dirty, and they are good for him, too.”
So…what’s so great about a little dirt besides the shock value produced for parents at a child up to his ears in muck? After the dust settles you might be left with a gardener in the family!
Unlike Mary, with a stone-walled English country garden at her doorstep, many kids today have little in the way of comparison if they get the urge to plant a row or two. Luckily there are simple ways parents and kids can dig themselves out from the issue of space. Be it in a plot or a pot, give a seed some soil, sunshine, water, and love and you have the makings for a garden in the backyard or a kitchen windowsill.
Charlene Forrest, Program Co-ordinator for the renowned Shoots with Roots program at Milner Gardens and Woodland in Qualicum Beach, is more than happy to share some secrets of her own to encourage budding young gardeners in the family.
Newspaper pot-making is a great family activity and all that’s required is a few soup cans and strips of newspaper.
“Lay out strips, roll can along to wrap, and fold over the end to make a bottom”, explains Forrest. “Push and turn the can onto the folded bottom to twist the paper strips tighter together. Remove from can, fill with soil, and place your seeds. When seedlings are big enough the entire pot can be planted into the soil to compost away.”
No newspaper? I found a great idea for indoor seed starters in toilet paper rolls on Homesteading/Survivalism’s FB page. Simply cut toilet paper rolls in half, fill with starter soil, plant seeds and place on a plate or tray indoors and water. Once the seeds have sprouted transplant into the ground or larger pot with no leftovers. Nice and simple.
Keeping it simple seems to be the way to go in the garden with kids. Tara Christensen of The Garden Muse - Inspired Designs for Outdoor Living has some advice to lower the stress that sometimes goes along with attempting that perfect Kids in the Garden moment. Toddling through her Grandmother’s strawberry patch as a small girl instilled a natural appreciation and never ending wonder at each season in the garden that carries over into all aspects of her personal and professional life.
“For me the experience of gardening is a deep connection with the Earth and a pleasure in enjoying the act of creation, ” she says.
“I cannot imagine not wanting to garden, to make things grow, and feed oneself from the great bounty of one’s own land. I wanted to pass this love on to my children, and so I did just what my Grandparents did with me; I let them hang with me there. ”
Giving them each “a little patch of their own” to dig and plant, water and ultimately watch grow into something amazing, her advice for parents looking for simple fun in the garden with kids is to simply ease up on expectations.
“Typically the easy sprouts are what you want to give kids in the garden” she explains. ”The best germinator with the most massive growth; think pumpkins, however, a salt shaker with sand and carrot seeds can be an easy way for kids to sprinkle on their seeds.”
Having raised two kids in her own garden Tara is adamant that letting go is paramount to instilling a natural love of the earth to our children.
“No one likes a micro-manager,” she insists. “Letting go of the idea of perfection for what becomes your child’s space is essential. It is akin to the parenting creed that says not to re-make a newly made bed that your child proudly shares with you!”
Charlene Forrest shares another great activity to keep things creative for kids in the garden.
Used milk, soda, juice or water bottles can be made into Watering Bottles to offer slower watering deeper into the soil.
“Great to do anywhere in the garden,” says Forrest. “But especially good in areas that can’t be watered often enough or if you’re going away for the weekend.”
Simply cut off top of bottle, poke 2-3 thumbtack holes in the bottom and plant into ground close enough to plants so water will get to the roots being careful not to damage already established roots.
The water placed in the bottle should (and does!) drip slow and steady into the soil. This turned out to be a great project for my container plants and was a fun and easy way to recycle our water bottles.
Charlene offers a suggestion to keep everyone focussed on the fun. “With the camp kids we paint the upper portion of the bottle that’s not in the soil, “ she says. “Which is not only fun but also looks great to have the splashes of colour and creativity around the garden.”
I tried this project with my wee kids and they just loved it….just remember to choose earth friendly paint!
Ultimately, it is by showing not telling that our kids learn the most and nowhere does this apply more than in a family garden. From feeding the birds, planting pumpkin seeds on a sundeck or creating a Pizza-flavoured herb pot on the windowsill it takes a bit of family time and a ‘bit of earth” to grow one of the best things in a garden….a gardener! Now that’s a secret worth sharing!
For more info swing by the Milner Gardens and Woodland and Shoots with Roots FB pages for upcoming summer events or contact Charlene Forrest at [email protected].
Check out The Garden Muse - Inspired Designs for Outdoor Living on Facebook. Tara’s stunning photographs of her glorious and natural garden will have you and yours digging happily in the soil in no time.