Contributed by: Sharee Solow, Freelance Landscape Designer, Consultant, Lecturer,

Gardens are where childhood memories take root as deeply as any plant that goes into the ground. Every day is different when a child goes outside. Our connection to the elements  comprises what we sense as the whole composite thing called nature. Water, dirt, plants, insects, wind, and shade exist in cities, suburbs, and farms, but how we interact with them changes drastically. Gardening teaches patience and flexibility. You cannot control the heavy rain washing young seeds out of the ground, but you can replant them and try again. When some unknown insect chews the leaves overnight, a science project becomes very important if you want to see a tomato next month. You can't procrastinate doing your homework in the garden because nature won't wait for you to get it together. Nature wins every time.

There are some things you can do some things to encourage new gardeners, depending on their age, such as preparing a planting space, watering seedlings, providing real tools (you don't prepare dinner with plastic knife), letting them ask questions at a garden center, making plans for the flowers or vegetables they will grow, helping them find a recipe if they grow something edible (flowers too), and keeping it simple at first. Things they will probably like doing will be picking slugs, learning about caterpillar frass, making labels for each plant, painting a container that is their patio garden, or hanging small things on strings near fruit to scare the birds. 

One of the easiest ways to get hooked on gardening is through propagation. Show children how to grow plants from cuttings. Cut some coleus stems and put them in a glass of water on a windowsill to see the miracle of roots coming from nowhere. I might have been 8 when I picked up a brick that had a hydrangea branch underneath and saw roots. Then I saw a Victory Garden episode where the host scraped a hydrangea stem, wrapped it with moss in a plastic baggie, and later in the season had a new plant. Yes, I still remember it vividly.

Seeds are cheap and easy. My mother showed me how to collect seed from portulaca, marigold, daylily, and morning glory. Seeds we ordered from her many catalogues, which I looked through all the time to see the pictures, were radishes, lettuce, tomatoes, alyssum, and things that were just pretty and locally unavailable. Plants we bought were strawberries, chives, mint, oregano, and basil. I would recommend all of these today for anyone starting out for the first time.


Website Resources:

University of Illinois