When we rented our house in Germany at the end of last spring, a beautiful little garden came with it. Fortunately, it had been well taken care of up to that point, and all we really had to do was remember to water and pull the weeds from time to time in the beginning; the good Deutsch soil, sunshine and rain did the rest.
Come summertime, the plants produced more strawberries than we knew what to do with (we still have a bag in the freezer). Our boys loved playing outside in the dirt and picking bowlfuls of berries every day, eating as many as they could fit in their little mouths on their way to take them to the kitchen sink for washing.
When fall and winter came, we had to do our research to learn how to take care of the seemingly fragile plants throughout the seasons.
This year, the pressure is on. At the first signs of spring, my husband and I headed to the local home and garden store for bags of dirt, seeds and supplies. The boys are a little older, now – apparently, that’s what happens when a year passes, whether you like it or not 😉 – and we have enjoyed including them in the process, but we have also learned a few important lessons along the way. This post is my way of sharing a few tips with you in hopes that your family gardening adventure will be a fun and fruitful experience for all.
Set your expectations… then lower them significantly.
Although this little piece of advice may come off a bit snarky at first, I want you to know I am giving it with the best of intentions. There are so many adorable ideas out there on the interwebs, and they can either spark inspiration… or fan the flames of discouragement.
Don’t allow your dream of growing things with your children to be dashed by comparing yourself to someone else’s vision of garden grandeur. In the end, yours may not look exactly like you had pictured in the beginning. Keep an open mind and an open heart, and remember this is not just about raising beautiful plants; it’s about exploring nature, learning more about God’s artistry, cultivating hearts and making memories together as a family.
Head to the library.
My favorite way to teach my kiddos anything (while learning something new, myself) is by diving into a good book right along with them, especially one with lots of beautiful pictures. Spend some time scanning the shelves for stories about seeds, the plant life cycle, dirt, insects and worms.
Here are a few favorites from our local library:
- My First Garden by Tomek Bogacki
- The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
- The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle
- Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies
- Some Bugs by Angela Diterlizzi
- Yucky Worms by Vivian French
- The Ultimate Step-by-Step Kids’ First Gardening Book by Jenny Hendy
- A Secret in the Garden by James Mayhew
- Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner
- If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson
- Growing Like Me by Anne Rockwell
Creativity is a natural part of the garden planning process. Let your imaginations run wild as you decide what you want yours to look like. Paint flowerpots with your kids. Help them up-cycle rusty watering pails or pairs of ratty, old boots. Put together a birdhouse or butterfly feeder together. Construct your own wind chimes for a little bit of ambiance. Whatever you do, make it your own.
Involve them in the planning process.
Allow your little ones to help as you decide what you would like to plant in your garden. The first time we asked our boys what they had in mind, our youngest said he wanted to grow apple trees and cake. Teachable moment! Doesn’t everyone know apple trees belong in an orchard where they have plenty of room to spread their roots? 😉 Seriously, though, I’m really hoping there will be plenty of strawberries for shortcake in the near future.
In the end, we all decided on carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, since those are the fruits and veggies our boys seem to like the best. My husband and I decided to go with a “let’s just try a little of everything and see what happens” approach, so we added peppers, herbs and pumpkins to the mix. I’ll get back with you in a couple of months to let you know what’s worked and what hasn’t.
Incorporate their toys.
With a little bit of dirt and imagination, last summer’s sandbox became this spring’s planter. The boys picked out flowers and a few more strawberry plants at our local home and garden store. Then, we poked holes in the bottom for drainage, filled it with potting soil, and added in some rocks, toys and pint-sized gardening tools so the boys could play and explore on their own. Realistically, the plants will need to be transplanted to a larger space next season, but I like the way this project turned out so far.
Let them get messy.
Gardening is grubby business, and there really is no way of getting around it. Being aware of this can help kick any unexpected frustration to the curb. Facilitate a sensory experience by encouraging your kids to run around barefoot, dig in the dirt, hunt for worms, smell the leaves of fragrant plants, taste freshly-picked fruits and veggies, watch and listen for any birds or other critters that might come to visit and squish wet soil between their fingers.
Just go ahead and plan to have a bath night with extra bubbles. 😉