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Bill Starr: Plant a garden with child or grandchild

I know it’s winter time, but it’s never too early to start thinking about your vegetable garden. Remember when your backyard became a wide open range with horses and outlaws? An old tree became the tallest mountain in the world? The house I grew up in had a hill in the front yard; I slid down that hill many times on cardboard, and an Olympic bobsled champion never had it any better. To me, as a child, that hill might as well have been Mount Everest; it didn’t seem quite that big once I became an adult. The outdoors was a place of fun, wonder, and excitement.
Rekindle some of those childhood moments this spring by planting a garden with your child or grandchildren. Environmental attitudes are formed in children at an early age. Kids need to understand how important plants and the environment are to themselves and everyone else. They will carry these attitudes and this knowledge into their adult lives. I can’t think of a better way for children to learn about their environment than through what they eat. Through gardening, learning about the environment can be fun. Plan a child’s garden for imagination. Think about stories you and your child may have read to get ideas for their garden. An A-B-C garden might be fun; if you have enough space you, could plant everything from asters to zinnias.
As an adult you may want everything in neat rows, but kids don’t care. It’s important the garden belongs to the child and they should be involved in planning and planting of the garden. A child’s garden should not be a place they enter only when there is work to be done. Let the kids peek under a big squash plant, eat the first cherry tomato that ripens, and experience the garden first-hand. Children are just like adults; they should learn by experience.
In this age of instant gratification, working toward a longer-range goal is appropriate. Some crops such as tomatoes and sweet corn take a long time from planting to harvest, but they are worth the wait. Flower gardens could also be another consideration for a child’s garden. Make a rainbow garden with flowers planted in broad stripes of different colors that end in a pot of golden marigolds. One of my kids’ favorite things to plant is mammoth sunflowers. I have to admit I enjoy them as well.
Whatever type of garden you decide to plant with your children or grandchildren, I believe it will be worthwhile. Planning and planting a garden with a child might also help us to think like a child again. Most kids need a good dose of dirt every now and then. I tell my own children that dirt will make you grow, and it will! At my house if somebody gets scraped up we just rub a little dirt on it and go on. Dirt it is good stuff.

Bill Starr is Sumter County Extension coordinator/ANR agent, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 229-924-4476.