My kids are long gone and when they were at home they paid little attention to gardening as such.  The yard was more of a place to catch fireflies, play in the mud puddles, find grasshoppers, sit on the bridge to soak their feet, and find what the polliwogs were doing. Hiding places were always interesting.  Sometimes the neighborhood kids would come over to “help” me. One always followed behind to pick up worms that she planted where she thought they should be.  Dirt, especially mud, has always been fascinating.  My son never came home by the sidewalk.  He always preferred the gutter, especially after or during a rain.

          There is a number of “things” necessary to a child’s garden.  The first one is probably water. It is cool and full of lots of exciting things. Think how much fun it is trying to catch a fish with your hands. But exploring kids when very little can drown in rather shallow water. My pond is made from a 6 foot stock watering container that is about 24 inches deep. Therefore, I have always kept my ponds behind a fence. Now the stores have more shapes and depths than ever. I have stopped putting fish in my small ponds as I was providing a midnight lunch for coons who didn’t mind dipping plants and fish out of their containers.

          This leads to the next necessity for kid’s gardens-creatures.  I have always fed birds so my kids were always used to having them around. Doves were especially interesting as their necks seem to jerk as they walk and the make an interesting noise when they take off.  Finding a nest with eggs in it and watching for weeks to see what happens, can’t be beat.  This also includes watching for cats and chasing them away.  Digging a little space back in the compost pile to watch things run and jump was always fun.  By “sneaking up” on the roly poly’s one could watch them snap into a round ball. Centipedes and millipedes were miniature dragons and it was fun trying to find a cricket after you heard it chirp. My ponds with straight sides always had to have a log partially in and partially out so the frogs could get out and sit in the sun. The kids would have a contest to see who could get closest before the frogs dove into the pond. They always had jars in which to put their fireflies before they turned them loose!! Butterflies were exciting, especially if your could sit still long enough for one to land on you.  Butterfly bushes, butterfly weeds, cone flowers, cosmos, zinnias, and many other bright colored flowers will bring them in.  Another attraction is a mud puddle, especially for butterflies. I usually use a shallow birdbath on the ground in a sunny spot (a path often). It contains soil just barely wet and a few small rocks for them to perch on to drink.  A little manure will entice them more as they like the salt.  Even the caterpillars are fun to find with their knobs and hairy sides, the stripes, and the orange antenna that poke out if you pick them up.

          In the country garden we had four sections of stock fence, sixteen feet long with 4 inch openings. We created a good place for vines by leaning two sections against each other on a slant. It also made a nice long tunnel to crawl through until the cucumber and gourds started hitting them in the head.  The other two sections were set up about 18 inches apart and dahlia bulbs placed down the center.

          Very important for a kid’s garden of course is dirt!!! Or if you can’t stand that, at least sand and a small bucket to carry water, plus a “digger” of some kind.  Many of my tablespoons were lost to the cause of building bridges or caves for their bug friends.  Add a truck, a few small cans, pine cones, and a few sticks. And a child will keep busy for hours.

          Our house was one of the first built in what was a cornfield.  A year or so later a builder cut down two big cottonwoods across the street in the vacant lot. They did not trim off the huge branches. So, all the boys in the area made a clubhouse on the edges and spent hours everyday exercising their imagination and climbing around those big trunks. 

          Lastly, kids can have a small section for their own garden.  They love things that come up fast and grow big and they like to taste their produce.  One of the most fun gardens I ever helped with was the one T.O and Terry Haas had in their vacant lot across from Lakeview School.  Each “kid” had a plot and the community garden had a tepee of green cornstalks with a big scarecrow.  Everyone worked on that. Imagine the fun of sitting on a pumpkin you grew yourself. Another perfect one was the one built by Susan Schoneweis at the Festival of Color each year at Mead.  There was an alphabet garden and an arbor made from a number of large curved iron rebar that created a long tunnel and a gate to the garden. One had to crawl into the garden as huge gourds were hanging down.  It was filled with kids all day and even looked good at the end of the Fall Festival.

          Don’t forget to include the kids in your garden.

Copyright 2006