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Plant Selection: Kids' Favorites

 

Children and youths have a different "eye" for gardens than most adults do. Maybe we should learn something from them. Kids think nothing of planting vegetables right next to flowers, and grouping annuals with perennials with vines with berry bushes. And what's wrong with those choices? Variety is the spice of life!

 

Kids like extremes: huge flowers, like the classic sunflower and the tiniest baby's breath flower. They like big fruits, such as watermelons, and small vegetables, like small grape tomatoes.

 

They love the contrast of growing a huge pumpkin, and picking cucumbers when they are still tiny little babies, to make tiny little pickles out of them.

 

They like plant products that come in surprising colors, such as purple carrots, striped beets, rainbow chard, and 'Easter egg' radishes.

 

Make sure you guide young gardeners to plants that they can do things with. For example, kids love to touch sensitive ferns because they close to the touch; they love to make snapdragons "talk," and they love to take apart bleeding hearts. They are captivated by the drama of Venus flytraps, imagine a fairy world with Chinese lanterns and balloon flowers, love the texture of love-in-a-puff, and the symbolism of money plants.

 

Textured plants are irresistible. Place soft and fuzzy woolly thyme and lambs' ears next to prickly coneflower and strawflowers. Plan broad-leaved, plain and simple hostas next to delicate maidenhair fern and columbine.

 

A child's summer garden should be all about fragrance, too. Expose your students to heliotrope, mignonette, roses, peonies, and lilacs. They'll love rubbing between their fingers the flowers of lavender, pineapple mint, lemon balm, rosemary, basil, and scented geraniums.

 

A top favorite is always a butterfly garden, and you will want monarda, butterfly weed, and salvia, but don't forget parsley, dill, milkweed, thistles, and knapweed - even though they may not be as pretty - because these wild plants are the food plants that butterflies need throughout their life cycles.

 

An all-white garden that blooms at night is captivating for children. They will love going out at night with flashlights and saw the sphinx moths zooming among the white nicotiana and moonflowers. Also a time-sensitive plant is the four o'clock, or evening primrose, which literally blooms at four o'clock, a great plant for teaching kids about how sensitive flowering plants are to light.

 

Keep in mind that to a child, a garden is best when it can be shared. So plan for plants that work well as cut flowers in bouquets, and which come back and bloom again after the initial flower has been harvested. Cosmos, snapdragon, salvia, zinnia, coleus, and celosia are just a few that produce more vigorously if picked.

 

No garden is complete without the long-blooming workhorses that kids love.

 

For full sun, include geraniums, morning glories, marigolds, nasturtiums, petunias, salvia, snapdragons, strawflowers, and sunflowers.

 

For semi-shade: begonias, forget-me-nots, impatiens, Johnny-jump-ups, and pansies.

 

For deeper shade, flowering annuals are hard to come by: abutilon, variegated ivies, sensitive plants, and ferns.

 

Fall gardening teaches a child patience, so do plant to plant bulbs for daffodils, grape hyacinth, crocus, and snowdrops. And nothing is quite as spectacular as seeing what a gorgeous flower - a gladiolus - can spring from a truly ugly little corm.

 

When you garden with children, think of it as telling creative stories with nature. Go for the color and the whimsy . . . and make memories that will last a lifetime.

 

By Susan Darst Williams • www.KidsGardenClub.org • Planning 13 © 2010

 

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