In the Garden:
Gardening is child's play! This garden was designed and planted by our boys when they were just 8 and 10 years of age.
Playing in the Dirt
The experiences that made me an avid gardener come from my earliest memories: planting sweet peas with my mother, harvesting baby carrots with my grandfather, roaming my uncle's ranch and picking kumquats for the first time. I remember when my brother and I found the little tree filled with tiny orange-like gems. We each grabbed a handful, quickly popping them into our mouths. The skins were sweet, but the pulp was sour. In unison we spit out the pulp. PA-tooey! What a surprise!
Gardens have always been places of discovery for me. When my own sons were young, I took them with me into the garden. We chased butterflies, watched ladybugs, picked bouquets of flowers, and dug potatoes for dinner. They snapped the jaws open on snapdragons and collected silver dollar seed pods from Lunaria to use as play money. They dug in the dirt to make homes for squash and tomato seeds, and went on slug patrol, with the glee reserved only for 6-year-old boys armed with salt shakers.
Grow Large Plants
I learned over the years that building mystery and intrigue into the garden helped keep our son's sense of discovery high. Children love tall plants and big, bold leaves, so we always planted sunflowers and ornamental rhubarb. When our garden had room, we planted the cabbage relative, Crambe cordifolia. When in bloom, this plant can occupy a space 6 feet high and wide. The 3-foot-long bluish-green leaves are durable enough to wrap up a little brother and cart him off to an imaginary fort under the branches of a pine tree.
Grow Plants with Strong Scents
Mint leaves crushed in grubby little hands take on a whole new aroma, and they're tasty alone or mixed into a glass of lemon Kool Aid. Marigolds have a strong scent, violets have a sweet scent, and carnations smell like cloves. One year, with our help, the boys planted a spaghetti garden that included basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme. Each leaf has a delightful fragrance alone, but when crushed together they smell just like spaghetti sauce.
Build a Play Area
Half the fun of being in a garden is sitting quietly and watching the flying visitors go about the business of collecting nectar and transferring pollen. A colorful garden attracts birds, butterflies, and bees by the score. What better place to watch than beneath a trellis covered with morning glories, sweet peas, or honeysuckle? We dug a shallow pit on a hillside, then built a roof and extended the sides with lattice. Bare earth served as a place for our boys to lie back and secretly watch the visiting creatures.
The most popular hiding place, and one our sons requested every year, was a bean-covered tepee. Fashioned from cedar stakes and covered with scarlet runner beans, the tepee became a clubhouse, picnic site, and, as they grew older, sleeping quarters for their campouts. A tepee is easy to build. Draw a circle on the ground the size you want the finished structure to be, pound the stakes in at an angle toward the circle's center, then tie the tops of the stakes together. We spaced our stakes 1 foot apart for strength and privacy. Leave a space for the entrance and cover the floor with straw to make a soft place for sitting. We always planted scarlet runner beans, but hyacinth beans (Dolichos) is another option for full coverage of the structure.
Over the years we've had our share of accidentally trampled plants and harvests of not-quite-ripe veggies, but our boys enjoyed countless hours of discovery and developed a deep respect for nature, all in their personal classroom, in their own backyard. They're grown now, but as they reminisce about their adventures in the garden, I know they'll continue the family tradition by creating gardens of their own. They not only inherited my love of nature, they've inherited my green thumb, as well.
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