Teach or entertain children through gardening

by How Does Your Garden Grow? By Sharon Daniels

People of all ages likely are ready for new activities, and now that the frost season is over, you and your children may want to try new gardening pursuits. It should be safe to sow vegetable or flower seeds and set any kind of plant in a garden plot or in containers.

I was 5 or 6 years old when my mother spaded a tiny plot and showed me how to carefully drop seeds so they didn’t all land in a clump. I remember nothing else of the process except that it was Bachelor Buttons, a bright blue member of the aster family, sometimes called Cornflower.

During the “stay-at-home” weeks I suggested activities for a great-niece who has three youngsters. One was to spark interest in gardening with “Teddy Bear” sunflowers since kids know teddy bears. Sunflowers germinate and grow fairly fast, this type is fairly short, and they have an appealing fuzzy, teddy-bear look.

While they are indoors, youngsters can sprout carrot tops in a shallow saucer of water. New greens should show in a week or two, then can be planted in soil. This won’t grow a new carrot but produces a new plant.

They can plant the top inch of a fresh pineapple. After most of the flesh is dug out with a spoon, dry the core a couple of days, then place on a tray of small pebbles filled with water. In about two weeks, roots and new shoots should show.

Kids may giggle at a chia pet made of old pantyhose (if you have pantyhose). Put two or three spoonsful of grass seed in the toe, add a handful of potting mix, tie the hose closed and shape into a “head.” Kids can use bits of felt, chenille and pompons to make face features with craft glue. Place it in a shallow dish with the grass side on top. Water enough to get the soil moist, put it in a warm place and keep soil spritzed. Let the “hair” grow or later give it a haircut.

If you don’t have grass seed, look in the pet section for grass seed you plant for indoor cats.

Here are simple, sometimes silly, outdoor pursuits.

Form a “Jack and the Beanstalk” teepee with a few bamboo or other sturdy sticks about 5 feet long, tied firmly at the top. Let kids plant bean seeds at the base of each stick and watch to see how high the vines grow.

Another use for a similar teepee is to plant morning glory seeds around the base. As they grow, a secret hideaway may result if the structure is plenty sturdy.

Set one cherry tomato plant in a five-gallon pot with a short trellis for support. Kids can decorate the pot first with paint or waterproof markers. The plant needs good garden soil so don’t use yard soil. Kids won’t mind a little “dirt” when you show them that a finger pushed partway into the soil is the best way to tell if a plant needs moisture. When they pull the finger out, if it is clean it needs some water.

After they eat an orange, lemon or tangerine, the seeds can sprout in a few weeks. Moisten soil in a small pot, push three or four seeds about an inch deep into the soil, and when the plant gets bigger, it can be transplanted into a larger container. Don’t look for fruit unless you tend these plants for a few years.

Spade a corner of a vegetable garden so kids can plant lettuce in the shape of their initials. Mark initials or other patterns with a dusting of flour on top of the soil so they know where to drop seeds. When the crop is ready, everyone will enjoy eating their own lettuce on a sandwich or in a salad.

Plant hollyhock seeds or plants in a circle four or five feet in diameter, leaving an opening for a “door.” When plants grow to about five feet tall, gently gather tops, tie loosely with twine, and make a hideaway. Explain that hollyhocks are biennial, so they don’t bloom until the second year. When my sister and I were girls we gathered fallen hollyhock blossoms to use as playhouse dolls. Do little girls still make their own playhouses?

Sharon Daniels is a Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteer.