Gardening with kids is a beautiful thing, says Orr. Besides brightening up a corner of your yard, he explains, a garden teaches children about the cycle of the seasons, opens their eyes to the wonders of nature, gives them a taste of patience, and perhaps a small, but healthy, taste of disappointment.
Orr believes kids naturally love to play in the dirt. But to pique their interest in the process of planting and tending flowers, he suggests supplying them with their own garden tools.
He says to look for tools that easily fit into kids' hands. And while the tools may be small and brightly colored, they should still be sturdy and useful.
Here are some gardening tools Orr recommends for children:
- Orr says kids ages two and under can have a good time with a complete set of tools in a handy tote from geniusbabies.com, $17.
- For kids over five, Orr suggest long-handled tools from kidsgardening.com, $45.
- For older kids, Orr suggests handheld tools from nybgshopinthegarden.org, $8 for three tools.
- Kids can use lightweight watering cans with removable nozzles from landscapeusa.com to water plants, $16.
- Alextoys.com's striped gloves can keep young children's hands snug and safe, $3 a pair
- But what about all that mud on little feet? Orr says kids may track less mud inside if they have their own gardening shoes. He suggests giving them plastic clogs from backyardgreenhouses.com, $15, or Olive & Bette's boots by Tamara Henriques, $48. Call 1-646-613-8772 to order.
- Orr suggests parents encourage kids to scrub pesky dirt out from under their nails with small brushes shaped like ducks and frogs. They're available from The Gardener, $1.75. Call 1-510-548-4545 to order.
Also, here are some fun items with kid appeal Orr recommends for the garden:
- Select Seeds and Antique Flowers's flower pot man, $21. Call 1-860-684-9310 for more information.
- Child's Garden seed collection from Select Seeds and Antique Flowers. Call 1-860-684-9310 for more information.
- Seeds From Italy's Italian vegetable seeds, $3.25.
Kids will maintain their interest if they have a feeling of ownership over their garden, says Orr. He suggests giving young children their own tiny plot somewhere in the yard, no bigger than 4 by 6 feet. This also makes the experience less stressful for the parent, he explains.
Orr warns parents must be prepared to embrace the tacky when their children start gardening. He says kids love a collage of colors and sizes in the garden - the gaudier the better.
Orr suggested some of the following plant ideas for a kid-friendly garden:
- Big and Bright: Orr says sunflowers, zinnias and dinner-plate dahlias are great for kids because they produce a ton of blooms. Children, he says, enjoy picking them and taking them inside to decorate the kitchen table or their bedrooms.
- Scented: Geraniums that smell like chocolate, mint and lemon will be enjoyed by kids.
- Quick Growers: Poppies, lettuces and radishes are perfect plants for impatient children.
- Things to Eat: Tomatoes, strawberries and herbs can give the kids a satisfying taste of the results of their hard work.
When little ones are involved, you have to think about a few safety issues. Orr says parents should be aware of keeping children away from poisonous flowers. Many common plants, such as lily of the valley, foxglove, morning glory, the cator bean, oleander and wisteria, can be very harmful if ingested.
Children will probably be most tempted to eat little berries, such as those that grow on the yew bush. Orr says parents may want to refrain from planting them. However, since you can't always control the environment, teach your kids never to eat anything from the garden before checking with you first.
Not all plants make kids sick. Other may cause a rash or irritation. Orr recommends parents go to the Cornell University Poisonous Plants Informational Database Web site for more information.
Orr also says parents should take the time to talk to their children about insects. And be prepared with first aid to treat a couple of stings and bites throughout the season.