Garden Projects for Kids
Children will love these garden crafts, projects and themed plantings. Our favorites: the scarecrow and toad house!
By: Yvonne Cunnington
Make a toad house: Patrolling the garden at night, toads devour many of the insect pests that damage flowers and vegetables. Invite them to your yard with a snug little home. All you need to build one is a clay pot about four inches in diameter and a trowel for digging. Toads need a cool, moist place to rest in the daytime so choose a spot in the shade. Dig a couple of inches deep, making the hole a bit larger than the clay pot. Place the pot on its side in the hole and bury it about halfway. Use some damp leaves to create a nice bed inside the pot, then moisten the area with a little water to keep the pot in place. Because toads "drink" through their skin, place a small saucer or pie plate nearby and add an inch or so of water. If you're lucky, you won't have to wait too long before a toad comes to visit.
Grow a bean teepee: Pole beans growing on a simple frame will quickly create a shady hideaway for the kids. You'll need a packet of pole bean seeds, three to six six-foot-long bamboo stakes (from the garden center), a planting area about six feet square, straw for mulch and a two-foot length of string. Start our bean teepee around the time you would normally plant tomatoes - about two weeks after the last expected frost. Arrange stakes in a circle, sticking them into the ground 10 inches from bed edge, leaving a two-foot wide space, so kids can enter the teepee. Gather tops of stakes, wrap and tie them together with string. For quicker sprouting, soak bean seeds overnight then plant following packet directions in a circle outside of the base of teepee. Water well. Place a two- to three-inch layer of straw over the soil in the middle to keep weeds down. As the bean plants grow, tie the stems carefully to teepee stakes. In six to eight weeks, bean plants will cover the structure and kids can play inside.
Great plants for kids: When starting plants from seed, choose big, easy to handle and quick-to-germinate seeds such as beans, radishes, sunflowers, dwarf nasturtiums and zinnia. Kids also love the tiny and the giant, so plant miniature vegetables like grape tomatoes and dwarf sunflowers like 'Teddy Bear' or big plants like tall Russian sunflowers or pumpkins (one rambling pumpkin plant needs a six-foot-square area of ground). Also try unusual veggies - like purple carrots and beans, rainbow chard, heirloom tomatoes, or yellow scallop squash. Uniquely shaped flowers like snapdragons and bleeding hearts are fun to manipulate and dissect. Textured plants like soft lambs' ears, woolly thyme and plumed annual celosia beg to be touched, and strawflowers and purple coneflowers are cool customers because they're so prickly.
Grow a pizza garden: Kids can grow the fresh ingredients for pizza sauce - a couple of tomato plants, one each of basil, rosemary and oregano, plus half a dozen onions (use onion sets, which are small onion bulbs) and one green and one red pepper plant. Buy plants in spring, but don't transplant them into the garden until all danger of frost is past. Help kids prepare the soil. For fun, make the bed round or wedge shaped, and edge it with orange or yellow marigolds to resemble crust. At harvest time, buy plain pizza crust or pizza dough, and help kids cook up a sauce using garden fresh ingredients. Top the pizza crust with sauce, diced peppers and the usual pepperoni and cheese. How proud they will be to have grown their own pizza sauce!
Build a scarecrow: Collect adult-sized old clothing - an old plaid shirt, a vest or jacket, a pair of jeans, old gloves (for the hands), and boots or socks (for the feet). Use straw, leaves or rags as stuffing. For a frame, use two pieces of wood with one stake tall enough for the height of clothing and 1 ½ feet extra to pound into ground. Cut the shorter stake the length of the shirt with arms stretched out. Nail the boards in a cross-like form. Stuff a pillowcase for the head first and tie up the round part with string, then pull the open-ended pillow fabric over the vertical stake and secure the string. For facial features, kids can use waterproof markers, or help them sew on buttons for eyes and nose. Fasten a straw hat with safety pins. Put the shirt onto the frame, do up the buttons and add the stuffing, tying the shirt's waist so stuffing stays in place. Pin or tie ends of pants and stuff. Use a belt through the loops to attach jeans to the stake and shirt. Use safety pins if necessary. Prop leg ends into boots or stuffed socks and pin stuffed gloves to ends of the shirt arms. Presto! You have a fun scarecrow decoration for the kids' garden.
Theme gardens: Let the kids take the lead here. Some might be fascinated to learn about butterfly gardens and what plants attract first the caterpillars and then, later in the season, the nectar-seeking butterflies. Harry Potter fans could grow herbs and plants studied by Harry and his friends in herbology class. (Note: This is a project best suited to older kids as some of the plants in the books, such as monkshood, are poisonous.) A budding chef could research and grow gourmet vegetables. Other popular themes include color or fragrance. Theme gardens can be as varied as your child's imagination.