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All-Time Favorites Kids' Garden

Certain plants are "musts" in a child's gardening experience. They're just spectacular in size or shape, whimsical in name, related to favorite kids' songs, or you can do fun things with them "just because."

If you're just getting started and want a "no-brainer" theme, or are eager to make the striking gardening impressions that will no doubt hook each child on gardening for life, here are 12 garden winners for you to consider.

You can ask each family to supply one or more specimens here, start them from seed, borrow divided perennials from friends, or buy them at the garden store. Follow the instructions on the back of the seed packet or ask a garden mentor for questions about spacing and so forth. Just remember to put the tall things in back, and the short things in front, dig the dirt pretty deep, add a few bags of compost and rake it in, and you'll be fine.

None of these is expensive, though a few have special needs, listed below. So have fun, and get gardening!

Sunflower - easy to grow from seed; get the tall kind - shorter varieties are for flowers, not seeds - follow planting instructions on back of seed packet; will need a tall pole to tie it to as it grows so that it doesn't break in high winds; heads make pretty fall decorations, or leave them on the ground as winter birdfeed, if they LAST that long (birds love them!), or eat the seeds yourself for snack!

Snapdragon - you can buy seeds or starts in all colors and heights; make great bouquet additions, and what childhood is complete without making the "dragon" that the blossoms form "roar" with your fingers?

Coral Bells and Lily of the Valley - if you can find the more traditional white flowers, then you can teach this old-fashioned spring kids' song:

White coral bells, upon a slender stalk;

Lilies of the valley 'neath my garden walk.

Oh, don't you wish that you could make them ring?

That will only happen when the fairies sing.

If you have lilacs nearby, you can make a pretty May Day basket with these spring blossoms.

Beanpole Tepee - If you can beg, borrow or buy four to six really tall poles (bamboo, wood, coated metal, etc.), and plant two or three pole bean seeds at the base of each, then cover the inside with straw or mulch, kids will have a favorite shady hangout for summer, and you'll all have green beans coming out of your ears!

Hollyhocks - If you can borrow just a few more tall poles, or have a tall fence you can stake these to, hollyhocks are a beautiful and fabulous flower on a tall scale that's very impressive to children. Girls will love to pretend that the blossoms are doll skirts and they can play for hours with these living dolls.

Daisies - "He loves me, he loves me not" - what child hasn't loved pulling off daisy petals one by one for that age-old game? It's also fun to make daisy chains. You might want to get the perennial Shasta daisy kind as well as the taller daisies that grow by seed. But beware: once the latter kind get started, they spread fast through a garden!

Giant Cabbage or Pumpkin - Try growing just one or a couple of oversized vegetables, and find poems and songs about cabbage and pumpkin patches to read and sing with the gentle giants. Beware of squash bugs and cabbage beetles, and check these veggies daily for invaders, who'll need to be, well, squashed!

Baby Carrots - The secret of these much-loved kids' veggies is to dig the dirt very deep beneath, and around, where you'll plant the seeds. You might want to add some compost as well as some sand to make the soil as loose as possible. Sow seeds in rows and, with scissors, clip away extra plants at the soil line after they've all sprouted, so that you have enough air space between carrot tops. Be sure to have a camera to capture the thrill in a child's face when he or she pulls out that first carrot! Have water on hand to wash the dirt so that you can eat them straight out of the garden! Nothing like it!

Cherry Tomatoes - A child who turns up his or her nose at a sliced tomato on a plate will gobble cherry tomatoes like candy, especially if he or she GREW those cherry tomatoes! They are sweet and taste best will still warm from the sun, and there's a wonderful pleasure at eating them right off the vine. You will need a cage or tower to support the growth of these often-prodigious bearers.

Gourd Tunnel - Install several lengths of flexible plastic tubing in semicircles, about three feet apart, sinking each end at least six inches in the dirt to keep them stable. You'll want at least six feet of length. Stretch garden netting over all, to form a tunnel. Tie netting securely. Layer clean straw or mulch on the inside "floor" of the tunnel. Now plant two or three ornamental gourd seeds at the base of each tube support. In no time, your tunnel should be covered with vines and lots of fun to crawl through and hide within. At harvest time, let the gourds dry outside for a few weeks past the first frost, or in a dry place on newspapers in your basement. You can spray them with a clear sealer when completely dry, or paint them, though they're decorative enough as they are. You might have to wait until the following fall to use this year's crop as autumn decorations, or send them home with each child.

Tulips - If you can remember to plant bulbs the fall before, the plant parts are the easiest to see in a tulip blossom. Ornamental poppies also are a good choice for teaching about plant "bodies" and you can plant them in early spring.

Red Salvia - Plant a number of these, fairly close together, for a good chance of attracting hummingbirds and butterflies.

By Susan Darst Williams • • Themes 02 © 2010

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