On the long days of summer, gardening is good for kids with time to spend outdoors.
“Gardening builds healthy bodies,” says Heather Veneziano, Children’s Garden horticulturist at the 80-acre Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia.
“Children lift, dig and move from place to place, which builds muscles and increases fitness levels.
“They are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables that they’ve grown -- and to become lifelong veggie lovers.
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“Children who spend time outside are sick less often,” she adds.
In addition, children working cooperatively in the garden build social skills such as listening, sharing ideas and taking turns, she notes. It also cultivates patience, builds confidence and teaches children to nurture and care for living things.
“Children also become young scientists and develop skills that help them in school and in life,” she says.
“By tasting, smelling, touching, listening and seeing the garden grow and change, they learn about the natural world in a way that is personal to them, which is a powerful teaching tool.”
Here are some ways to get started:
Let kids pick a packet of seeds or plant to add to the garden, or give them a container of their very own, suggests Veneziano.
Work in small sections of the garden. Then look back together and see the accomplishments.
Following are some projects that get kids outdoors, growing and having fun.
NIGHT AND DAY GARDEN
Children in one of the Virginia Living Museum’s pre-kindergarten camps are planting a “Night and Day Garden” with moonflower seeds and zinnia seeds, according to Betsy Wolin, education associate at the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News, Virginia.
“They do this on the day they explore the differences between butterflies and moths,” she says.
“Moonflowers attract moths, and zinnias attract butterflies.”
For an edible experiment, Wolin suggests families can do a “three sisters planting” of corn, beans and squash, just like the Powhatan Indians did: the beans climb the corn, and the squash provides the ground cover for moisture.
Artists are constantly inspired by nature, according to gardeners at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Create a garden based on flowers and scenes from famous paintings and art.
Plants to use: Sunflowers, dahlias, iris, gladiolas, hibiscus and tiger lilies.
Things to do in the garden: Petal painting -- rub petals of flowers such as violas and pansies on paper and the pigment comes off; you paint with the petals. It helps to roll them up a little bit, according to Lewis Ginter.
Books to read: “The Imaginary Garden” by Andrew Larson or “The Curious Garden” by Peter Brown.
Fairies love the shade and sun, too, so create a garden for your favorite fairy friends, suggest Lewis Ginter gardeners.
Plants to use: For shade, ferns, Irish moss and coral bells. For sun, sunflowers, scented geraniums, garlic chives, zinnias and marigolds.
Things to do in the garden: Create tiny fairy homes with bits of barks, moss, sticks, stones and plant pieces.
Book to read: “Fairy Houses” by Tracy Kane.
For more ideas about outdoor learning and fun, visit North Carolina State University’s Natural Learning Initiative at http://naturalearning.org/theme-gardens.
Here’s how to plant a Sunflower House, according to Lisa Ziegler of the The Gardener’s Workshop in Newport News, Virginia.
A 10-by-10-foot sunny spot with at least eight hours of sunlight
Enough cardboard or newspapers to cover the area
Organic mulch such as leaves, pine straw or chops to cover the area with six to eight inches
Two bags of compost
Mammoth sunflower, Teddy Bear sunflower, morning glory and moonflower vine seeds
Liquid organic fertilizer
Sturdy stakes and twine
First, clear away vegetation in a 10-by-10 planting area.
Use cooking flour to mark an 8-by-8-foot-square planting area within the 10-by-10-foot house, leaving a two-foot space for a doorway. Do not prepare or plant the doorway. The flour outline runs in the center of the 12-inch-wide planting band and is a guide to where the plants will be planted and where to prepare the soil.
Use a small shovel and steel rake to loosen and prep the 12-inch band of soil for planting, and incorporate bags of compost.
To block weed growth inside and outside the Sunflower House “walls,” cover a 12-inch-wide outer perimeter band with cardboard or overlapping layers of wet newspapers and then mulch.
Then, cover an interior 7-by-7-foot square with cardboard and mulch. When done, you have a 12-inch-wide band of exposed soil for planting.
Install sturdy garden stakes to support the 10- to 12-foot-tall Mammoth sunflowers that are the framework of the house. Install one stake at each corner, both sides of the doorway and then every two feet along the outline.
Plant seeds or transplants according to seed packet instructions. Plant a Mammoth at each corner, both sides of the doorway and then every two feet along the outline. Plant Teddy Bear sunflowers between the Mammoth sunflowers.
Alternate planting a moonflower or morning glory seed a few inches from each Mammoth sunflower seed.
As the plants grow, use twine or panty hose to tie the Mammoth sunflowers to the stakes.