Gifford encourages parents to set aside a small plot in the garden or flowerbed the child can experiment with. "I like to see less regulation in the garden. The way to approach it best is that there's nothing the kids can't handle and get them involved from the very beginning. Let kids have their own spot," says Gifford. "If they want to toss 10 seeds in one hole, let them and they will see what happens. Let them learn from the experience."
Carrots and Radishes and Broccoli—Oh My!
Once you've decided where to let your children garden, it's time to decide what to plant. Gifford recommends planting crops that are hearty enough to succeed and don't require unusual care. A local nursery, good gardening book, and even the backs of seed packets should answer questions about growing habits of plants, the soil and nutrition needed, and proper watering. Instant gratification helps a lot. Plant radishes even if you don't like them—they come up in three or four days.
At Seattle Tilth, children are introduced to a variety of plants "that are great to smell, fun to touch, good to eat," says Taylor. She mentions fennel, lamb's ears, and rosemary as favorites for kids, and adds that they've had many children who garden take interest in salads made with foods they've grown. "[Kids are] learning where food comes from. I think they will taste more things in a garden situation than they ever would otherwise. It's different when you pick it, know where it comes from and have interaction with it," says Taylor.
Gifford says vegetables are fun for children to grow because they germinate so quickly. If you are worried your little one will lose patience waiting for plants to sprout, you can germinate seeds indoors while it's still too cold to plant outside, or you can purchase flats of vegetables or flowers ready to put in the ground. Both Taylor and Gifford emphasize that a family garden should only contain safe, non-poisonous plants and flowers.
Taylor says it's important that parents teach children the names of plants, vegetables and flowers, especially if they have a taste or smell children can identify. "Kids love to learn the names of the plants…teaching them is a good way to teach respect for even the smallest things."