Some of the most unique experiences anyone can offer a child come from lessons learned in the garden. While planting seeds and watching plants grow, children learn the values of patience, respect, and responsibility. Little ones watch birds and insects come and go through the rows of green and witness a science lesson first hand. Weather, biology, and chemistry are all evident in a garden. Even more importantly, gardening teaches us all how our actions can both positively and negatively affect our environment.
Planting an herb garden with your child is a wonderful introduction to the joys of gardening. Herbs are good choices for beginning gardeners because most are hearty and grow quickly. Additionally, planting herbs requires little space. If you don't have a nice sunny spot in the back yard, you can plant a small potted herb garden on a deck, apartment patio, or on a windowsill. "It's not the number of plants that is important, it's the time and care that you choose to give them," says culinary writer Jorj Morgan.
While your family anxiously waits for those first days of spring, start a journal to plan and chart the progress of your garden. Begin by clipping pictures of what you will plant and sketch out a garden plot. Your child will enjoy getting out his crayons and helping color the garden plan. Later, make plant rubbings and track your garden's progress in your journal with photographs and notes.
There are a wealth of catalogs and online retailers that sell herbs. Burpee (www.burpee.com), Johny Select Seeds (www.johnyseeds.com), and Seeds of Change (www.seedsofchange.com) all offer colorful pictures for children to look at, and a wide variety of plants at fair prices.
Take a fieldtrip to your local nursery or garden center in the early spring and have your child smell and touch the various plants. Then let him help pick his favorites.
No Green Thumb? Not to worry. If you don't feel confident helping your child begin his own garden, consider purchasing an herb kit. Available from several online retailers, these kits are perfect for novice gardeners. Some kits offer plans and planting instructions, such as www.gardens4kids.com, but you must purchase the seeds separately. Others, such as www.mountainvalleygrowers.com, sell kits with everything you need to get started in one complete package.
If you are planting indoors, a "windowsill" garden kit might be right for you. These handy packages include everything you need for a mini-herb garden, including pots, seeds, and soil. The National Gardening Association (www.garden.org), sells a basic windowsill garden kit for under $30.