Ear to the Ground: The Insider Dirt to Gardening in Upstate NY

Fun Spring Things

by cathym on May 17, 2019

by Valerie Shaw

It’s spring! For moms everywhere, this is a triumphant announcement for many reasons—no more itchy, smothered kids complaining about winter coats, the games of tag and pinch your brother can move outside, and the gardening season is in full swing! But how do you convince your tween to switch from building square Minecraft gardens on the Wii U to going outside into the great—and sometimes uncomfortable—outdoors? The answer is, make gardening fun! Here are a slew of ideas to help your kiddos open their minds and hearts to your green space. 

• Get them involved. Like cooking, grocery shopping, and even learning to drive, learning alongside Mom or Dad and taking over smaller chores will lead to mastery over big ones later. Have your little ones count and set seeds, select plants, and water. Simply being asked, “What do you think?” is a big thing. 

Garden gnome. Photo courtesy Flickr: Ann Oro

• Garden decor. Kids love, adore, and cherish garden statues. Right now, all of mine are hiding in two stick tepees, as the kids were protecting them from yard trolls. They move around the yard, sometimes in the spots I put them, sometimes wherever the kids’ imaginations transport them. And yes, garden gnomes are a huge hit. I found a slew of them at the dollar store one year and those little dudes travel all over our yard all summer. Other terrific decor items can include solar lights (they are coming out with cooler ones every year, including solar fairy light chains!), decorative rocks, and whimsical planters. Just remember that children are hard on things. Resin and stone hold up, while glass and thin ceramic do not and are not good for younger children’s spaces. 

• Water features. I wrote about this last year, but it bears repeating. Kids are attracted to water like ducks to a pond. Even if it’s just a bird bath or butterfly drinking pool, bring in water and they will want to help you care for it. Our favorite over here is our froggy pond—truly, it’s a giant, perpetual puddle, but I dug it out so that it’s deep enough to weather the sun of July, and we put boards over it for bridges and an old log for frogs and salamanders to hide under. If you don’t already have a wet spot in your yard, you could sink a kiddie pool down to soil level and disguise the edges with rocks or mulch. Another simple option is the storage tote pond. Just remember, with any water feature, mosquitoes are an issue. Remember to change the water often, or you can add goldfish to eat them, or purchase biological preventative pellets to kill the larvae. 

• Cool plants. There are so many terrifically interesting plant choices out there—let your kids choose one or two to be their plants. Simply having ownership of their plant will encourage them to get on out and explore. Last year we found purple clover. Chocolate peppermint, lemon grass, bunny tail grass, pineapple strawberries, and lemonade blueberries—these crazy things are all actual plants we have enjoyed in the garden! 

• A welcoming zone. Bugs, sun, and dirt. Nature is sometimes our biggest foe, despite all the fun we can have out there. Making sure you have the basic gear to enjoy the outdoors is key to your kids getting engaged. A good pair of rubber boots will protect little toes and a selection of big floppy hats will keep off the sun and light rain showers. Make a station by your door and have a go-to box filled with hats, trowels, jersey gloves, sunscreen and bug spray. You’ll all use it, and it’ll make life better. 

• Just try. The last thing I’ll leave you with is this—great gardeners don’t have magical green thumbs. They have a willingness to observe, a spirit to learn and try, and the courage to murder plants until they figure them out. So, be brave, and bold, and get out there- with your kiddos! 

Valerie Shaw is a longtime plant murderer, YMCA youth coach, goat-wrangler, and fruit tree crusader. She encourages you to practice radical exuberance in your own backyards this summer, and give those hard-pressed honeybees and butterflies some great pollen. You can email her at magicschoolcar@yahoo.com.

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