Little Sprouts

Cold Weather Garden Fun

by cathym on December 3, 2018

by Valerie Shaw

Ice balls. Photo courtesy Flicker: Robbie Sproule.

There’s nothing like the blue sky of an autumn day. Now it’s time to bring in the garden statues, take notes on your garden successes and failures, and prepare your garden for winter. Acorns, pumpkins, and beautiful leaves invite children outside for one last romp before the snow comes. The gardening fun doesn’t have to completely end, though! Here are some activities to keep your li’l green thumbs engaged throughout the cold months ahead.

Snow Poppies—Now is a good time to grab a packet of poppy seeds and spy out a prime poppy area in your garden or yard. Tuck the seed packet in the fridge and wait until a good snowy day. Then, pull on the snow boots, hike out to your spot, and scatter your poppy seeds in the snow! With the melting snow the tiny seeds are drawn into the soil. Come spring, look out for the slightly spiky looking leaves, followed by intriguing fuzzy stems with big flower buds. Poppies are cheerful and fun, and kids will like planting in the snow! Remember, though, that poppy plants will spread. If your kids are older, they might enjoy learning about the historical nature of this beautiful flower.

Ice Gazing Balls—Easy and very fun to make, you can stick these anywhere in your yard, and enjoy them as long as the temperatures stay cold. Simply fill balloons with water and several drops of food coloring. Stick them in your freezer or outside. When they’re solid, run them quickly beneath hot water and peel off the balloons. You’ll have made beautiful round ice balls that will reflect the pale winter sunshine. If you want to stick them to a railing or other object outside, you can use water to “glue” them in place. We made a series of them and stuck them on the arm of our mailbox—the kids thought they were amazing, and they looked very pretty for several days!

Sachets—If you’ve been collecting flowers or drying herbs from your garden, a simple sewing craft that many kids enjoy is making scented sachets, or scented hot pads. They also make great presents for the holidays. Using felt and a larger needle can make the project easier for small children. Old flannel shirts or other clothing with nice fabric can be a reusable resource, or hit the store and enjoy all of the beautiful fabric designs.

Homemade potpourri is another fragrant way to enjoy plants indoors. A simple recipe we use is as follows: The peel of one orange, a stick of cinnamon (or a teaspoon of powdered), and either powdered or whole cloves. Put the ingredients into a pot with two cups of water. Cook on medium until the scent starts wafting, then turn the heat down to low. (Also, of note, don’t use clementine peels. Though the fruit is yummy to eat, the rinds don’t smell good at all.) There are other great recipes at:

Dream, Gardener, Dream—One surefire antidote to the February blahs is the arrival of seed catalogs. Now is a good time to sign up for all the catalog joy. Try some new nurseries, and don’t forget to let your kids look through them too. Our little gardeners love putting their initials next to veggies they want to eat and flowers they want to plant. Some fun nurseries that might be new to you are Baker Creek (, the Cook’s Garden, Fedco Seeds, Pinetree Garden Seeds, and Thompson & Morgan.

And lastly, don’t forget houseplants—Geraniums come in many fun scents, like pineapple and rose, and are easy to grow in a sunny window. Head out to a nursery and you’ll be sure to find childhood favorites—pink polka dot plants, strange carnivores, and easy-to-care-for succulents. Many of the herbs you love outside can come in too. Just watch out for any insect hitchhikers when bringing in garden plants. (A brief quarantine is never a bad idea.)

Remember, spring is only a few months away! Happy holidays to you all.


Valerie Shaw is a homeschool mom, YMCA youth coach, and gardener with a yard that rather ran away with her this year. She lives with her husband and two kids in West Monroe, NY, and is excitedly awaiting spring, and the new batch of little goat kids that are due in March.


Gardening with Kids: Preserving the Bounty

by cathym on September 9, 2018

by Valerie Shaw; artwork by Andrew Monrad

Fully open dahlia bloom

As the scorching days of summer yield to the cooler, shorter days of early autumn, some of the most wonderful flower displays and veggie harvests are just beginning. The big favorites around here, squash, sunflowers, and tomatoes, are drowning us in their cheerful abundance. If you’re into preserving foods, you may have your shelves lined with colorful jars of pickles and jellies, or your freezers full of plump berries. Your kids might be delighted to discover that not only can you keep the yummy harvest over the winter, but you can keep parts of your beautiful garden preserved to enjoy later too! Here are some fun ideas for savoring all of your late summer gardening adventures.

Firework design created using unopened sedum blossom

Garden journals. These can be really fun for kids. Using a simple notebook, binder, photo binder, or any pre-made version, create a scrapbook or journal that documents all the great things about your garden. You can buy disposable cameras and let your kids be roving photographers, then “publish” them in a fun scrapbook. You’ll be able to see the garden from their eyes. Use stickers, scraps of
fabric, used seed packets, and doodles. Your kids will love pulling out their garden journal year after year, and be encouraged to try their hand at it again next spring.

Recipe Book. Whether it’s a five-page handwritten booklet or a chock-full book you have printed and bound at Staples, making a family recipe book is a great and delicious way to connect your garden to your table. Kids can be encouraged to make their own signature salads, vegetable dips, pizza sauce, or zucchini brownie recipes. Let them come up with fabulous names for their dishes! Having your kids choose the recipes will encourage them to get involved, try new veggies, and take pride in their hard work. They can include drawings or photos, and make a special cover for it too. If there are other gardeners or cooks in the family, your kids could collect favorite recipes from them as well, making it a truly memorable keepsake! These make terrific presents for grandparents and other family
members for the holiday season.

Succulent twirled to create a spiral

Painting with flowers. Head on out to the garden and snip a big bouquet of flowers or plants with interesting leaves. Using poster or acrylic paints, use the flowers as paintbrushes. For toddlers, this is a great activity to use with finger paints. Older kids might enjoy practicing on paper, then moving on to using the flowers with acrylic paints on canvases. My kids really like the mini canvases. They’re smaller and less intimidating. If you buy the canvases with thick wooden walls, you don’t need to worry about framing them; a tack on the wall and you’ve got a display! Simply have them paint on a solid background color (usually a pale color, like yellow or light blue works well), and then apply flowers dipped in paint to make patterns. Stiffer petaled flowers, like zinnia or mums, work very well, although don’t rule out anything until you try it! Again, these make great presents for your child to give to others, and telling the story from the planting of a seed to the making of a beautiful painting is a lovely way to build pride in hard work and dedication.

Another fun thing to try with flower painting is making flower shirts. Choose a plain tee or sweatshirt. Using the same technique as the canvas painting, dip the flowers into fabric or acrylic paints and make a fun pattern on the shirt. When the snow is up to their knees, they can wear their flower shirt and remember the time you all sat around in your tank tops and sandals, playing with petals! Spring might not seem so far away, after all.

Valerie Shaw is a gardener, YMCA youth coach, and homeschool mom in West Monroe, NY. She shares her garden with two adventurous children and a patient husband, to whom she has promised that this last goat, Flora, is the final addition to their herd. At least until spring.


Adding Kid-Pizzazz to Your Garden

by cathym on July 4, 2018

by Valerie Shaw

Goldfish in galvanized tub. Photo courtesy Flickr: Brianna Privett

If your garden is anything like mine, things are finally starting to kick in, some seeds need to be replanted, and there are a few last-minute plants to pick up at the nursery. The flowers are beginning to fill out, the tomatoes are getting unruly, and the children are eyeing the ripening raspberries with voracious patience. School is finished, and with those carefree summer days will come a whole chorus of “I’m bored!! ”Now’s the time to start thinking about a whole other level of gardening fun: the kid projects!

The awesome thing about children is this: they have spectacular imaginations. Your garden can become a wonderland with just a few simple activities, and they can be scaled to whatever budget you have at hand. Here are a few suggestions of projects I’ve found to be successful in our decade-long child wrangling.

Water. It bears repeating: kids love water. Kids also love fish and frogs. One of the easiest things to create in your garden is a pond. This can be a full on, fiberglass insert style pond, a dug pond with liner, or something as low-key as a storage tote filled with water. Nab some fun water plants at your garden center (we like the water hyacinths as they grow very quickly), have the kids clean up some nice rocks for the bottom, a flower pot for the fish to hide in, and voila, a mini-pond! We bought a handful of feeder goldfish from Walmart for 13 cents each. One, named Fred, has grown immensely, overwintering in our basement. We also have an overgrown puddle pond that fills with frogs in the spring, and the kids spend hours there, catching and releasing froggy pals. That was an hour of digging to make an existing puddle much deeper and bigger, and now it’s a star kid attraction whenever friends come over. Mosquitoes are controlled with fish and lawn care.

A Bridge. This can be over a stream, a dry bed of stones, or, just plunked somewhere interesting in your garden. Ours is a wide plank with two big flat stones on either end, laid in the middle of a very large mint bed. The mint grows up around it, making a waving sea of fragrant green. Everyone, even the family cat, uses this bridge. People sit on it, daydream, chew peppermint, and watch bumblebees. It’s part of the running adventures, and every sword fight must end up on this bridge. Again, so simple, but somehow, bursting with inspiration.

Concrete Projects. We have really enjoyed making stepping stones from the kits found at craft stores. My son, in particular, loved improvising with his, and instead of all the pretty glass bits, his is decorated with nuts and bolts and various metal items. We’ve also made leaf impression stones from large squash leaves. It’s really easy, and kids love to see the results. For older kids, these projects could even lead to making some summer cash! You can find directions online, and all it takes is a quick trip to the hardware store, some big leaves, and a little patience. 

Branch Teepees. These are a definite point of interest in our garden! All it takes are zip ties and plenty of branches or small saplings. Kids like helping to weave the branches in and out. We often see our teepees decorated with picked flowers, bead chains or colorful yarn. Sometimes the kids hang windchimes in them. Just a tip: make sure you make the door opening wide enough to admit a lawn mower, or the grass will take over in your teepee. Last year we surrounded them with scarlet runner beans and flowers; this year, we have mini pumpkins planted that will hopefully climb the teepee and hang their fun orange orbs down for some festive teepee décor.

Wind Chimes, Spinners or Flags. Watching the wind play with a creation is something kids enjoy. You can make wind chimes from many easy to find items—shells from the lake, for example. One fun design uses leaves or flowers preserved in clear contact or wax paper, and hung amongst little jingle bells. Flags can be made from scraps of fabric, either purchased or repurposed. Acrylic paints will bond to fabric just as well as more expensive fabric paints. Make an easy flag banner by adhering fabric triangles to a thick ribbon. You can either sew them on or use staples or hot glue. No-sew methods may not be as durable, but children appreciate the joy of just doing a thing almost as much as having the project last a long time, and something like a banner can happily decorate a bedroom just the same as your sunflower bed.


Before I leave you to your garden adventures, I have a kid- and pet-friendly treasure to share. If your yard, like mine, is chock full of mosquitoes who are taking the fun out of the outdoors, I’ve discovered a garlic-based product, Mosquito Barrier, that truly does work. As someone who experienced the West Nile virus last summer, I push hard for mosquito control, and I especially look for nontoxic, nonchemical formulas. Our kids usually wear lightweight, long-sleeved clothing in the evenings. And don’t forget to check your house screens for holes.


“Remember that children, marriages,
and flower gardens reflect the kind of care they get.”

—H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

 Care dearly, my friends!


Valerie Shaw is a mom, writer, and gardening addict who lives in West Monroe, NY, with her family, some goats, and too many ducks.