Monday, February 22, 2010

Growing Vegetable Soup

As I begin to think about our family garden this season, I decided to buy Growing Vegetable Soup for my kids to get them into the spirit of garden planning.  I love Lois Elhert's bold and bright illustrations in Planting a Rainbow and Eating the Alphabet, so I hoped this book would live up to my high expectations.  The book follows the basic growing process from seed to table, including garden tools, planting seeds and sprouts, watering, weeding, harvesting, and eating what you've grown.  I love that she shows how different vegetables have different looking seeds, too.

This book is a great gardening primer for preschool and elementary age children, and has the added bonus of wonderful abstract art to accompany it. My children enjoyed reviewing the process and it gave us a great opportunity to talk about what we planted last year, successes and "failures", and what we want to plant and do differently this year. Like most gardeners, their garden wish list is HUGE, so this is a good time to try and narrow down our favorites. Give them a seed catalog if you have some extras and let them circle their favorites. It's a good way to keep them involved in the process and I find they take a little more ownership of the garden when they think it's "their" plants.  Let me know what gets your kids excited about gardening.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Easy (and Successful) Children's Gardening Events

It seems like many organizations, businesses and clubs want to sponsor a children's gardening event, but struggle with the details to make it happen. Here are two simple solutions from recent events that I attended. One event was at a retail nursery and the other was a local Mom's Club Meeting. At each event, the children and parents planted an annual flower, vegetable, or seeds. One event used 6 inch terra cotta pots decorated by the child (shown above). The Moms Club Meeting used 4 and 6 inch plastic containers left over from some of my other gardening projects. Even a plastic container can be decorated. Rustoleum makes a spray paint for outdoor plastics. If you're on a tight budget, you could spray paint inexpensive pots beforehand then have the kids decorate with foam stickers from a craft store. There are hundreds of fun ways for kids to decorate a pot, whether it's painted, decoupaged, or tile mosaics but since these events were specifically designed to get kids gardening, less emphasis was placed on the container. Last year, we had the kids paint their terra cotta pots but this year we opted for self-adhesive foam stickers. This decision was to simplify the project, place more emphasis on the planting process, and create fewer headaches for parents that weren't anticipating their children to be painting that day (nothing makes a mommy more angry than paint all over an expensive outfit).

After the containers are decorated and personalized, the children chose their plant (one cell of a six-pack or 4 inch pansy, veggie, or other annual). Potting soil was put into a large, somewhat shallow plastic storage bin (like those used for under bed storage). This allows easy access for several children at one time and seems to reduce the amount of mess. Kids can put their pot right into the bin to fill, or next to it, for easy clean-up. At the Mom's Club meeting, we put the bin directly onto the floor for very young participants (18 month to 3 year olds) and that seemed to work great.

After they put some soil into the pot, an adult assisted putting the plant in and then the children finished adding more soil. At both events, we did not have the children water their plants to minimize the mess but advised them to water them when they got home.

Other things to consider during any children's gardening event is to have your staff explain what type of plant they are planting, the plant's name, and general care and watering instructions. Most kids (and some parents) don't realize that the plant might need direct sunlight and regular watering. Use this opportunity to teach while the kids are playing in the dirt and having fun.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Plant a Moon Garden

There is something magical about a garden at night, especially when it means you get to stay up past your bedtime. Summer evenings are great times to spend in the garden with children. There are so many wonderful things going on at night. You can catch fireflies, learn the constellations, make wishes on stars, watch the moths and bats, listen for owls and frogs, and enjoy a moon garden.

Moon gardens are designed to feature plants that hold your interest at night: white flowers, plants with silver or green and white variegated foliage, night-blooming flowers, and fragrant plants. You can plant it in a container on the patio or somewhere in the garden. Night-blooming flowers such as moonflower (Ipomoea ), four-o'clocks, and angels' trumpets add their own unique qualities to the garden for children though because their fragrances attract night pollinators to the garden.

After your eyes adjust to the dark, the light colors and white nearly glow and many blooms appear to be almost floating because the green stems and leaves have faded into the darkness. Make sure to create a comfortable place to sit by your moon garden so you can enjoy the fragrance and be able to see all the visitors that come to see your new garden.

Here's how to get started:

For a three season moon garden, choose a variety of shrubs and perennials that flower at different times of the year. Fragrant shrubs like Judd or Korean Spice Viburnums or Carol Mackie Daphne brighten a moon garden in the spring. Clethra alternifolia (Summersweet) flower in July and August. Sweet Autumn Clematis and Cimicifuga 'Hillside Black Beauty' bloom from late summer to fall. Add some white annuals, white flowering or fragrant perennials, and night-blooming flowers and you've got yourself a Moon Garden.

For a smaller space or in a container, try to choose several white, fragrant plants and at least one night-blooming variety.
  1. Night Blooming Favorites. Night bloomers include evening primrose, four o'clocks (Mirabilis jalapa), tropical night-blooming water lilies such as 'Texas Shell Pink' and 'Trudy Slocum', Angel's Trumpet (Brugmansia arborea) and nightscented stock (Matthiola bicomis or M. incana).

  2. Fragrant Plants. The sweet, heavy scent of flowering tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris or N. alata) is most evident at night; look for ones with white or lime green flowers. The late-summer flowers of night jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum) have a wonderful fragrance. There are great fragrant hostas too like Fried Green Tomatoes, Guacamole, Summer Breeze, or Fragrant Bouquet. Try to limit the number of fragrant plants in one area of the garden though to avoid competing scents or try to plant ones with different bloom times.

  3. White flowers. Spider flower (Cleome hassleriana), Phlox p. 'David', 'Casa Blanca' Oriental Lily, bellflower (Campanula sp), Baby's Breath (Gypsophylla sp), or 'Gentle Shephard' Daylily.

  4. Variegated foliage. Look for plants with bright white variegation and great texture. You can create unusual effects with different types of variegation--whether it be a hosta or caladium in the shade garden or an ornamental grass in a sunny spot.

  5. Moon garden climbers. Climbing roses, moonflower (Ipomoea alba), or clematis varieties such as Henrii, Duchess of Edinburg, or Sweet Autumn (Clematis paniculata) add both fragrance and white blooms when trained to climb a trellis or pergola.

In April, we planted our moon garden in a couple of pots on the deck. At the time, I didn't think I wanted to make a big commitment to it this season, but since then I've kind of fallen in love with the subded hues and fragrance so I'm going to continue the color theme and concept into my other containers that I usually put up on the deck. Although for those containers, the flowering tobacco and variegated ivy will be the only repeats. The woodland phlox and leucojum are done blooming and will be transplanted into the garden and replaced. This time I'm probably going to plant jasmine or gardenias at the back, then some other fragrant herbs and annuals around the edges.

Here's our Moon Garden Plant List (shown above):

  • Viola 'Sorbet Coconut Swirl'
  • Phlox divaricata ‘Blue Moon’
  • Ipomoea sylvestris (planted as seeds)
  • Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris)
  • Lavender 'Goodwin Creek'
  • Summer Snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum)
  • Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost'
  • Pineapple Sage
  • variegated ivy

I found a fun project for glow-in-the-dark garden signs in a book called Night Science for Kids by Terry Krautwurst that I hope to try soon. I'll include a description and directions in my next post.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Choosing Binoculars for Children

My children are interested in bird watching, but I've read conflicting opinions about getting binoculars for young children. Alicia Craig, director of the Bird Conservation Alliance for American Bird Conservancy, suggests using a spotting scope instead of binoculars when birding with kids. She says that having kids look through binoculars can be problematic because they tend to play with them more than actually use them and they have trouble spotting birds through the lenses.

Laura Erickson, author and staff ornithologist for, recommends not investing in binoculars until a child is in at least third grade. She finds that the optics are too complicated for young children and that they don't really need them anyway because their keen eyes see a surprising amount of detail on their own. For children three to eight years old, she recommends actually making binoculars out of two cardboard tubes (like from paper towels or toilet paper). Erickson argues that the cardboard-tube binoculars provide a "tunnel vision" to focus on one thing without distractions, and emulates what mom and dad are using.

When they are ready to graduate to real binoculars, here are Laura Erickson's recommendations for choosing binoculars for children (from Good Birders Don't Wear White: 50 Tips from North America's Top Birders):
  1. 7 to 8-power magnification
  2. Weatherproof and have a rainguard
  3. Shockproof
  4. Help children set the barrels for the distance between their eyes.
An article titled "The Right Fit" in WildBird Magazine (Nov/Dec 2008) also offers their tips for choosing binoculars for kids.
  1. Choose an IPD range of 50mm to 55mm, providing a full field of view.
  2. Avoid a compact model. The smaller diameter focus dials on compact models make the binoculars actually focus "faster" making the image more challenging to refine. Also, small eye pieces can be titring to use over prolonged periods of time and small objective lenses might yield a smaller exit pupil diameter.
  3. Find a lower magnification with a larger field of view, 6 to 8-power. Viewing birds or other small (and often moving) wildlife through a binocular with a wide field of view is less challenging.

You can check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's article "The Age of Binoculars" for a more comprehensive review of binoculars for birders at

Hopefully this helps you choose a binocular that will help your little one enjoy birding more. For now, my little birders will be using their inexpensive toy ones when they want to feel like a grown-up. They spot more with their eyes than I do with my binoculars anyway.


Congratulations to Michelle who won The Curious Garden Giveaway! Please check back for more giveaways!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Spring Containers with Kids

These girls are smiling, but you know what they're really thinking is, "Why is it always a marigold in a terra cotta pot?" Now, before you start sending me all sorts of nasty hate-mail, I'm challenging us to try to plant more inspiring combinations with our kids this year. Yes, marigolds are tough and relatively inexpensive, but there is a huge selection of annuals and forced bulbs available in the spring that don't really cost that much more. If the goal is to teach children to love gardening, then lets show them that there's more to gardening than a marigold in a six inch pot.
This might look pretty sophisticated but these are fairly ordinary plants, and you can easily replicate this pot. Maybe this urn isn't laying around in your shed, but who's going to notice the container when this is what you have planted inside?
  • Orange tulips at the center surrounded by yellow, red and white ranunculas
  • Purple viola or Johnny jump-ups at the base
  • Gold Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia num. 'Aurea') and variegated ivy (Hedera helix) trail between the violets.

For instant kid-appeal, it screams with a mix of bright, happy colors. But this kind of combination gives you the opportunity to talk about bulbs and how they work, identifying plant parts, noticing differences between each plant in the pot (like the petals or the leaves), and later re-planting the bulbs in the garden.

Here's another planted in a basket by my friend MaryBeth. Same concept: forced bulbs for height (orange tulips and hyacinth). Spring annuals include fushia stock, purple angelonia, orange callibrichoa, pansies, and variegated ivy in the foreground. Cut pussy willow stems are also stuck in here and there.

I love this one with the perennial in the center. This is 'Ivory Prince' Hellebore with the green blooms surrounded by pansies in antique shades of pastel yellow and mauve, and the seemingly requisite variegated ivy. This kind of combination gives us the opportunity to teach about hellebores and why we don't eat them, and more artsy concepts like texture and color.

I'm including this one because my sons like this guy (they say he's Ironman and who am I to argue). I think they might like the unfussiness of these planters, too. The crazy plant coming out of his head that looks like corydalis (although that would look great) is actually Cytisus x. spachianus or Scotch Broom. There's also a pot of clear yellow pansies in the back. This would look great stuffed with hens-n-chicks or sedums. My boys seem to love succulents.

I think, at its most basic, you'll have success if you let them choose their own pot and select the colors and types of plants. They'll love it because they planted it and hopefully take care of it. Who are we kidding? The spring containers featured above were not planted by children, but with a little guidance there's no reason why they couldn't be.

And who says it has to be JUST flowers? The little wheelbarrow above is planted with spring greens, herbs, pansies, and violas -- all edibles. Look around your yard and garage, or grandma and grandpa's for that matter. Is there an old wagon, bike, or tree stump that might make an interesting planter? I have a friend that planted sempervivens in pair of baby Crocs last year, (which have great drainage, by the way). Ask your kids for ideas.

Here are some things children can do when planting their spring container:

  • Let them fill the pot with potting soil.
  • Teach them how to remove the plant from its container and gently loosen the root ball.
  • Help them place their flowers into the potting soil and then add more potting soil.
  • Get a child size watering can so they can give their “garden” it’s first drink.
  • Teach your child about what a plant needs to be happy and the importance of not over-watering.

Remember: the best thing you might grow this year is a future gardener.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Curious Garden Giveaway

Welcome to Dig It! Children's Gardening Resource blog. I started this blog in an effort to reach a new generation of gardeners and their parents, with a basic goal of inspiring children to love gardening and care for the earth. I thought, to mix it up a bit, I will periodically offer giveaways of great gardening products, books, and resources for grown-ups and their kids. I look forward to sharing my family's gardening projects and discoveries with you. My first giveaway is The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. Recommended for ages 4 to 8.

"One boy's quest for a greener world... one garden at a time. While out exploring one day, a little boy named Liam discovers a struggling garden and decides to take care of it. As time passes, the garden spreads throughout the dark, gray city, transforming it into a lush, green world. This is an enchanting tale with environmental themes and breathtaking illustrations that become more vibrant as the garden blooms. Red-headed Liam can also be spotted on every page, adding a clever seek-and-find element to this captivating picture book" -- Editorial Review @

Want to know how to win?
To enter the giveaway contest simply leave a comment under this giveaway post AND become a follower. If you are not a blogger, please make sure you leave an e-mail address where you can be reached in case you win the giveaway. For more chances to win, you can earn an extra entry by one or ALL of the following ways.

1. Leave another comment saying that you became a follower.
2. Write about Dig It! on your own blog and leave an additional comment with a link to your post.

If you are not a blogger, forward this post to 2 of your friends and cc: on the email. A winner will be chosen at random on April 30, 2009.

Giveaway Rules:
To be eligible to enter the giveaway contest you must be at least 18 years old and live in the United States (sorry, my friends overseas). Entries must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. CST on the deadline date of the contest. Limit one entry per household unless we can verify that you have taken the correct steps to gain extra bonus entries as outlined above. A winner will be chosen at random the day after the giveaway has ended. If you win I will contact you via e-mail. You must respond within 4 days or you will forfeit your prize and a new winner will be chosen. When entering the giveaway, please leave a valid e-mail address where you can be contacted in the event that you win. Dig It! cannot be held responsible if you do not provide the correct e-mail address or if the e-mail was delivered to your spam folder. Odds of winning are dependent on the number of entries received (which are pretty good at this point since only four people have visited the blog). Your privacy is of the utmost importance to me. Your e-mail and home address will not be shared or sold to anyone. I will only use it to mail you your prize. I am not responsible for any injuries, damages, losses, legal or medical expenses that may arise from the use of the products given away. Please use the product at your own risk.

Good luck!