November 24, 2008

Child-Friendly Garden Plants

By Freda Cameron

Although the weather has passed for planting, this is a great time to plan a garden with the children in your family. During quiet winter nights and holiday breaks, drawing a little garden plan with crayons or colored pencils is a great indoor activity. Give your old gardening magazines and catalogs to children. Let them circle the flowers that they like or cut out photos to make their own little creative designs.

I've been gardening for over 30 years. I owe my gardening interest to my grandmother. Among my fondest childhood memories are those of making daily walks in my grandmother's flower garden. My son, now grown, is quite knowledgeable about gardens. He planted many of the trees, shrubs and perennials in my garden. In turn, he's the one who encouraged me to write a gardening blog so that he could keep up with the garden while he was in graduate school in London.

Stachys byzantina 'Helen von Stein' is my favorite soft and fuzzy perennial. This is the true "teddy bear" of garden plants. These velvet lamb's ears are easy to grow in zones 4-9. Requiring little water, lamb's ears are drought tolerant as well as deer and rabbit resistant. This perennial spreads rapidly, reaching a width of over two feet within two years. They are easy to propagate by division. Here in the south, they will "melt" during times of heat and humidity. When that happens, I pull out the mushy leaves to give the plant a neat appearance. Once the cool fall temperatures arrive, my stachys looks fine again.

The "action figure" in a child-friendly garden is the snapdragon or antirrhinum majus. I remember playing with the blooms by squeezing the "jaws" to open and close the "mouth." The snapdragon is the first flower that I can recall and my grandmother was always willing to cut these flowers to give to me. The color choices will delight a child. Considered annuals except in the warmest zones, snapdragons do occasionally overwinter here in zone 7b. This is reliably deer and rabbit resistant in my garden.

For a fun barnyard discussion, just plant Hens and Chicks (sempervivum tectorum) to amuse children. Let them name these cute little plants. Easy to grow in poor soil, there are many colors and leaf shapes for a patchwork of variety. Suitable for zones 3b through 11, just about any garden has room for these tiny little jewels. Hens and Chicks are great for rock gardens. Rocks make great accents for children's gardens.

A bird and butterfly garden is another great idea as the children learn to identify the different varieties. With encouragement, children may start daily journals to keep a "life list" of birds that they see and identify. If hummingbirds are common in your area, add a hummingbird feeder. Since bees are attracted to flowering plants, children will need to be supervised to prevent stings. This is an opportunity to teach children about the important role of honey bees for the success of crops and flowers.

There are many perennials, annuals, and ornamental grasses that are suitable for child-friendly gardens. However, some plants can be poisonous. Before planting a garden for children, be sure to research whether or not the plant is toxic.

If you don't have gardening space in a yard, a few containers of child-friendly plants on a deck or patio is a great way to introduce children to gardening. Have fun with children and plants and create lasting memories. In my opinion, there's nothing better than passing along the gift of gardening.

Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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