Did you ever read the book The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett? In it, the protagonist (Mary) asks her guardian if she could please have a bit of earth to make a garden: “To plant seeds in–to make things grow–to see them come alive." Many children take great delight in gardening, and have even more fun doing so when there's a special patch of earth that's all their own to do with what they like. Since there are so many different plants to choose from, themed gardens can be a great idea for keeping kids engaged and enthusiastic about their space, while still giving them the autonomy to choose what would work best within those themes. Read on for 8 awesome themed gardens, and get started reveling in what you can grow with your kids in nature today!
1. The Healthy Snack Patch
One of my friends was an incredibly picky eater as a child, and one night, when she refused to eat what was being served for supper, her mum told her that if she didn’t like it she could go out into the backyard and eat what was out there instead. Well, that had a rather different result than her mother had expected, as she ran out the door with a face-splitting grin and spent the next hour grazing on bits from the garden.
While that kind of response isn’t recommended, it is fun to send the kids out to gather healthy snacks from their own patch of garden space. There’s nothing quite like the taste of a freshly-picked tomato that’s been warming in the sun all day, and a carrot pulled from the earth just needs to be wiped down a bit before crunching into it.
- Cherry or grape tomatoes
- Mini cucumbers
- Snow peas
- Sugar snap peas
As a side thought, a bean tipi isn’t just an ideal way to grow kid-friendly edibles in a small space—it’s a perfect spot for littles to curl up in.
There are few things as delicious as ripe berries plucked right from the garden after they’ve been ripening in the sun all day, and there are berry varieties to suit any garden space and climate zone. From the standard blueberries and strawberries to haskap, gooseberries, mulberries, and currants, these bite-sized wonders come in just about every color and flavor imaginable. Your kids can eat them raw, add them to granola, smoothies, or popsicles, or bake them into crescent rolls or pies.
In addition to being perfect sources for snacks, berry bushes are mostly perennial, so they’ll just get bigger, stronger, and more prolific over time.
3. Edible Flowers
Flower-loving little ones are often delighted to find out that there are many blossoms they can eat, and edible flowers can be enjoyed any number of different ways. Nasturtium and marigold petals have a lovely spiciness that’s great when they’re added to salads, while violets and pansies are delicious when sugared lightly and used to garnish cupcakes or cookies. Sunflower heads can be steamed and eaten like artichokes while they’re still green, and if you let them go to seed, those seeds can be harvested in late summer/early autumn for protein-rich snacks.
Flowers with edible petals:
*Note: Even though you probably don’t want to add any dandelions to your yard intentionally, their bright yellow heads are delicious when battered and fried like fritters.
4. Pizza Topping Garden
Some of the tastiest pizza toppings can be grown in the garden, and kids are often eager to try foods that they’ve helped to prepare. Pizza tends to be a favorite food on just about everyone’s list, so why not encourage the kidlets to grow some of the best ingredients themselves?
- Tomatoes of all sizes (try heirloom varieties for colors like yellow, orange, striped green, or purple)
- Sweet Peppers
- Mushrooms (Either from spores inoculated into a fallen hardwood log, or via one of those “grow your own” kits: it’s best to avoid picking mushrooms in the wild, as so many are poisonous.)
5. Calm and Quiet
Meltdowns happen, and sometimes little ones who get overwhelmed by too much stimuli just need a soft, quiet place to go and calm down a bit. A little patch of flowers and herbs with a bench nearby is a perfect place to go and recharge, or just sit with some coloring pages and a book for much-needed solo time.
For this patch, aim for soothing, fragrant herbs that calm the mind and spirit, and flowers that attract butterflies. The former can be handled and smelled for instant aromatherapy, and the latter… well, who can stay upset when there are pretty winged friends fluttering around?
- Lemon Balm
Flowers to Attract Butterflies and Hummingbirds:
- Butterfly Bush
*Lavender and mint will attract butterflies as well, so they really do serve a great dual purpose here.
6. Sweet Scents
Sometimes, the best part about a garden is being able to revel in all the scents that pour forth from all the gorgeous blossoms. A garden space filled with lilacs, sweet peas, gardenias, lily-of-the-valley, and thornless roses is a wonderful spot to curl up in. It’s fun to go from flower to flower to enjoy the different scents they all have, and children can even snip a few flowers here and there for indoor bouquets. (If you haven’t yet fallen asleep with a small vase of lilacs on your bedside table, I recommend doing so!)
7. Herbal Healing
I’ve often been pleasantly surprised at how many kids like to learn about the healing properties of herbs, and young herbalists-in-the-making might like to grow things that are soothing and nurturing, as well as tasty. Although it’s usually categorized as a garden weed, plantain (Plantago major) is great to use on bee stings and to help stop bleeding from minor cuts, while mint can help soothe upset tummies. Lavender and chamomile sewn into sachets can be tucked into pillows for sweet dreams, comfrey works wonders on bruises, and aloe is great to have on hand for sunburns.
Should your child show an interest in healing plants, encourage him/her to keep a journal or notebook in which they keep notes about their observations, and how they’ve used the plant so they can refer back to them in the future. Sketches or photographs can help with identification, and older kids may be interested in learning the plants’ Latin names, or how to use the herbs in salves, tinctures, syrups, and even lozenges.
8. Indoor Garden
Apartment-dwelling kids don’t have to miss out on the growing fun! Indoor gardens are ideal for potted herbs, edible flowers, and cherry tomatoes, and terrariums are also great for growing greenery on countertops. Sunflowers, peas, and beans are easy to grow on any sunny windowsill, and you could even rig up an aquaponics system in which an aquarium of pet fish nourishes strawberry plants, herbs, or other edibles above.
In addition to teaching kids about where food comes from, these gardens are perfect places to encourage your wee ones to develop a love for things that grow. Older children who can put off the need for instant gratification can grow things like popcorn or pumpkins to be enjoyed in the fall, while budding chefs can have a little herb garden all their own that they can harvest for the dishes they like to create. Kids who might be interested in canning/preserving can even grow ingredients for their very own jams, jellies, sauces, soups, and juice blends!
From the excitement at seeing seeds sprout to the joys that come from harvesting, eating, and even preserving food, there’s a deep satisfaction in gardening that even the youngest person can appreciate.
Images of girl with watering can, children with carrots, berry picking, edible flowers, cherry tomatoes, boy with chamomile, boy with butterfly, girl with flower, girl picking flowers, girl holding a seedling, and boy with pumpkin via Shutterstock