Keeping the little ones entertained will surely involve a few classics: Kiddie pool! Driveway hopscotch! Slip-and-slide! But the best distractions aren’t toys at all—they’re plants. Gestalten’s new book, The Gardens of Eden, explores the many possibilities of gardening with kids. Here, in an excerpt, are a few ideas to try at home.
Think back to your own childhood. What filled your days? Where did you learn? Even for those of us who grew up in cities or suburbs, some of the most indelible moments that we had as children happened outside—chasing friends at the playground, the feeling of wind rushing past you on a slide, discovering and smearing the deep red stains that berries could make on hands and clothes (to the disappointment of parents everywhere), picnics in the sunshine, maybe even the first time you were stung by a mosquito or bee. Even if we didn’t have a garden of our own growing up, moments of being young, free, and exploratory outside have undoubtedly shaped us into the adults we are today.
When thinking through the childhoods that we want to create for our own children, the garden is a beautiful place to start. All the lessons are there: from life cycles and scientific processes to food production and land stewardship—even to a bit of magic and wonder—it’s all in the garden. Though the obvious joys—jungle gyms, tree houses, playgrounds, etc.—are no less spectacular for kids, here are a few inspirations for plant-based activities to engage children in the wonders of the natural world.
A Pizza Garden
Plant some of the ingredients for your favorite Italian treat. What goes into the sauce? Think: tomatoes and onions and herbs such as basil or oregano for a basic red sauce. Or opt for more unusual toppings like rosemary to pair with a fig and prosciutto white pizza, or spicy peppers and sage to go with a sausage pizza. Ahead of planting, have your little ones sketch out the pizza they want to make at the end of the growing season and use that sketch as a growing guide for where to plant. When it’s time to harvest, mangia!
A Butterfly Garden
Teach children about the magic of metamorphosis with plantings like milkweed and purple coneflower that attract caterpillars and butterflies. Create a monarch sanctuary in your backyard with plants in the milkweed family like Asclepias syriaca, Asclepias speciosa, Asclepias incarnata, or Asclepias curassavica, and teach lessons about migration, habitat, and environmental change.
An Art Material Garden
Start by first thinking about what can be done with the plants. Dye gardens can yield colors for clothing dye or pigment using plants as common as marigolds or purple cabbage. Flowers like violets, daisies, and cosmos are beautiful when pressed and can be kept forever as bookmarks or incorporated into handmade paper. Or plant for a cyanotype (sun print) project by looking first for interesting leaf shapes like ferns, grasses, poppies, or even Queen Anne’s lace. By thinking about what you want to make and working backward, the entire garden can be part of the artwork.
Words by Abbye Churchill, The Gardens of Eden, Gestalten 2020.
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