Children who live in apartments and townhouses needn't be excluded from the joys of gardening, even if your community doesn't have a kids' gardening club. Containers can offer a wide range of options, from veggies to herbs, scented plants and perennials. Use wacky pots: old shoes, baskets, tires, sinks or toilets can all contain great gardens.
No one appreciates tools that won't stand up to the job at hand, and that is especially true for easily frustrated five-year-olds. Fortunately, the current gardening craze has garden centres stocked with great kid-sized tools. Older children will probably balk at a kid's set, so try ladies' sizes for lighter, slightly smaller implements. Keep them well maintained and teach tool safety. Children should always wear gloves to protect hands from thorns and possibly sharp objects in the soil.
A hot afternoon of weeding is nobody's idea of enjoyment. Make it an activity for early or late in the day, create weeding challenges that are rewarded with cold drinks or popsicles, collect weeds to press and identify, and learn about their ecology, insect-plant relationships or medicinal value. Break weeding into small doses, interspersed with other activities, such as building a scarecrow or wattle fencing. If all else fails, eat 'em! Purslane and lamb's-quarters are delicious raw or steamed, as are young dandelion greens-it's the ultimate in gardening revenge. Your child's garden plot may not be weed-free, but resist the temptation to take over maintenance yourself; being in charge is all part of the experience.
Don't overlook the culinary lessons lurking in your garden. Make nuts or sunflower seeds into butter in the food processor, spread on homemade bread with freshly made strawberry jam-kids can really make their own PB and J sandwiches from the ground up. RBG's Junior Gardeners Club includes regular cooking sessions, and the children eagerly await the chance to sample their produce -- kohlrabi and all.
Ensure that you can identify poisonous plants, especially if you have infants or toddlers who may end up with something in their mouths. Teach children to sample only what they know and recognize, or to wait until you've OK'd their potential snacks.
Let your child choose a garden buddy at the local dollar store-many carry inexpensive resin garden animals. Children who collect rocks can incorporate them into their garden design.
The rich rewards of gardening can last a lifetime. Become a garden facilitator for your child, grandchild or young friend and do what you can to create positive experiences. Then stand back and let nature work its magic.