Califonia Bountiful

Gardening: Growing little gardeners

May/June 2008 California Country magazine

Many benefits come from getting children interested in gardening, including a life-long appreciation of nature.

Spending time in the garden with your children sprouts more than just green things. It sprouts curiosity and a lifelong appreciation of nature—not to mention a great sense of family.

When they were younger, my now 13-year-old twins Audrey and Jaclyn used to help me with everything in the garden. We would dig holes, watch things grow and eat the fruits and vegetables of our labors.

Their favorite plants in our backyard were passion vines—for a variety of reasons. Passion vines are fast growers and most also have beautiful flowers that create quite a show all summer long. But what my girls enjoyed most about passion vines were the butterflies they attracted. Not a day went by when we didn’t have butterflies fluttering around our yard.

The blue passion vine, Passiflora caerulea, is the plant the Gulf Fritillary seeks out to lay its eggs on. Soon the eggs hatch into gray-spiked caterpillars with orange stripes and begin eating. And eating. We spent many hours watching the caterpillars eat, we watched them form their chrysalids and we watched them emerge a few weeks later and fly away.

In another part of the yard we had a large anise plant that attracted swallowtail butterflies. As Audrey, Jaclyn and I walked to school, we would sometimes collect swallowtail caterpillars to add to our plant at home.

Regardless of what we set out to do together in the garden, it was always the butterflies, hummingbirds, grubs and bugs that my girls focused their attentions on. Digging and finding grubs in the soil led to feeding them to the jays. Harvesting peaches provided an opportunity to capture green fruit beetles. Leaving the house on a rainy morning meant rescuing earthworms from the sidewalk and putting them in the lawn.

It’s a “circle of life” sort of thing.

With so many collections of plants now available, it’s easy to plant a garden for whatever may capture your child’s interests. There are collections to attract butterflies, hummingbirds and other birds as well. And most anything you plant will attract bugs.

You can get more ideas about gardening with kids from the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom ( or 800-700-AITC).

Regardless of what you end up doing, the time you spend with your children will create great little gardeners and wonderful memories. Have fun!

Gardening to-do list for May/June

Melons, squash, tomatoes, corn, beans and other heat-loving summer veggies will grow quickly when planted now.

It’s also time to plant summer flowers like zinnias, cosmos, petunias and marigolds.

Help your veggies and flowers thrive by mixing some compost and starter fertilizer into the ground prior to planting.

Apply 2 to 4 inches of compost around all your plants to help keep the root zone cool and moist during the hot summer months. This will ease stress on your plants and also reduce the frequency of watering.

Hose down your plants monthly. Keeping the leaves clean will help your plants grow better and also inhibit the spread of pests.

Feed your lawns now to help green them up for summer. Watch for weeds and spray them with a broadleaf weed killer if there are too many to pull by hand. Make sure the spray you select will work on your type of grass. The wrong choice may kill your lawn!

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