A Bed of Roses It Isn’t

by Daisy on 01/29/2011

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It's still winter, but I'm thinking of the Spring garden

Kids and gardening.

The public image is that gardening with your children is wonderful.  A synchrony of fun and learning, fresh air and exercise, a veritable Epcot center of scientific discovery right in the backyard.

So why is it I find myself sneaking around behind my kids’ backs whenever I want to plant something?

Do I want to deprive my offspring of an educational opportunity?  Stunt their growth?  Deprive them of fun?



No!  OF COURSE not!



Gardening is everything tinies (and me) love:  dirt, itty bitty seeds, dangerous pointy things, things to dig with and stick in the ground, more dirt, WATER HOSES, manure, plants to yank out, flowers to pluck, unripe fruits and vegetables to pick.

I understand the allure.

Over time I’ve learned a few survival strategies to keep things under control.  Barely.  Sometimes.

But I could use a few more.


What do you do to keep the peace and get the veg in without becoming a Garden Troll?

And please tell me I’m not the only one who cringes when the toddlers head toward the seedlings.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Myrnie January 29, 2011 at 3:04 pm

I’m leaning towards floating row covers this year, after losing my turnips, kale, chard, beets, and mustard spinach to my kids’ friends last year. And yes, it took a different child to take out every crop. I try to have dirt spot the kids can dig in, but they’re never as much fun as mine!

Kelsey January 29, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Everything is fenced in so the kiddos (and dog) can’t get in without my help. Not foolproof, but it has helped. Can’t wait til spring!

Nicole January 29, 2011 at 6:32 pm

I was going to suggest having a separate spot for the kiddos to plant and pick and such. Hopefully it would work out better for you and your tots than for the pp!

Sherry January 29, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Give them their own plot with easy to grow fast vegetables…squash, green beans. and pretty marigolds and zinnias. ..it isn’t perfect..but it will help. Now, can someone help me keep the chickens out. LOL

Rhyah January 29, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Ours is also fenced – something that became necessary when I saw that my neighbor’s pet rabbit mowed down one of my baby barberry bushes! Did wonders for the toddlers too. 🙂 We had the occasional cherry tomato casualty, but that wasn’t such a big deal.

Oat Bucket Farm January 29, 2011 at 7:38 pm

The gardens are fenced and the kids know not to go in without permission. It also helped when I told them to be careful because we were planting groceries. After a couple of seasons of seeing the garden go from seed, to plant, to food on the dinner plate, they were very careful. I still have rows that go crooked, and occasionally a plant gets broke, and occasionally we have veggies picked before its time, but everything is a learning proccess. My youngest (he was two during last garden season) helped by following me around the garden, I would pick the tomatoes and hand them to him and he would run them out of the garden to Grandma. It didn’t take him long to learn to avoid the plants and that I wanted the red tomatoes. We would point out the beans and peppers he could pick and such. My older two know what they need to do out there now, but when they were younger I did the same with them. One of the funnest things was when we would dig for potatoes, they got a such a kick out of that. And when we picked carrots, we would throw them all into a big wading pool for the kids to clean because there is nothing funner than dirt and water together in the same setting. Yes the adults had to do the detailed cleaning on them, but the kids got the initial dirt off and had such fun doing it.

pammeyepoo January 29, 2011 at 8:05 pm

I always gave them each their own little plot for their garden. They may be as strategically located as you need for the individuals.

Angela January 29, 2011 at 8:08 pm

I filled an old, leaky kiddie pool with topsoil and compost, bought them some seeds and seedlings and let them do whatever they wanted. I reminded them to water but didn’t cry or complain if it was full of weeds or trampled. They stayed out of “my” garden because they had their own.

Colleen January 29, 2011 at 10:33 pm

My earliest memories of gardening were with my grandmother, Mama. I was in charge of the marigolds. Mama would save egg shells, and when they were dry, I would roll them with my tiny wooden rolling pin with the red handles. I would carefully sprinkle them on the marigolds, along with the morning coffee grounds. When the blooms were spent, I was the one who was allowed to pick off the ripe seed heads and save them for the next planting. I know she had many other flowers growing in her garden, but I don’t remember what they were. I had the marigolds!! I think that was what kept me out of her special flowers!

JoAnn January 29, 2011 at 10:36 pm

I have no suggestions but just wanted to say that I am so glad I’m not the only one!! There is a really great book called “And The Good Brown Earth” by Kathy Henderson. In it the little boy grows such an awesome garden totally seperate from his Grandmothers and in such a hodge podge fashion. I envision that for my girls this year in the hopes that I can have the nice straight rows like the Grandmother! lol

ranch101 January 29, 2011 at 11:05 pm

I first gardened when we moved to my grandparents’ house when I had just turned 4. My job was to sit at the edge of the garden and help Grandma pick rocks out while Grandpa rototilled and Mom raked the rocks to the edge. Gardening was a whole family occupation. I’m sure we kids must have caused a lot of damage at times, but I don’t actually remember it or what our grandparents did about it. All I remember is how much fun it was helping in the garden. When I was 7, I had my tonsils out, and was supposed to stay laying down. But it was June and I could always be found grazing my way through the strawberry patch. Grandma knew if she wanted the strawberries to get to the table, she had to get someone else to pick them. She also figured out that I loved picking the raspberries but wouldn’t eat them, so that was often my job. When we were a bit older, I remember getting the 1-cent seed packets from Gurney’s. (They don’t seem to have them any more.) Grandpa set aside a little garden for us kids and worked in his while we tended ours.

I have to admit that I don’t have as much patience with my kids as my Grandpa had with us. But I do try to teach them to respect the plants and I try to find age-appropriate things they can help with. Last weekend they were banned from the yard while I was pruning the plum tree, but when large limbs were no longer crashing to the ground and I was lopping the smaller branches off the future firewood on the ground, they were delighted to gather those up for me.

Beth January 30, 2011 at 11:02 am

The way I handle little ones is fencing off the serious garden, then giving them a separate area (I like the kiddie pool idea). The “tinies” get to help punch drainage holes, put the stones and sand in the bottom, then put the dirt in. I usually get transplants for them instead of seeds, then tell them any little green thing should be pulled out but not the big greens. I did cherry tomatoes for them last year, and got a red plastic bucket that was the color of the ripe tomatoes. I told them when the tomatoes matched the color of the bucket, it was time to pick them. All in all, it works fairly well. Helps when whatever they are harvesting changes color when ripe. Another year I had them grow green beans and had a dowel that I cut to approx. the length of a ripe bean. There are always accidents, but it’s so much easier not to be a troll when they are in the kiddie garden, not the main one.

Whit January 30, 2011 at 11:37 am

What really helped for us when my daughter was a tot was to build a sandbox for her at the end of the garden. So she felt like she was able to dig in the dirt when Mommy was…she’d use little gravel as her “seeds” and had her own shovel and watering can.

As she’s gotten older, we’ve given her her own space to care for with bean teepees and sunflowers. When she was still a little too little to understand, we had her responsible for watering things that could withstand the full force of a kiddo…things like the berries and the carrots and onions.

Now that she’s older (8), we keep her focused participation with a “hay slide”…if she truly helps in the garden, she gets to use the pathways of hay as an amusement ride. It’s way more slippery than a Slip ‘n’ Slide (and helps save my back from all the raking to distribute the hay.) 🙂

Good luck!! You’re going to have your hands full very soon! It’s the best kind of full hands in the world though!

Megan Gilmore January 30, 2011 at 3:31 pm

I’m a novice gardener at best and always come to your site for advice on these sorts of things. 🙂 I only have one little guy and he’s two. Last summer he was a pro at helping me prep the garden for planting – loosening up the soil with his digging, “raking” compost with his little rake, etc. But we bought some wildflower seeds for his plot so that he wouldn’t have to be precise. He was so excited to see them come up and then he’d pick them for mama 🙂 LOVED it!
This year, since he knows what foods he enjoys now, I’m going to let him go with me to pick his own seeds and seedlings. Then he can plant those things and learn!
I’m a bit protective of my herb garden especially since I’m trying to get some more difficult perennials going, so he knows that those are “mommy’s plants” and he doesn’t touch them.

Tanya Walton January 30, 2011 at 4:03 pm

It’s not just as toddlers you worry about them…as they get bigger and gangly they seem to not be able to co-ordinate those big feet as well and trample just as much!!!

pumpkinsx3 January 30, 2011 at 9:31 pm

How Groundhogs Garden Grew by Lynne Cherry is an awesome children’s book about growing a garden.

Jessie January 31, 2011 at 8:31 am

I’m trying to figure this out for myself as well, my little will be one this summer so I’m thinking more toward future summers. This year he’ll probably be content to play on the grass. Remembering back to what my parents and grandparents did – they set aside the flashier or tastier stuff for the kids. The rule more or less was if it doesn’t taste good, don’t pick it. After a few mouthfulls of green tomato or unripe cucumber, we learned pretty quickly not to pick those until they were ripe. The same with the berries. And we just weren’t allowed to touch the flowers. There was guilt attached to “ruining mommy’s flowers that she worked so hard to grow.” My dad still cringes when I come in with a freshly picked boquet of daffodils from his flower bed, and he’ll always go out to look to make sure I didn’t ruin anything.

Alane January 31, 2011 at 9:32 am

I have one garden box reserved for the kiddos. They can plant what they want and tend to it themselves as well. If you don’t have room for a box just for them you can just give them a couple milk cartons/plant pots that they can use. They get very excited to participate and anticipate their harvest as much as I do!

Linda January 31, 2011 at 10:03 am

I’ve tried to get my kids interested, it didn’t work. Someday they will when it’s too late.


Carmen January 31, 2011 at 11:39 am

I also have a fence to keep the kids out when I’m not there. My strategies are:
1. kids have their own plants of choice to care for – something foolproof (last year – watermelon, pumpkin, and marigolds),
2. kids plant and care for their own plant(s)
2. kids water their own plants with their own watering cans (no hoses),
3. kids have bug duty: find aphids and smush them, find caterpillars and move them to a safe place outside of the garden, find worms and bring them gently into the garden bed.
4. kids find ripe fruit for harvest and carry the harvest bucket

Aubrey Ruwe January 31, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Hilarious post! Glad to see I am not the only one who started out fantasizing about how the kids will learn so much gardening with me and ended up wanting to do it all myself “the right way”. I even made my son his own little garden thinking he could then do whatever he wanted over there but they still gravitate toward my garden and then I ended up taking care of his too.

However, they have a fun time harvesting with me and I do try to tell myself that I have to let them make mistakes if I ever want them to learn so it is a patience lesson for me also 🙂

Betty February 2, 2011 at 1:56 pm

I enjoy your posts and am constantly coming back here to check out old posts and try some of your DIY projects. So, I gave you an award on my blog. I hope you like it.

Becky February 3, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Love your post! My husband and I have four children (10, 8, 6, 5), who we homeschool. We try to help our kids learn from everything we do. 😉
Our garden is fenced (to keep out the children, dogs & chickens), and inside the garden fence is another low fence ~ the kids garden. They get to choose 3 different veggies to plant in their own garden, and they mostly care for it themselves. We make little labels out of sticky notes, baggies and sticks! They REALLY enjoy eating the veggies when they’re ready…or maybe just a bit before they’re ready…it’s very hard to wait for a red tomato in WA state 😉
The kids help us harvest and even can our veggies. This year the kids helped me can peaches in unsweetened apple juice! They did great!
I would encourage you to garden with your kids, be clear on the boundaries and give them as many choices as you can! Happy family gardening 😉

Carmell February 4, 2011 at 12:45 pm

I had to give them their own spot… as small as it was. my kids know they are not allowed in my garden!!!

Lawn Maintenance Suwanee February 7, 2011 at 5:25 am

Spring is almost there say bye bye to snowman=) I also love your blog, I enjoyed staying, reading your articles. Thanks!

Corinne February 15, 2011 at 6:12 pm

Have a “Just Mommy’s” section of the garden. They can be “example plants” – see, still learning, still teaching! (But getting some ALL your OWN!)

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