Garden Forever
Gardening across the generations.
Ways for grandparents to help grow young gardeners.

In this fast paced world of computer games and instant gratification it is sometimes difficult to find a link between parents and children let alone grandparents and grandchildren. Instilling an early love of gardening is one way that grandparents can bond with the younger members of the family.

The older generation often live far removed from their children's families. Visits with young grandchildren take place during summer or winter holidays, or March break for a week or so, sometimes only a weekend at a time. Grandparents can take this opportunity to spend time in the garden.

Often parents are so busy with full time jobs, they do not personally have time to garden for enjoyment. People living in big cities might only have a small balcony, patio or no garden at all. Many people, in fact, discover gardening as they reach their middle years, when their own children are off at university and they can afford a house with a yard. Grandparents can enjoy the luxury of time to garden, years of experience and homes with yards.

Young children also have jammed packed days full of lessons and practises during the rest of the year, so a visit to their grandparents' house can be a restful time-out from their many supervised activities.

It is important to focus on the level of activity that a child can handle, make it fun for both of you and don't overdo the "teaching" aspect of gardening. Kids learn by watching, doing and "mucking around". They'll absorb a lot more if you relax and enjoy yourself too. Later you can look at books, watch the Nature channel or go on the internet to explore gardening web sites together. [a list of suitable ones is in the resource section of this article]

Digging in dirt is a perennial toddler past-time. For little ones looking for bugs and discussing "good" bugs for the garden, worms that help make compost, etc. is a great way to keep their interest. Even quite young children can help plant seeds or annuals in spring or bulbs in fall.

Mid-summer weeding can be made easier with the help of an eager young partner. One garden writer wrote about how she encouraged her young son to do battle with the encroaching armies of weeds (See Queen Anne's Lace).

Adding vegetable cuttings from the dinner salad to the compost bin and then digging in below to get some of that great black gold to top up the garden is a great way to teach kids about recycling and cause and effect. Even older kids enjoy seeing the worms hard at work in a half decomposed eggshell.

Late summer and early fall is the time to harvest vegetables and fruit and gather seeds for next year. This is a particularly rewarding time to have grandchildren pay a visit, even for the long Labor Day weekend. I remember helping my grandmother gather Sweet William seeds from her garden each year and I can never see those old fashioned flowers without thinking of her so many years later.

If your young visitors come in October or early November, get them to help with the leaf raking including, of course, the mandatory pile so big you just have to jump into it. If getting up and down makes this seem too treacherous for aching joints, you'll still enjoy their laughter. Make a videotape of them that you'll enjoy later. Don't forget to press leaves for bookmarks and cards. The old iron and wax paper trick still works just fine.

Bulbs can be planted and you can put a few in a pot so they can take them home to store in a cool dark place for an early spring surprise of their own.

I remember my mother teaching me how to force a hyacinth in a jelly jar filled with water. I checked it every day in the fruit cellar as it quickly grew roots. I was totally amazed when a beautiful smelling flower emerged a couple of months later.

Any time of year you can build things that are useful in the garden. A new potting bench, cover for the composter, or planter box might be an activity for an older child, but a younger one is sure to love being a carpenter's apprentice. Remember kids of all ages need supervision when using tools.

Get a microwave flower press so you can instantly save some of those beautiful blooms and help them make lasting keepsakes. Pressed flowers are easily sealed between a couple of pieces of clear glass and wrapped with copper foil. These can be hung up in their room later or given to mom or teacher as a special made from the garden gift.

If you have a March break visitor plan to plant some seeds. Many germinate really quickly and will already show the beginnings of green shoots before the week is out.

During winter months the internet is a great way to stay in touch with busy grandchildren. Finding something you both have in common to discuss can be a challenge. Search out interesting sites on the internet and email the site address to them.

If they helped you plant some seeds in the spring and then have been at camp all summer, make sure you take pictures of the flowers or vegetables later on, have them printed on disk or use a scanner and send them off for them to see what happened after they left.

If you made preserves or jelly from the vegetables or fruit, be sure to save a jar for their next visit or add it to the next package you send to them. If it's at holiday or birthday time, enclose a book on activities in the garden and bookmark a couple of ideas you want to try next year with them.

Check the TV guide to find out when particularly interesting nature shows that might appeal to a youngster and make a copy to enjoy together when they visit or to send along to them as a treat. Tapes don't cost much and can be re-used. Kids love to get mail and packages are a really big treat. If you have your own video camera send along a tape of you in your garden, perhaps standing in the vegetable bed they helped you plant. They'll treasure it always.

You can draw up your garden and scan in the plot to email them. Ask for their advise on where to put things next year, what to grow, what seeds to order. You'll be surprised at some of their good ideas and they'll be anxious to dig in next visit.

Whatever gardening activity you choose, remember to keep it simple and fun. Not so many rules as good common sense will go a long way in building a long lasting love of gardening in your young grandchildren.

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All rights reserved. "Gardening across the generations" is a copyrighted article by Beverley Mitchell, who has kindly given Garden Forever permission to publish it. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of Garden Forever is strictly forbidden.