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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Growing Memories: Gardening with Kids

By Kerrie McLoughlin

I’ll never forget the first time I picked a beautiful, ripe, red tomato that I helped grow. I had watered and weeded the plant with love, and I was so proud of that tomato. And, because I wasn’t interested in gardening when I was a kid, this memorable gardening experience happened the summer I turned 40!

This made me determined to share the joy of gardening with my own kids. I’m already learning that gardening alongside your kids provides valuable opportunities for them to learn, to get some exercise and fresh air, and to spend some time connecting with you. Check out these tips and ideas for gardening success, as well as a few reasons why gardening is one cool hobby.

Be eco-friendly. There’s nothing greener than growing your own food. Composting is another fun, green aspect of gardening because kids get to toss “trash” into the garden (egg shells, coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable shavings and rinds, etc.). You can make the entire garden a compost pile in the off-season, and if you like you can leave a section for composting year-round.

Use appropriate tools. Make sure you have kid-size tools available for your budding gardener to keep her or him interested. For Small Hands ( offers child-size gardening tools, such as gloves, shovels, watering cans, kneeling pads, small buckets for weeds, small aprons and totes for tools, and more.

Teach responsibility. Consider planting most of the plot as a family garden, but save one entire section for your children’s own garden and make them responsible for it. If they don’t fall in love with gardening, give them an allowance for chores, such as watering and weed pulling. And be sure to relax your own standards. For instance, who cares if the rows are not planted perfectly?

Decorate. Spiff up plant markers with the kids. Make stepping-stones using a kit. We have a lattice screen that my husband cut and the kids painted to make a short fence to keep animals out of the garden.

Educate. How much will it cost to buy enough tomato plants to fill half of our space? How many feet by how many feet is our garden, and how many different things can I plant in it? Could we plant an ABC garden—one plant for each letter in the alphabet—if we have room for 26 small plants?

Eat up. Have a garden-to-table pizza party where the toppings come from your own garden. Learn how to can your goodies at so you can save them for another day, and give some as holiday gifts. Can fruits and vegetables as-is or doctor them up to make salsa, pie filling, jam—get creative.

Learn about insects. Which bugs are bad (Japanese beetles) and which are beneficial? Which plants attract butterflies (hint: wild plants)? Buy some ladybugs, let them loose, and see how long they stay to eat up aphids. Head to, search “insects,” and have fun reading about different bugs and the work they do.

Save space. Try square-foot gardening (, which is a great system for beginners that saves time, work, water, and money. You can start as small as 1’x1’ and grow from there. It’s on a raised-bed system, so weeds are kept to a minimum, and you can even bring in your small garden if a frost is on the horizon. Or think up by growing pole beans or gourds so you can plant more stuff below. Grow herbs in a pot inside. And if you have no backyard, community gardens are all the rage these days. Visit to locate one near you or learn how to start one.

Go seed shopping. Take the kids along to pick out seeds at the garden store or spend an afternoon poring over a seed catalog before making final decisions on what to plant. Their faces will light up when they get to pick green beans for dinner or grab some mint for their lemonade. Soft lamb’s ear, fragrant lavender, and basil make a great addition to a fruit and veggie garden.   

Kerrie McLoughlin is the mom of five budding gardeners. Check out their progress at