Janice Peterson: Seven plants that make gardening fun for kids
It's great to get children interested in gardening at a young age. As planting season is almost upon us consider a few fun plants to grow with youngsters. Here are some of my favorites:
Pretzel bean (Vigna unguiculata): This cowpea pod grows in crazy curves like a pretzel. I found children liked to hold them up and peer through like opera glasses. They are also edible and easy to grow. Their long vines need support from a trellis or a fence. The seeds can be sown directly into the ground.
Tennesee Spinner gourd (Cucurbita pepo): These small 3” bottle-shaped striped gourds were used like a spinning top by children years ago. I've grown these and it really works! Gourds grow on long vines so they'll need some ground space or support. Actually, almost any gourd is fun to grow with kids. The neat thing is they can allow the gourds to dry and they can keep them forever. There are many neat gourd craft projects that are perfect to do with children.
Husk Cherry (Physalis sp.): Also called ground cherry, these are fun to eat right off the vine. They are related to tomatoes and have a papery husk like a tomatillo. Kids (and adults!) love to unwrap the husks and eat the sweet fruit inside. These are super easy to grow.
Cherry tomatoes: I always keep cherry tomatoes near a door so I can pop one in my mouth as I walk past. Children think this is amazing to do, and it's a great way to get them to eat their vegetables. Cherry tomatoes grow well in a large pot, too. If their growth starts to get out of hand just prune them back. I love the idea of having vegetables in the garden that children can eat right off the vine. Beans and peas are other good choices.
Sunflower house: If you can spare some ground space this can be really cool. Plant sunflower seeds in a six foot square, leaving an opening to enter. When the plants are nearly full grown make a roof by tying flower heads together. I've never done this but I'd love to spend an afternoon inside one!
Snapdragons: I always grow snapdragons because it's fun to make them talk. My children suffered their entire childhoods because I could not pass a snapdragon without doing this. For some reason my snapdragons talk like Chicago gangsters.
Nasturiums: These are easy to grow, their large seeds can be directly seeded outdoors, and they're edible. Imagine a child's surprise when you put one of the flowers into a salad! The flavor is pretty spicy so a little goes a long way.
It's important to be careful about pesticide use if plants are going to be eaten. Also, children need to be taught which plants are safe to eat and that all other plants are off limits. These are just a few of the fun and easy plants to grow with children. I'd love to hear other suggestions about cool plants to grow with kids!