My 6 month old loves the out-doors. Sometimes we get out a blanket, lay him down, then kick back and enjoy the weather – that is, until he makes his way to the edge of the blanket and starts vigorously sucking on the cheese-weeds. We grab him, place him back on the center of the blanket, and hand him a toy to divert his attention. Next thing we know, he’s got his face in the crabgrass. After two or three more attempts to reposition and distract him, we finally give up and decide he’d be better off gnawing on the living-room carpet.
My two year old thinks every plant below her eye-level is a flower. One of her favorite outdoor activities is running around the yard, picking “flowers” to give Momma. Few things cheer my wife more than getting a toddler-fist size bouquet of dandelions, morning glory, and clover. The trouble occurs when her fist is full of squash-seedlings, lettuce, and bean-sprouts.
I’ve decided that I’m not really trying to raise a garden at all. I’m raising kids, and if I can use the garden to help me raise my kids, then the garden is worth my time. I’ve decided that if a plant can’t take a few kicks, stomps, and picks, it’s probably not worth the effort. Kids aren’t usually strong enough to pull a plant up by the roots, but they can sure mangle leaves, so root-based vegetables will probably be able to pull through. Things like lettuce or swiss chard will grow so bountifully that however many times you rip out the leaves, they’ll keep growing.
I also decided to make my garden circular, with a grass-strip down the middle, like two half moon gardens. The path allows the kids to run up and down the middle of the garden without stampeding the veggies, and the circular shape makes it easy to water. It also makes it so I can easily put the sprinkler in the middle of the two gardens. If I turn the sprinkler on high enough, it provides a liquid force-field to keep out toddlers for a short time. As much as they like running through the sprinklers, few are brave enough to venture anywhere near the center of the spray.
Most kids over the age of one have lost the burning desire to stick every existing object into their mouths, but a few go through withdrawals and try it while playing in the yard, so it might be wise to research your vegetables before planting them to make sure there are no other parts (stems or leaves especially) that might be poisonous.
For some kids, the real fascination is with the raw dirt. This might be remedied by making a sand-box. If you’re worried about cats, get an under-the-bed storage container with a lid and fill it with sand. The lid will keep out cats, and your kids will get their fill of dirt.
Kids love outdoors, and gardens make the outdoors more exciting. Let them be involved in the gardening process, and they will grow up finding yard-work a fun family experience. And don’t go bananas over the quashed carrot-tops and the prematurely picked pumpkin “ball.” After all, your kids may enjoy them more that way than they would eating them off their dinner plate.