Outdoor Kids: A Family Garden

from Wildlife Promise

To me, a family garden is an outdoor landscape (if even a balcony, windowsill or community park or school garden) that has something for everyone in your family, and a space you take care of together throughout the year: planting, weeding, watering, and planting again, but also a space where you notice what happens as a result of your work together.

This weekend, my family and I enjoyed our outdoor landscape in many ways.

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First, my friend, garden designer and writer, Starla J. King reminisced on my blog about a pot painting party with her niece, and I decided to give it a go. I gathered all of the paints and brushes for our “study/craft/kids everything room” with some newspaper, paper towels, a small bucket of water, and a trash bag, and we started painting on plastic pots we had in the closet.

The weather was great all weekend, so we had a weekend outdoor art studio, painting four or five pots, and even painting a friendship pot for my boys’ friend who is moving in a month, with each of their hand prints and signatures.

Sunday morning, my husband and the boys’ grandfather played touch football in the cool morning air while I weeded. I went on a bike ride with my older son, and then a walk with the dog, and the kids were playing soccer with their dad.

Then my five-year-old and I planted some “cool-season” vegetables in pots: scallions, radishes, and spinach and then we checked on the seedlings popping up from the pea, mescelun, and swiss chard seeds that we planted two weeks earlier in the raised garden beds on the side of the house.

Next, I offered for my five year-old to decide what to do. “Let’s play ‘I spy’,” he said. We sat in Adirondack chairs that I have in the front perennial garden bed, and watched the three purple aster plants bursting with color and countless butterflies, in all sizes and colors.

One of the reasons I love aster, native to North America, is how it fills up your garden bed with green in the spring and summer, and then bursts into show in fall. In late May or early June, you cut back the foliage by as much as two thirds (mums too, by the way), to have a fuller, sturdier base for the blooms. For the last three days, we’ve even had three orange monarchs enjoying the aster.

Just as catmint (nepeta) and salvia are butterfly-loving staples for the full sun and part sun spring and summer garden, aster is a butterfly-loving staple for the fall garden. All can be planted now. Have your kids design their spot (meaning, just put them in charge and let them create).

On occasion, I love going to the garden center with my kids after I pick them up from school. During the week, the garden center is not crowded, there is someone to help you, and you could even have a picnic dinner back at home while you create their garden. Low on time? You could even go buy the plants for your kids during a lunch hour and they can get started right away at home. If you want to influence where they dig, you can even pick together a ‘secret garden’ spot where you feel more comfortable giving them creative control and it has a cool name. That’s what I did!

I taught my kids how to prune the aster. Pull off the faded blooms (the ones that are shriveled up and brown); it helps new flowers grow.

As a family, we’ve seen so many cool things year-round in our yard like skinks (a lizard with a black upper body and electric blue tail), praying mantis, grasshoppers, and frogs. Why? Because we have done simple things in our yard that attract these beneficial creatures, giving them food, water, shelter, and places to raise their young. For example, a small water feature and native plants: perennials like aster, trees like evergreen foster holly, and shrubs like deciduous Virginia sweetspire that has beautiful fall color.

Rebecca P. Cohen is Founder and President of Rebecca Plants LLC, is a gardening and outdoor lifestyle company that inspires families to be outside and improve their well being. For her weekly online video series, “Get Out of the House” as well as Starla J. King’s guest blog series “Savoring Summer,” visit http://www.rebeccaplants.com.