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Empowering Young Children in the Garden

Installing a passion for gardening

Instilling a passion for gardening in a child is a delicious gift. “It’s a chance to do something positive together in nature,” says horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg.

Hilgenberg manages four acres of edible landscape in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden, part of the Chicago Botanic Garden in Illinois, and she has some tips on how to engage young children and grow them into tomato lovers.

Empowering Young Children in the Garden

  • Take a walk around the neighborhood and talk about what they see in other gardens. “Look for colors they like, vegetables they like,” Hilgenberg says.
  • Encourage them to draw pictures of plants and gardens.
  • Empower them. “Let them choose the plants they want to grow and want to eat.”
  • Start with a small project, such as a plant on the patio. “It’s about having fun,” Hilgenberg says. “Giving them their own space, their own pot, will give them a sense of wonder and ownership.” She suggests a deep red or bright yellow Tumbling Tom tomato plant, which does well in a window box (see photo) or hanging basket.
  • Or, start with a few seeds in a row in the garden, marked with a Popsicle stick with each child’s name on it.
  • Put them in charge of the watering can. “They’re low to the ground, let them help,” Hilgenberg says.
  • Let them know “It’s okay to get dirty!”

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