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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.

  • 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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