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Empowering Young Children in the Garden

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 by letting 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.
  • Provide a pot. “Giving them their own space, their own pot, will give them a sense of wonder and ownership,” Hilgenberg says and suggests a deep-red or bright-yellow Tumbling Tom tomato plant, which does well in a window box 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 that “it’s okay to get dirty!”

For more tips on how to help your garden grow, check out Hilgenberg’s “Weekly Gardening Minute” for WBBM Newsradio 780 and 105.9 FM. You can listen to past segments by visiting or read the transcripts here.


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