There’s a lot to be said for gardening. Growing plants offers lessons in patience and the value of effort, as well as a connection to nature. Plus, gardening usually involves some exercise, helping burn calories while keeping us physically healthier. And because it’s something you can do together, it offers great bonding time. That makes gardening a perfect hobby to share with kids.
The benefits go beyond the obvious, though. Scientific studies suggest that children who take part in gardening projects may do better in math and science than those who don’t. The physical aspects of growing plants help kids (especially younger children) build motor skills. And it teaches a sense of responsibility and cause and effect — kids can see that plants that don’t get watered, for example, may die.
Here are three of my favorite plants you can grow to help get kids get engaged with gardening in your yard or on you deck, patio, or balcony this summer.
Lamb’s Ears. Enchanting for its silver, fuzzy leaves, lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina) practically begs to be touched by young and old alike. The fabulously furry foliage helps engage kids’ senses of sight and touch. Luckily, it’s delightfully easy to grow — just give this plant a sunny spot and water when the top inch or so of the potting mix gets dry. It’s drought tolerant, so it’ll forgive you if you forget to water from time to time. Note: Lamb’s ears will come back every year when planted in the ground if you live in an area where the temperature stays above -25F (-32C).
Milkweed: While its flowers are okay, the real reason to grow milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) is that it’s a host plant for Monarch butterflies. That means if you plant it, you’re almost sure to attract the butterflies – and see their charming black-and-white-and-yellow striped caterpillars munching on your milkweed leaves. The good news is that it’s really easy to grow. Enjoy it in pots, planters, or your landscape where it gets some sun and water when the soil starts to dry out. Note: This species of milkweed is a tropical and won’t survive freezing temperatures, but there are other milkweeds you can plant that do come back from the roots every spring.
Snapdragon: A favorite for early spring when the weather is cool (and a plant that continues blooming through summer and into fall) is snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus). It earned its common name because you can gently squeeze the back of the flower and watch it snap shut like a pair of jaws when you let go. In addition to its beauty, many snapdragon varieties are also delightfully fragrant. Just plant it in the sun, water when the top inch of the soil is dry, and enjoy its beauty. Note: Snapdragon is an annual, and needs to be planted every year.