It’s almost summer. Which means that many of you are wistfully gazing out the window each morning, sipping your coffee and pondering important life questions like, “How in the world am I going to keep my kids out of trouble this summer?”
We’ve got your answer, and it’s called a garden! But planting one isn’t as simple as just throwing a bunch of seeds on the ground (which is why it’s the perfect family activity). It takes a little planning, some old-fashioned TLC, and a good dose of elbow grease.
For many of us, the acts of planting, watering and nurturing seedlings are a part of our precious childhood memories. We remember anxiously waiting for that first glimpse of life to peek out from under the dark, rich soil. We cherish the days spent with parents, siblings or neighbors, just watching our gardens grow.
Here are some ways you can carry on that tradition by creating your own family garden (and keeping your kids busy at the same time), with five family gardens to make your summer fun:
Even if your kids resist eating their vegetables, it’s a whole different ballgame when they can pick them fresh from the garden. Besides, everyone knows that homegrown produce tastes better! Some of the easiest vegetables to grow are carrots, tomatoes, radishes, potatoes and peas.
And speaking of peas, add a playful touch to your garden by constructing a bean pole teepee. Start with six to eight bamboo poles or thin wooden rods. They should be tall enough to accommodate the height of your child. Tie the ends of the pole together, then spread out the other ends in a circular teepee formation. Push the ends securely in the soil, and then plant garden peas or any other type of climbing vines around the base. As they grow and climb the poles, your kids will have a natural fort in which to play.
Who doesn’t love saying hello to butterflies on a summer day? If you want to attract these little beauties, start by choosing a sunny, open area (they need space to fly). Be sure to refrain from using any pesticides, as they will rid your garden of butterflies, natural predators and other beneficial insects. In addition, consider the following:
- Wind-protected areas work best. Trellises, short brick walls, fencing or dense shrubs can serve as wind barriers.
- Clusters of plants (large groupings of shapes and colors) are easier for butterflies to find, as they have poor eyesight from a distance.
- Since male butterflies naturally gather around watering holes, add a bowl of wet sand or create mud puddles nearby.
- Butterflies love rotting fruit and tree sap. You can make your own concoction with a mixture of mashed rotten bananas, molasses, sugar, stale beer, fruit juices and water. It might sound nasty to us humans, but spread it over garden rocks and watch what happens!
Fruit gardens take patience and time, but the pay-off is worth it. Some fruits take more than one season to produce, so make sure you do your research before choosing your plants.
Strawberries are probably the most common in family gardens, mainly because they’re so versatile. You can plant them in containers, hanging baskets, window boxes and of course, flower beds. They do well in most soil types, but will do best in well-drained sandy loam or loam soils.
Blueberries are popular too, but require a bit more attention to soil. The good news is they have few pest problems, and are consistently productive.
If you’re really feeling daring, give tropical fruit a try! Even though the Midwest zone is not ideal, it’s possible to grow things like rose apples, dwarf common figs, star fruit or persimmon.
Most kids love water, so it only makes sense that they’ll love getting their hands wet with a water garden. The good news is that they don’t have to be big, expensive ponds or fancy waterfalls. In fact, you can create delightful water gardens in small containers (ideally 24”W x 18”D), made of plastic or clay … even wood, as long as you make them water tight with durable plastic liners or layers of sealant.
Cluster different container sizes and types together around your patio, or use them to accentuate decks, fences or seating areas. Choose plants that contrast in size and color for dramatic displays, including tall, spiky varieties and softer, marginal plants.
With water gardens, less is better. Too many plants crammed in one small space will cover up the water and defeat its purpose! And if you’re worried about mosquitoes, you can wash out the larvae by overfilling the container, or even add a few mosquito fish.
If you don’t have suitable garden space, or if you just want to liven up an empty wall or fence, then vertical gardens might be just the answer for you. This doesn’t mean that you’re just going to plant climbing vines, it means that you’re actually going to create a vertical space in which to grow plants.
Some of the best plants that work well with vertical gardens are vegetables (like the pole beans we already talked about), fruits like grapes or strawberries, and flowering plants like creeping phlox or morning glories.
If you’re working with a fence or existing vertical structure, a few small touches can create the perfect environment for your plants, like:
- Adding string to eaves
- Attaching eye-hooks to porches
- Securing sections of chained link fence
If you don’t have an existing vertical structure, you can get started with a makeshift trellis (depending on how handy you are), or purchase vertical growing kits, grow bags or hanging planters.
Ready, set, go!
If you’re ready to get busy with a fun family garden, we’re here to help! Just contact us with questions or concerns. Don’t forget to take pictures and post them here … we’d love to see what you come up with!