The sun has been shining and people have a fresh spring in their step. Winter is over.
It’s time for hatching plans for the times of garden goodness ahead. Whether you have a little space or a lot, a garden close to home or further away, these ten kid-pleasing plants are guaranteed to bring more magic to your spring, summer and fall.
1. Berries, berries, berries
Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries–oh my! Nothing encourages grazing like easily-accessible berry plants. Strawberries do well in containers or can be grown in beds where they’ll create new plants each year. Choose an ever-bearing variety and enjoy fresh strawberries all summer. Blueberries (yum) are well suited to the west coast and make a nice landscape plant that doesn’t take up too much space. Plant two different varieties to get more berries from each plant.
If you don’t have space for your own berries just wait for blackberry season and explore local parks, paths and nearly every overgrown area and you’ll find enough blackberries to fill many bellies, make jam and stock your freezer.
You already know I am fan, but it bears repeating. Snow and snap peas are so sweet and delicious to eat fresh from the garden. They do well in the cool spring and can tolerate a lot of repeat pickings. Your spring plants will keep you in peas for a long time, but you can also replant into the summer if your plants are starting to produce less.
A tried and true classic, sunflowers can grow to awe-inspiring heights and have beautiful flowers that provide edible seeds loved by critters and birds, large and small. Sunflowers come in a whole range of colours and sizes, so you can grow ones that will be at kid-height or tower over you. Try planting them in a circle or square to grow your own summer sunflower house–a project I’d love to profile later in the season.
4. Pole beans
Another easy-to-grow, tall classic is the pole bean. Use long bamboo poles or a two-sided trellis to grow your beans into a teepee or tunnel shape that kids can crawl through, hide in and dream in. When they get hungry from their outdoor exploration a healthy, fresh snack will be close at hand.
Plant edible nasturtium flowers alongside your beans for added colour and impress big and small friends alike with flowers in your summer salads.
There wasn’t a person under five that could make it up our front stoop last summer without selecting a juicy cherry tomato as they passed by. Kids are no fools, nothing beats a homegrown tomato picked fresh off the vine and eaten while still warm from the sun. If you’d like to encourage a love of vegetables from a young age, growing your own cherry tomatoes is a great way to start.
When little hands have a chance to pull up the green bushy tops of carrots to find a familiar food growing under the soil it is sure to be a surprise that delights. Try planting some of the more unusual varieties for extra appeal–the Hendrix-inspired Purple Haze made a debut in our garden last year, the baby-sized Thumbelina is another hit.
I’ll admit that my success growing corn has been limited, but nothing beats a view of tall corn stocks waving in the breeze. And nothing says summer like the taste of fresh corn on the cob. For northern climes, try the quickest growing varieties–seed packages and catalog descriptions will list days to maturity. Painted Mountain is a stand out choice that matures quickly and has colourful ears perfect for drying and using as popcorn.
For some on-the-farm fun, this summer I am determined to get my family lost in a corn maze.
8. Sweet pea flowers
I am learning to love growing flowers as much as fresh vegetables, and sweet peas are the top choice for fragrant cut flowers that are easy-to-grow. Sweet peas are a garden workhorse that bring more nitrogen into your soil and will keep producing new stems of flowers as fast as kids can cut and fill as many vases and jars as they can find.
9. Fruit trees
You know this list is not in order of importance when fruit trees are #9. Growing up in northern Canada the only tree fruit we had were crab apples, which were more fun to throw than eat. I have vivid memories of stopping at fruit stands in the Okanagan and Fraser Canyon where our mouths would water over the sweetest, juiciest peaches and cherries we’d eat all year.
I am a forever convert to the love of fruit trees. The trend in fruit, even for commercial growers, are much smaller trees that are carefully pruned for maximum production in the smallest space. This is good news for the home-grower because there are now a lot of varieties that will give you great fruit without taking over your whole yard. For small spaces try columnar apples (they grow straight up) or create an espalier.
Even if you don’t have a lot of space you don’t need to miss out on the gift of summer fruit. I’ll post more on neighbourhood fruit gleaning and u-picks as the abundance of figs, plums, cherries and apples begins.
You can’t have a list of children’s favourites without including a mention of the great pumpkin patch. From this photo I look like the one having all the fun (only partially true), but c’mon selecting and carving pumpkins is a good time.
Pumpkins and squashes are easy even for new gardeners and the vines grow impressively long with big leaves. Warning: they will extend over your sidewalk or across your lawn if you let them.
Growing and selling pumpkins has long been the intro to farm business for the children of farmers. Bring this tradition to the city with your own pumpkin patch or come fall explore local farms and look for opportunities to connect your kids with the next generation of farmers.
Even though I squeezed more than ten plants into this top ten list there are so many more crowd-pleasing fruits, veggies and flowers to try. Please post some of your own favourites to share with other readers.
Thanks for reading and see you next week with a hands-on (hands-in-the-soil) project!
Bean teepee: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/mmwm/7673254524/”>mmwm</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>
Fruit tree: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/irfanahmed76/5257336256/”>Black-Z-ro [100,000+ views]</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>