Thursday, April 12, 2012

A First Garden, With Kiddos

   This post is dedicated to my drop-dead-gorgeous cousin Jen, who is actually my second cousin, but who feels like a sister in many ways. She and her husband Gabe recently moved to Colorado and are starting all kinds of wonderful new adventures there! They have four equally gorgeous and lovable children, two of whom are still in the "little kids" category. She is starting a new garden in their brand new back yard this spring.


   Can you even imagine my sympathy excitement? Is that a thing, like sympathy labor or sympathy pain? Not sure, but anyway, I am excited for her sake and I am excited because it brings back so many wonderful memories of starting new gardens myself and of growing things with my own little chickens. My own little human chickens.


   Jen and I had the chance to chat on the phone yesterday about how to start. What tools to buy, which supplies are really necessary, selecting edibles versus flowers, etc. Compost, even! We touched on everything except insects. And for the next two hours gardening was all I could think about. I kept wanting to call her back and tell her more things I have tried and learned over the handful of years I've been sort of doing this, but life goes on. We both had things to do.

   So here ya go, Jen! Here is the sum total of what I would tell you if we could spend the day together in the dirt:

  • Have fun! Have so much fun. Let yourself fall in love with the magic and pleasures of gardening before you seek out the worry or overabundance of detail that is out there. Do NOT get your soil tested yet. Just touch it with your bare hands. A lot. Get dirt manicures regularly.

  • Find your favorite times of day to be in the garden, ideally one time when you can regularly be with the kiddos and Gabe and another when you can regularly be there alone. The garden is different in the morning than it is as night. Explore. Be there often. Watch it evolve, fall in love. Try visualizing how it might look in a week, a month, a year... Decorate it if you want to. Have a comfy chair nearby, take meals and drinks out there... Live there a little bit. Lend yourself to the garden and it will be yours.

  • Get really, really dirty and if possible be barefoot anytime you're outside. Hose yourselves off instead of tiptoeing to the shower! Once it's warm enough let Louie & Riley shampoo their hair outside, and take pictures.

A backyard beauty shop, post AWESOME mud monster party, in Oklahoma City. Circa 2001.

  • Read about other gardens for inspiration more than for science. The science will come, as will the wisdom of plain old trial and error. I mean, mostly what plants need are soil, sun, and water. Bam. 

  • Buy cheap seeds and lots of them. In fact, I might send you some. No need to start them indoors; I only do that because my chickens are ill mannered. My chicken-chickens, not my human-chickens. My human-chickens have great manners!

  • Do that composting thing we talked about, it will make a big difference AND you will feel extra cool and hipsterish for sending less trash to the curb every week. Let Louie be in charge of that if he wants to. Take pictures.

  • There is such a thing as worm farming, and I bet you have somewhere in town that knows about it. Get a little carton of earthworms or maybe ladybugs for the kiddos and let them be "farmers." It's good for the garden, but mostly it is so much fun. Take pictures.

  • There are more easy-to-grow things than not, and you'll gradually find your favorites and shape your own garden style. Most stuff is cheap, and there is no shame in buying a flat of bright, cheerful annuals for instant gratification! 

  • Make friends with other gardeners.

  • But don't take them too seriously or let anyone discourage you; just enjoy their company and trade plants now and then.

  • Pull weeds after a good rain or a deep watering, and remember that one good, slow, deep watering per week is a lot healthier than a quick, shallow watering every day.

  • Teach the kids to eat veggies straight out of the garden, just knocking the dirt off on their jeans or rinsing them under the hose. Joc had eaten one thousand sugar snap peas this way, and Jess has eaten as many baby carrots. They seemed to like snacking on what thy had personally planted and tended. Coming home from school on springtime afternoons or taking swim breaks in the summer, they were always eager to see what was ripe for picking.

  • Plant all kinds of lettuce seeds between your plants instead of using store-bought mulch. It's cheaper, healthier, edible, and (in my humble opinion, but you should you decide for yourself) prettier. Plus, if Miss One Year Old takes a tumble, she won't skin her little pink knee on a bed of lettuce. Cutie. xoxo

  • Let the kiddos plant something they want, no matter what it is. Even consider designating a little spot "Louie's Mud Garden" or "Riley's Wildflowers" or something. Take pictures.
The girls learned how to trim lettuce with scissors and watch it grow back thicker each time.
We were never low on salad with them on patrol!
Look how professionally they crouch in the garden... It's in their blood for sure.

French Breakfast radishes, long and white, more mild then the red ones, really delicious.

  • Straight lines and perfect rows are optional. Let the kids decide your shapes if you are brave. Take pictures.
Spicy red radishes harvested after school.

On the far left are young sugar snap pea vines about to explode into growth and yumminess.
Then lettuces, spinach, and arugula. All planted and maintained by those pretty little ladies.

Proof that a veggie garden does not need to be big or fancy to be productive and memorable.

  • These things are almost guaranteed charmers, plus they're quick: sunflowers, zinnias, carrots, hyacinth beans vines, morning glories, radishes, lettuces, strawberries, green beans, pansies, and cannas.

  • These things are worth every little bit of work and wait: Tomatoes, sugar snap peas, all melons and gourds, all peppers, roses, and cucumbers.

  • Do not plan to sow seeds one weekend then walk away. Allow yourself the luxury of an ongoing affair with your garden... Work on it a little here, a little there... Enjoy it, have fun, let your plans change along the way, add color, edit plants, move things, eliminate things, let your kids learn with you and let yourself learn from them... Plant continuously, grabbing a packet of seed every time you visit the grocery store! You don't need a big budget. Those ten for $1 seeds are awesome, as are the 75-cent flower babies. Let the kids fall in love with gardening, too. They will never forget it. xoxo

I love you Jen.
Take pictures.
I wish I had more.


  1. i just adore your list! there is so much practical advice but tons of beauty and soul too.

    1. Hi Monica!! Thank you...xoxo We have been lucky to live in the midst of a lot of beauty, that's for sure.

  2. Beautiful! Can I have a garden, too, if I don't have kids? I'll invite people to bring their kids. And take pictures.

    1. I consulted with Mia on this. We agree that kids are not NECESSARY to all gardens, but they do lend a certain magic. Ganders do too, he wants you to remember. How grows your Texas veggie patch, by the way?

  3. Love the list, Marie. I love growing zuchinni and so do the kids - my boy still talks about the giant squash I used to grow for them - and the zuchinni bread I make every year.

    Gardening was my sanctuary when my kids were little - something I would spend hours in alone, creating and "being one with nature". Now it brings me peace as I remember those days when the kids were young.

    1. Zuchinni, of COURSE! I totally forgot about that. How cool that your son remembers it. Are you maybe gonna post a recipe for us this summer? pretty please?

      Yep, sanctuary for me too. Lots of thinking done there over the years. I can't imagine living where I couldn't have at least a bowl of lettuce growing. xoxo Thanks for sharing this, btw sweet woman!

      Hey maybe one day we'll both have a chance to teach our grandchildren how to garden! That would be amazing.


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