Guest blogger Judith Fertig is an Overland Park-based writer of food and lifestyle stories, cookbooks, and food-based novels. Check out her work at www.judithfertig.com.
No matter where we live, whether we have kids or grandkids or feel like kids ourselves, there is a way to have a garden. Anywhere there is decent sunlight for several hours a day can be a great spot to grow plants.
You can use the best advice of real estate professionals: location, location, location. Design professionals: edit, edit, edit. And kids: fun, fun, fun. Then you can create tiny gardens that pique kids’ interest in growing good things to eat.
When my co-author Karen Adler and I wrote The Gardener and the Grill: The Bounty of the Garden Meets the Sizzle of the Grill, we had large outdoor as well as indoor/outdoor container gardens in mind.
For any kind of a container garden, you first have to have a suitable container with good drainage. Many lightweight pots have circles on the bottom to indicate where you drill through to create a hole. Next comes potting soil, enriched with premixed fertilizer, if you like. Then the plants.
Almost anything can hold a garden. Brenda Wrischnik of Hoot Owl Hill near Paola grows melons and squash in an old cast iron tub she painted turquoise.
Plant. Water. Grow. Pick. Eat! Here are five ideas to get you started.
1. Lemonade garden on the windowsill. This is a great way to introduce kids to aromatic herbs; they can add them to a beverage they already love. Choose a sunny windowsill with a wide-enough ledge that will hold a sturdy indoor window box with a clear plastic liner to catch the watering overflow, or several small terra cotta pots with saucers. Let kids help pick the plants to grow by visiting a plant nursery and rubbing the scented leaves to get the aroma. You might consider basil, bergamot, lemon balm, mint and all kinds of scented geraniums.
To aromatize the lemonade, start by making a simple syrup of 1 cup water and 1 cup cane sugar. Combine in a saucepan over medium-high heat just until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add a handful of fresh herb sprigs. Cover and let steep for 30 minutes. Strain out the herb stalks. Mix the flavored syrup with fresh lemon juice for lemonade.
2. Rainbow garden on the terrace. This garden engages kids’ sense of color and pattern. Use a medium container about 18 inches in diameter. Choose a center climber that you will have to stake, then choose different colored plants that look good and are delicious with it. Here are some combinations to try:
- Baby purple eggplant as the center climber surrounded by marigolds and purple basil
- Purple kale (it doesn’t climb, but stands up tall) ringed with hot pink petunias and violas.
- Yellow teardrop tomato with Genovese basil and multi-colored zinnias around it.
3. Salsa garden on the patio. Apartment dwellers can enjoy gardening, too. A pot full of colors, shapes, and green leaves doesn’t take up much room. Plant cherry tomatoes, cilantro and jalapeno peppers and have your kids make the freshest of salsas.
4. Pizza garden by the back door. If you grill pizzas and flatbreads, what better way to top them than with fresh ingredients? Cherry tomatoes, baby arugula, Italian parsley, basil or whatever your kids like can go from pot to pizza.
5. Salad garden at school. When school starts again and the weather gets cooler, it’s the perfect time to grow salad gardens. Salad greens scorch in hot weather, but love spring and fall. Have kids scatter mesclun (French for “mixed”) salad green seeds over soil in pot, top gently with more potting soil and keep watered and sunned. Even kids who don’t think they like salad will get a kick out of tasting greens they’ve grown from seed. Pass the ranch dressing!