Professor Elizabeth Shrader, advisor for the Environmental Club and Campus Community Garden at the Community College of Baltimore County Essex campus, shares her tips for gardening with your family this season.
BC: How can gardening be a fun activity for families?
Elizabeth Shrader (ES): Gardening can be fun for the family when approached with a sense of adventure and curiosity. Adults should model that excitement and a positive attitude. Sharing joy is the most important part. At the end of the day, the positive shared experience is what children will remember.
BC: Do you have any tips or advice for families who want to create gardens?
ES: Remember that this activity is supposed to be fun! Keep in mind the age of the children and other family members involved and try to keep the activities within their attention spans.
Always start small. You can expand a garden bed or add more containers. Make sure the plants you are working with are safe for little hands. Avoid anything that could be dangerous to ingest or has thorns and barbs.
KidsGardening.org has terrific resources. Your local 4-H group probably has terrific resources too (learn more at https://extension.umd.edu/resources#!/category/10).
If you are planting ornamentals, try to use native plants for your area. These plants will encourage beneficial wildlife (find ideas at fieldmuseum.org/blog/five-native-plants-grow-your-home-garden).
BC: What supplies would you need and recommend for gardening?
ES: At a minimum, a sunny space. Most easy-to-cultivate plants need at least eight hours of full sun.
If you are using containers, use a high-quality potting soil. If you are planting directly in the ground, be sure to test the soil before growing vegetables to make sure it is safe. The soil around older homes should be tested for lead if you are growing vegetables; there is less concern if you are only growing ornamental plants. Adding compost is always a good idea when starting new gardens.
Gloves, shovels, trowels and cultivators should be appropriately sized for the participants.
Look for seeds or plants that are appropriate for your space … you don’t want to plant a big tree next to the foundation of a building or in a small pot. You don’t want to plant a delicate tropical flower where it will be exposed to cold and wind. Talk to your local garden center to find what works well in your area.
BC: What plants do you recommend for beginning gardeners and in what ways can families use them?
ES: Always plant and grow things you like. If you are going to grow plants for food, then choose those which you really enjoy but might not be able to find easily in the store. Heirloom tomatoes and culturally relevant peppers are a good place to start. We are growing ‘Pink Brandywine’ heirloom tomatoes and fish peppers at the Community Garden this year.
If you are more interested in ornamental plants, lavender smells wonderful. Zinnias have bright, fun flowers. These plants are terrific for pollinators like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds too. All of these plants can be grown in containers, although you will want a very large container for a tomato plant because it has a significant root system.