Every garden bears a trace of Eden, as well as a trace of Gethsemane, so it's a place for us all to prepare our souls for God's beautiful plans.
My family and I are growing a garden. It’s a great blessing right now — a way not only to have fun but to supplement our diet with nutritious vegetables when it’s not always easy to get groceries. We started it last year to teach our children the value of hard work, of laboring as a family and for the family, of good nutrition and wholesome fun.
Back then we wanted to provide a stark contrast to the fast pace of the world around us, but now that the world has indeed slowed down, the garden seems even more important. It can keep us healthier, with our hands in the soil and sunlight in our hair. It teaches us hands-on lessons about the beauties of God’s creation and lets the kids make plenty of much-needed mud pies along the way. But the benefits don’t stop there. Gradually, we’ve come to realize how deeply gardening together strengthens the kids’ roots of faith and family.
Here are 15 ways to grow stronger roots of faith and bonds of love while playing in the dirt:
1Build raised garden beds ... from the ground up
Rather than purchasing pre-build garden beds, why not try building some from scratch as a family if you’re feeling handy. That way, you’ll be sure your raised beds are not chemically treated and you’ll be able to build them exactly to the size you desire. Our children loved helping to design and build these raised beds and the oldest even got to help use the tools. (Note: If you are self-quarantining, many home improvement stores now offer free delivery.)
2Choose your plants together
Trips to garden stores can become adventures, but if it’s still not possible where you are because of the pandemic, look online together. Make it fun: learning names of plants, discovering what you like the best, choosing which you’ll take home or order. This is a free way to teach children Horticulture 101, taking advantage of the opportunity to teach fun facts about countless blooms. (Note: If you are self-quarantining, many nurseries now offer free delivery.)
3Plant kid-friendly flowers, vegetables, and herbs
Choose ones that have a greater chance of appealing to young ones. Look for sensory-rich blooms with big fragrance like irises or jasmine, bold color like sunflowers, and easy to pick, tasty veggies like sweet peas. We love vegetables like zucchini and tomatoes, peas and carrots.Choose appealing herbs like basil and dill. We planted herbs of every kind from Simon and Garfunkel’s song“Scarborough Fair”!
4Build a butterfly/hummingbird garden
We built a special section of the garden and there we planted blooms that would attract butterflies or hummingbirds. You can choose flowers that attract these wonderful creatures and plant all in the same spot so the children can sit back and enjoy spotting these stunning garden visitors. If desired, make a little sign that says “Butterfly Garden” or line the area with a rock border to dedicate this special space.
5Install a fence around your garden and possibly a gated arbor ... together
This keeps unwanted critters away from your flower bulbs and tasty veggies and the children will enjoy helping to build it. Our fence makes the space feel as cozy as a cloister garden. A gated arbor is an addition we chose to add charm and whimsy.
6Give your garden a name and display it proudly on a plaque
We all know the power of a name; how it brings rich meaning. So to celebrate our hard work, we named our garden, put the title on a garden plaque, and the kids take pride in welcoming guests to it.
7Gather rocks and push wheelbarrows
Whether it’s filling a wheelbarrow with rocks for a border wall or emptying a bucket of weeds in the woods, gardening can be a way to build kids’ strength, sense of exploration, and confidence.
8Build grottoes or saints' gardens
Bring religious education outdoors! Choose the saints, shop around online for statues, plant flowers in tribute. My three-year-old greeted our new Sacred Heart of Jesus statue with a reverent hug and then my oldest selected roses and flame flowers for the garden below.
9Gather the harvest
Have the children pick the fruit when its ready; pick the peas off the vine and fill a basket with fresh basil.
10Reserve part of the garden area as a place to get messy
This could be where you keep your sandbox, where kids’ toy bulldozers can be filled with real dirt and mud pies can be made. After all, playing out in the soil is old-fashioned fun and is good for kids’ health, too! Bath time to follow!
11Have a gardening stay-cation!
No need to go away when you can play together right in your own backyard. You’re working together and helping each other at the same time, and priceless memories are being made right where you live.
12Cook together as a family using produce from the garden
Cut flowers from the garden for your dinner table centerpiece. Remember, children love to feel needed. So tell them how much the family really benefits from the work they contribute to the growing, harvesting and cooking of the food that graces your table!
13Have a picnic outside... in your garden!
As you eat, discuss gardening. It’s one topic every member of your family can enjoy, no matter the age! Some topics: What’s your favorite flower, what flower don’t we have that you’d like to get, etc. Discuss the experience of gardening together.
14Make stepping stones
Give your kids the summer they’ll never forget by imprinting their hand prints in concrete and placing in the garden as stepping-stones. What better way to let them know how much they are a part of your family garden!
Harvest fruits, vegetables and herbs to drop off on the front porch as a surprise to those who could use a boost or to share with a local food bank.
Why gardening is so good for you
How to make your garden a Catholic prayer space