How-to-garden books sure to grow on kids

April 09, 1993|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Staff Writer

Getting kids interested in gardening doesn't require a lot of plotting and planning. They are drawn to dirt, and they're ready to become budding horticulturists as soon as they're old enough to grasp one crucial concept: They're supposed to put seeds and plants in the ground, not take them out.

Of course, if your vegetable beds become as weed-choked as many did during last summer's dry spells, a youngster given to yanking might come in handy. Just don't expect anyone under age 3 to discriminate between crab grass and corn seedlings.

The trick to gardening with kids is to keep it fun. You have to supply the patience, but here are a few books that can help by supplying ideas and hands-on advice.

lTC * "Let's Grow! 72 Gardening Adventures with Children" by Linda Tilgner, photographs by John M. Kuykendall (Garden Way Publishing, $10.95, all ages) is probably the best place to start, because it starts with plenty of guidelines to keep in mind when you're working the soil with kids.

For instance, choose crops that germinate quickly; let youngsters grow what they like to eat; keep your own garden maintenance tasks short, so that kids don't have to entertain themselves for too long; make sure safety rules are clear (kids should never taste any part of a plant unless an adult says it's OK).

And, my favorite: "Stop and 'smell the daisies' occasionally. Look at something wondrous, and wonder about it together."

The book also provides a bumper crop of projects that will keep kids busy, everything from growing a cucumber in a bottle and personalizing pumpkins to planting a Christmas tree farm. There are plans for a simple herb garden and directions on how to start growing a grapefruit tree on a windowsill. Plus, there's a chapter on gardening with kids who have physical or learning disabilities.

* "The Victory Garden Kid's Book: A Beginner's Guide to Growing Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers" by Marjorie Waters (Houghton Mifflin paperback, $12.95, all ages) is another excellent all-around reference. It's full of inviting color photographs and easy-to-follow diagrams that will be welcomed by adults who happen to be rookies in the garden.

Throughout the how-to-garden section there are insets on "The Yardstick Garden," a 3-by-3-foot plot that is marked off in a corner of the larger garden. Kids are encouraged to work that space on their own, and the instructions make it easy to progress from planting to watering to learning the organic way to control pests (pick 'em off!).

But the best part could be the "Kids' Crops" section at the back of the book -- a glossary of 30 vegetables, flowers and herbs that are popular and relatively easy to grow. For each, there are guidelines for: buying what you need, planting, taking care of the crop and harvesting. It's a quick source for trouble-shooting.

* For the youngest gardener, "How a Seed Grows" by Helene J. Jordan, illustrated by Loretta Krupinski (HarperCollins, $14, ages is a fine introduction to the mechanics of a miracle. Kids are encouraged to plant along with the characters in the book, placing bean seeds in eggshells filled with dirt and numbered one through 12.

After three days of water and sunshine on the windowsill, the egg carton full of seeds is ready for the research to begin. Kids are instructed to dig up seed No. 1 and see how much fatter it has grown. In two more days, they dig up seed No. 2 and observe how the skin has popped off. On it goes, as kids see root hairs poking out and, finally, the pale shoots pushing through the soil of the shells still in the carton.

* "Let's Get Growing: 25 Quick and Easy Gardening Projects for Children" by Joel Rapp, illustrations by Meg Hartigan (Crown Publishers, $7, all ages) focuses on indoor plants, though there is a chapter on outdoor gardening.

Mr. Rapp's breezy style makes it fun for anyone interested in plants; he never takes himself too seriously, but he knows what ** he's talking about. He appears regularly as "Mr. Mother Earth" on "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee," but don't hold that against him. It takes a thoughtful guy to include a recipe for guacamole on the page after instructions on how to start a tree from an avocado pit.

There are simple instructions on propagating plants and even a beginner's guide to bonsai. But I still have a hard time believing his Halloween hint. He claims he makes up little plastic bags with cuttings and/or seeds and hands them out to trick-or-treaters, who sometimes come back for more. Most kids in my neighborhood would prefer Baby Ruths to begonia cuttings.

* "Flowers for You: Blooms for Every Month" by Anita Holmes, illustrated by Virginia Wright-Frierson (Bradbury Press, $16.95, ages 7-10) also is geared to indoor gardening. Following some basic information on plant care, Ms. Holmes introduces 12 different flowering plants that are arranged by season, from African violets to a Christmas cactus.

Ms. Wright-Frierson's watercolor illustrations are pretty, and Ms. Holmes provides practical advice on how to provide the best environments for the 12 different blooms, as well as how to propagate and repot them.

This makes a fine gift for a flower fan who is just starting to get serious about gardening as a hobby.

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