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Learning to Grow in St. Charles: Give children the gift of gardening

Spend some time in the garden with children, playing and learning among flowers and vegetables.

Teach children about plant parts while growing and eating vegetables. Eat the leaves of lettuce, the roots of radishes and the flowers of broccoli and cauliflower.

Grow sauce for spaghetti. Plant a bush-type tomato plant in a large pot and a pepper plant and favorite herbs such as basil, oregano and chives in another. Have kids label the plants with Popsicle sticks, water them as they grow, and harvest the ingredients for the family’s favorite recipe.

Plant a butterfly garden in a pot. Let children paint a large terra cotta pot before filling it with potting mix and planting butterfly favorites such as ageratum, bachelor’s buttons, cosmos, lantana, pentas and zinnias.

Plant sunflowers. Their seeds are large enough for even the smallest hands to handle. Plants grow quickly and need little care. Dwarf varieties are available, but children love to watch them grow Jack-and-the-beanstalk tall.

Grow plants kids can’t resist touching. Lamb’s ears have soft, fuzzy foliage that begs to be petted. Sedums have plump, smooth leaves. And who can resist stroking the flowers of grasses that feel (and look) like fuzzy caterpillars? Fragrant foliage encourages touching, too. Lavender, rosemary and lots of herbs release fragrant oils when they are rubbed.

Plant a playhouse. Insert bamboo stakes in the garden in a circle at least 4 feet in diameter and tie them together at the top. Remember to leave space for a door. Plant a few seeds of pole beans and morning glories at the base of each pole, keep them well watered until seedlings sprout, and they’ll climb their way to the top by mid-summer.

Visit the horticulture building at the Kane County Fair this summer. Check out the entries by kids in 4-H, home gardeners and local farmers. Youth will be amazed at all the different flowers, fruits and vegetables on display.

Teach children about generosity and caring for others. Include some additional plants in the garden so there will be plenty to share. Take kids along when extra produce is donated to a local food pantry.

Grow flowers for cutting such as cosmos, gomphrena, snapdragons and zinnias. When a friend or neighbor needs cheering up, cut some, arrange them in a vase and deliver them together.

Share garden adventures with children this summer. It’s a gift that keeps on growing!

Diana Stoll is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. The “Learning to Grow” column runs weekly during warmer months of the year. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information. Feedback on this column can be sent to

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