Gardening with Kids

Getting kids into gardening can teach them about long-term sustainability.
Howard County Library System on Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0Getting kids into gardening can teach them about long-term sustainability.

For any parent or teacher hoping to get their kids interested in gardening, here’s one piece of advice: Go straight to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s gardens and horticultural center, located on the 36-acre Elm Bank Reservation in Wellesley, Mass. There, alongside the historic Italianate Garden, the Garden to Table Chef’s Garden, and the Food Pantry Garden, you’ll find Weezie’s Garden for Children, a magical green space made up of several small spiraling gardens, each with its own theme.

Simply laying eyes on this place will get most kids’ attention—Weezie’s delights include an enchanted woodland, a fairy house, and a vine teepee—but John Forti, director of horticulture at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, says it’s important for parents to remember to engage their kids in the landscape, not just turn them out to play. Whether a visit to MHS is on your agenda or you’re hoping to give those green thumbs a go at home, Forti shares the following strategies:

  1. Forti likes what he calls “story plants,” or plants that give kids a sense of place.
  2. He also suggests taking kids to farmers’ markets, where you can talk with the farmers about what they grow and how.
  3. And of course, grow your own! “Even without a yard, kids can grow herbs in pots on a windowsill, such as lemon balm for tea, basil and cilantro for salads, or currant tomatoes, which you can pop in your mouth like candy,” he says.

Among other benefits, Forti says gardening with kids can teach them about long-term sustainability, a sense of pride in working hard and then looking forward to seeing what they’ve grown, and a love of nature. “We live in a consumer culture,” he says. “Gardening is the antithesis of buying.”


  • To help families foster a love of gardening, Forti suggests the excellent Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children, by Sharon Lovejoy. This book includes 12 easy-to-implement ideas for theme gardens that parents and kids can grow together, plus a list of the top 20 plants guaranteed to make gardeners out of kids.
  • Tracy Kane, who built the fairy house at MHS, is the author of the award-winning Fairy Houses series. The first book, Fairy Houses, includes a how-to on making your own little structures out of found natural materials.
  • Learn about AMC’s Wee Wanderers for little kids, A Mountain Classroom for older kids, Outdoors Rx for city dwellers, and all of AMC’s youth programs.

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Kim Foley MacKinnon

Along with Ethan Hipple, Kim Foley MacKinnon writes AMC’s Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog. She is a Boston-based editor, journalist, and travel writer whose work has appeared in the Boston Globe, AAA Horizons, Travel + Leisure, and USA Today, among other publications. Kim has been writing about what to do and where to go in New England since her teenager was a toddler. Her latest book for AMC is Outdoors with Kids Boston.