Gardening with Kids… and a Brown Thumb


Our annual family trip to the local garden store feels like spring’s Christmas.

There are rows upon organized rows of lush greens, vibrant blooms, and budding saplings. Blossoms cascade from hanging baskets above and gravel crunches beneath our feet as we peruse the aisles.

I suddenly channel my inner Martha Stewart, empowered to landscape our lawn with a complementary design of annuals and perennials.

But, as I told my husband on the drive, I have to rein in my verdant dreams every spring with two truths:

  1. Our resident deer eat nearly everything we attempt to grow.
  2. My thumb is as brown as the day is long.

One year, I received an herb starter kit and buried the tiny seeds carefully and hopefully beneath the soil. I watered diligently… until I forgot. They grew accordingly: a little sprout at first, and then they seemed to give up.

Another year, we bought beautiful deer-resistant blooms, only to wake one morning to a beheaded pile of stems. We added this varietal to the lengthy “deer resistant unless they’re really hungry” list.

Indoors, I resigned myself to growing succulents… until I drowned them with kindness.

I decided this year would be different.


I bought my husband a raised garden planter box for Christmas. He grew up in a gardening family that valued the freshness and frugality of growing their own fruit and vegetables. To be fair, I have a similar gardening vein in my family tree, but it seems to have skipped a generation.

He dreams of growing a garden alongside our boys to teach them these values, while also enjoying the far-superior flavor of a homegrown tomato. I dream of growing herbs I can pluck from my backyard instead of overpaying for a small package at the grocery store.

In early May, the warm weather finally seemed ready to stay, and he assembled the 2×4 foot rolling cart on our patio. The boys pulled on my gardening gloves and excitedly helped fill the box with potting soil, with unfilled glove fingers flopping around their tiny tools.

We chose to grow tomatoes, grape “squirt” tomatoes (as named by our 4-year-old), cucumbers, sage, rosemary, basil and thyme. He fashioned stakes for the corners and surrounded them with chicken wire to keep the grazing deer at bay. The herb aromas that are hypnotic to us are also proven as deer turn-offs.

But wait! There’s more working against us.

Did I mention the chipmunk infestation? The wire won’t keep them out, so we plan to test out the Google-recommended sprinkling of cayenne pepper and coffee ground deterrent.

We’re two weeks into our experiment. The kids are excited to keep the greens watered and the soil full of worms they dug up from the yard. We’re not growing anything from seed, so I feel confident in being halfway to fruition with our plant babies.

This is our spring family experiment. Just as with raising children, this is our first time and we’re learning as we go.

We’ll teach and learn alongside our kids the values of patience, mistakes, and trying again. We’ll celebrate the satisfaction that comes with growing farm-to-table. Maybe – just maybe – the kids will waste less and be more willing to try a certain food after being part of the time and work that goes into its growth.

I’ve spied the kids peeking between the wires each day to check the progress of “Daddy’s garden,” and I can’t help but smile. Our thumbs may never be bright green, but we’ll have a family of hands deep in the simple joy of digging in the soil.


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