Getting children into the garden at a young age can be a great way to start a lifelong appreciation for the outdoors, nourish oneself with healthy food, and develop a new skill—in this case, growing flowers. Unfortunately, not all flowers are easy to grow and many require wait times that outlast a child’s patience.
Luckily, there are several flowers that grow quickly, are hardy despite poor weather or growing conditions, and best of all, feature eye-catching blooms. Additionally, all of these can be grown in pots or directly in the garden. Put on a pair of gardening gloves, pull out the seed catalog, and get ready to grow.
When I lived in San Diego, nasturtium spread like wildflower along highways, turning dirt hillsides into bright blankets of orange and red and yellow when the blooms arrived in spring. Despite infrequent rainfall and eroded soil, nasturtium return year after year. With sufficient watering, imagine how well these colorful plants can grow.
Nasturtium does best in poorer soil, so save the fertilized soil for your vegetables and plant from seeds in a location with full sun (for those sowing seeds earlier in the season, plant indoors 6 weeks before the last spring frost).
Both the leaves and the flowers are edible, making them a safe and fun plant for children. The leaves have a peppery taste that works well in salads, and the flowers offer a dash of color in otherwise bland-looking meals. If you’ve never made your own capers, give nasturtium capers a try by pickling their bright green seed pods.
2. Sweet Peas
If the first sign of summer is blooming lilac bushes, then the first smells of spring are sweet peas. Sweet peas grow like peas and need to be supported by a trellis or fence. Their colorful blooms range from white, pink, lilac, and magenta, to purple, burgundy, and even blue.
Plant seeds in early spring for best success and aim to find plenty of shade for their roots which dislike full sun and hot temperatures. To extend their blooms, clip flowers (also known as deadheading) to keep new blooms coming all summer long.
Unfortunately, sweet peas are toxic; no part of this plant should be eaten. Still, children and adults alike can enjoy their sweet smells and have fun creating bouquets.
Sunflowers aren’t often thought of as the giraffes of the flower world, but these heliotropic, sunshine-yellow flowers can grow up to 16 feet. Following the sun, sunflowers turn their heads during the day which can spark curiosity in kids while also providing a chance to explain the importance of sunshine.
Sunflowers are relatively easy to grow, requiring long periods of sunlight and drier soil. Seeds are best planted directly in the ground, but watch for birds that may try to take the seeds—chickadees, in particular, are big fans.
Once the blooms have been enjoyed and the sunflower seeds have matured, harvest the head of the sunflower. Kids in particular will enjoy rubbing their hands across the head to loosen the sunflower seeds. Dry the seeds, then store for future use (like in this recipe for kid-friendly energy balls).
As monarch butterfly numbers plummet, milkweed becomes even more important. This tall green plant produces yellow, orange, and reddish flowers that attract monarch butterflies. Why? Because this is the only food source for monarch caterpillars.
Milkweed can be grown indoors during spring or can be sown directly into the ground after the last frost. That said, most native plant nurseries sell this colorful flower. Plant the milkweed in the ground and watch the monarch lifecycle take place in your own garden.
Marigolds are bright, perky flowers that are often planted alongside tomatoes in companion gardening, but these annuals bring their own benefits. Along with their petals being eaten and sprinkled into salads, marigolds dry well to produce long-lasting bouquets and their ability to thrive best in full sun allows their seeds to be sown all summer long.
Marigolds may be well-suited to kids who aren’t old enough to take full responsibility for watering their plants. While marigolds do best with being watered once a week, most flowers will do fine with intermittent rainfall.
To ensure your kids see blooms all summer long, cut off dead flowers.