Best Plants for Little Gardeners

THIS WINTER, MY daughter, Nora, took a nasturtium seed from a year-old packet, planted it in a clay pot, placed it in the window, and forgot about it on a regular basis. When I discovered it bone-dry, I watered it, but warned her that she should not expect to see it sprout. It's now a thriving, sprawling plant in our back yard.

If you want to start your little ones on the path to a love of gardening, here are some excellent child-proof plants:

Nasturtium. Large, easy-to-handle seeds that sprout under less-than-ideal conditions grow into a plant that thrives on poor soil and neglect. All parts are edible (and tasty), and it's pretty besides, with distinctive round leaves and brightly colored flowers.

Zinnia. Smaller seeds that nonetheless sprout easily and, most importantly, are a real butterfly magnet. After Martin was able to pet a monarch that was contentedly drinking from a tall zinnia, he has insisted on growing these in our garden every year. Plant them where they'll get a good breeze to help prevent powdery mildew.

Sunflowers. Martin truly marveled when the leaves grew bigger than a plate and the flower surpassed even Michael Jordan in height. And the squirrel sitting on our back fence eating the entire seedhead as though it were a big hamburger was pretty funny, too.

Scarlet Runner Bean. Make a teepee or tunnel of sticks for this climber and you'll grow a great outdoor play space. The pretty bright red flowers that attract hummingbirds mature to edible beans by the end of the summer.

Sugar pod peas. Pretty climbers that make good eating raw right in the garden. You can plant a row of these in late July for a fall harvest, too. So what are you waiting for -- spring?

Bulbs. Any and all hardy bulbs make great kid-friendly plants because they are big and easy to handle, and allow kids to set the stage for their own harbingers of spring. I always have lots of helpers to place these in the holes I dig. And how the neighbor kids do smile when the colorful blooms greet them in spring and I remind them that they made it happen.

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