Three gardening books for children

– Posted in: Book reviews, Fruit, Pests, Plagues, and Varmints, Seeds and Seed Starting, Vegetables
15 comments

Even young children take gardening seriously and want to succeed. (Photo by Cadence Purdy)

Even young children take gardening seriously and want to succeed. (Photo by Cadence Purdy)

Many gardening books for children take what I think of as the art project approach: here’s what you need, this is what you do, isn’t that cute?, now show it to Grandma. Very few books out there take children–or a child’s interest in gardening–seriously.

I prefer to regard children as apprentice gardeners, gradually acquiring more skills as the years go by, working their way up (at their own pace and interest level) to journeyman and eventually master gardener. As much as possible, I like to let them choose their own projects, plan the execution of them, and solve their own problems. Here are three books, supposedly for adults, that do just that.

The Veggie Gardener’s Answer Book by Barbara J. Ellis serves apprentice gardeners well in several ways. It is small enough to be manageable in young hands, with a wipe-clean cover that can take visits to the garden without falling apart. The question-and-answer format makes it easy to zero in on a topic of burning interest or flip open to a random page and still grasp what’s being discussed. And it asks–and answers–lots of questions, everything from what are the easiest crops to grow to how can I make weeding go faster to how do I cope with a garden that got out of control? The first part of the book covers general gardening techniques and the second part gives advice on specific crops. There’s also a glossary, a bibliography, and a handy chart to help you determine how much to plant out of that generous seed packet. It truly is a “knowledegable gardening friend,” as the introduction suggests, a friend who doesn’t talk down to you, because the book was written for adults.

Wherever there’s plants, you know there’s going to be bugs, and Good Bug, Bad Bug by Jessica Walliser helps the novice garden determine friend from foe. The spiral-bound format of this book makes it easy to flip through, but it’s the index that makes it really useful. Look up the plant that has the bug on it, and it will give you all the pages that have bugs that frequent that plant. (By doing so I learned that sawflies were gobbling up my rose’s leaves.)

The bugs are easily identified by the photographs. Each bug gets a two-page spread that describes the damage it does and suggests preventive actions, live biological controls, organic product controls, and additional information when available. For example, adult cutworm moths are a favorite food of bats, so a good way to reduce cutworms in your garden is to encourage bats. Similar information is provided for the good bugs: who they control, and how to attract and keep them. All remedies are organic, but I especially like that the emphasis is placed on providing natural enemies of the pest and controlling environmental factors, before resorting to sprays and powders. If the bug in question isn’t in this book, it’s time to call in the grownups.

Don’t Throw It, Grow It!: 68 windowsill plants from kitchen scrapsby Deborah Peterson and Millicent Selsam is a good remedy for boredom all year round, but especially in the northern winters when outdoor gardening is impossible. This book goes way beyond avocado pits and carrot tops, teaching you how to grow not only familiar vegetables, fruits, and nuts, but also branching into herbs and spices, and produce from Latin American and Asian cuisines. You could get an education just finding some of these. Oops. Did I say education? Fortunately, since this is a book for grownups, there is none of that didactic, it’s good-for-you tone that ruins many a juvenile trade book.

Grow enough of these groceries, and you’ll learn many seed germination and plant propagation techniques–and have fun doing it. Did you know fenugreek was a legume? Did you ever consider growing beets for a holiday centerpiece? Peterson tells some funny stories on herself as well; her spirit of experimentation is contagious. I can’t think of a better way to relieve the winter doldrums than to go shopping in the supermarket for a plant to grow. As the author advises: “Always buy two of each–one to grow and one to eat.”

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.

~Margaret Atwood in

14 Comments… add one

Jamie Jobb September 14, 2011, 5:42 pm

Rockwren should know I was never a “hippie” so that’s not an accurate description for what was basically an “organic” primer for children. And I don’t like the word “organic” either … because chemical gardening did not come first! The original gardening was “organic” and “chemical” gardening is the activity that should carry around a burdensome label.

I do appreciate the recognition for this forgotten book, however. When it came out in 1977, it was in a series of three Sierra Club Books for children. One of those was on the Book of the Month Club list (“the Sierra Club Summer Book”) and the other won a National Book Award (“The View from the Oak”). So My Garden Companion went home a pumpkin! Nice for you to savor it these many years later.

All the best, Jamie Jobb

Andrea (Heavy Petal) December 3, 2008, 3:33 pm

Thanks for the great post! My little one is still a bit young to be gardening with me, but I’ll be buying these for her in a couple of years!

Kathy Purdy December 4, 2008, 6:28 pm

I’m glad you found the review helpful, Andrea. But don’t forget, these books were written for adults, so you don’t need to wait. They just might help you now.

Theresa/GardenFreshLiving December 1, 2008, 9:59 am

Thanks so much for the wonderful book suggestions. I did not have any of these books on my shelf, but plan on getting them ASAP – especially the “Grow It” book. What fun!

Another book that my children and I like for gardening is called: “The Children’s Kitchen Garden” by Georgeanne & Ethel Brennan. It is written as a garden book for an apprentice rather than a “project” book. Each veggie or herb has information such as days to harvest, growth habit, etc. But it also gives information on how that veggie or herb can be used in the kitchen. A nice addition to the information.

Layanee November 21, 2008, 12:25 am

Great suggestions and timely too!

Dee/reddirtramblings November 19, 2008, 9:24 pm

I like how you think of children as apprentice gardeners because that’s what they are. They are growing and learning and lucky to have you to guide them.~~Dee

Mr. McGregor's Daughter November 19, 2008, 5:23 pm

You’re right about most gardening books for children. These look like a much better alternative.

TC November 19, 2008, 5:19 pm

Ms. Kathy,

I too am a member of GWA and was wondering how I might add their logo image with clickable link to my blog as you have it in your “Affiliations” column. Might I bother you for assistance with this please? Thanks!

TC November 19, 2008, 4:59 pm

I have Good Bug Bad Bug and can vouch for its usefulness for me, an adult gardener. I see no reason why it wouldn’t work for kids too. That is if you have kids that aren’t afraid of bugs.

Kathy Purdy November 19, 2008, 4:41 pm

Thanks, Rockwren. I will have to track those down.

rockwren November 19, 2008, 2:25 pm

I’m glad to know about these. I’m always on the lookout for garden books of this caliber. There are two treasures in my library that all the children in my life have enjoyed. Both are out of print, but worth watching eBay and used book services for:

Children and Gardens by the great English garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll, is a wonderful introduction to English gardens, garden design and landscaping – including the art of utilizing a proper playhouse for genuine gardening and entertaining activities.

My Garden Companion by Jamie Jobb – a 1970s book with a bit of a “Hippie” slant, but full of useful information for beginning gardeners of all ages, and absolutely captivating pen and ink illustrations.

Cheers, Rockwren

Colleen Vanderlinden November 19, 2008, 9:10 am

What a great selection! I agree with you about the tone of many books written for children about gardening. I haven’t read any of these yet, but I suspect a couple of them may be under the tree for our older girls this Christmas. Especially the bug one—my 3 year old loves bugs :-)

Carol, May Dreams Gardens November 18, 2008, 11:19 pm

I think I just figured out what to get my sister’s three kids for Christmas! Great post!

eliz November 18, 2008, 11:11 pm

Excellent post. We are doing gardening for kids in our May issue.

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