Experience the Ultimate Garden: Missouri Botanical Garden
St. Louis is home to the nation's oldest botanical garden in continuous operation, and in the St. Louis region, it simply can't be beat for demonstration gardens, kids gardening activities and classes. On March 31 the garden reopens the Doris I. Schnuck Children's Garden, and the weekend includes lots of hands-on garden-related activities, said Jamaica White, the Missouri Botanical Garden's supervisor for interpretation. Kids can make their own seed packets, paint rocks to use as garden marker stones, plant in the edible garden, and take plants, like broccoli, lettuce or impatiens, home to put in their own yards. Visitors can also enjoy live music, listen to a reading of "The Lorax" and enjoy all the play areas of the children's garden. After March 31 the children's garden is open every day, and kids can get involved with tending and harvesting the garden's plants as needed, White said.
The Missouri Botanical Garden also offers parent-child classes for "Garden Buds," kids 4-6, and "Little Sprouts," kids 2-3. Youth classes are also available. For the latest class listing, visit the garden's website. The Missouri Botanical Garden is located at 4344 Shaw Blvd., St. Louis, Mo., 63110.
Pictured: A youngster does some plant investigating at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden.
Learn How Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa Gardened
At Willoughby Heritage Farm in Collinsville, Ill., the tradition of family farming in the 1930s-'50s is preserved and celebrated. Families can see historic structures, original tools and replica gardens (plus farm animals!). The farm is open to visitors daily from 9 a.m. until dusk and is located at 631 Willoughby Lane, Collinsville, Ill., 62234. Kids ages 8-12 can get their hands dirty in the farm's garden during the Junior Gardener Training program, Monday and Wednesday mornings from June 4 to 27. The class costs $41, and details are available on the farm's website. On Saturday, May 5, Willoughby celebrates its Heritage Day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with live demonstrations and garden activities perfect for families.
Join the Children's Garden Club
The Children's Garden Club, organized by St. Louis County Parks and Recreation, meets once a month to teach kids about gardening. Participation in the club is free, and no reservations are required. Upcoming topics include "fairy gardens," annuals and vegetables, grilling vegetables and more. The club's schedule is available on the St. Louis County Parks website.
Pictured: Scouts participate in the March garden club event at Sherwood Forest Nursery and Garden Center.
Plan Your Plantings at the Garden Expo
Visit Fort Zumwalt Park in O'Fallon, Mo., for the Garden Expo and Arbor Day Celebration, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 14. Talk to master gardeners, learn about the best plants for your yard, get a free sapling and let the kids play games, and make crafts and kites. Admission is free.
Attract Butterflies to Your Garden
Kids love watching butterflies flutter through a garden, and Tom Terrific will teach kids ages 10 and up and adults how to attract butterflies to their yards. He'll also share information about host and nectar plants and provide a tour of his own butterfly garden in Crestwood. The class, offered through Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center, is Saturday, April 14, at 10 a.m., and registration begins March 30. Learn more in the Sprout calendar.
Get Nutty at Treehouse Nature Center
The Treehouse Nature Center in Dow, Ill., offers nature activities for preschoolers once a month. The program, called "Nature Nuts," includes an activity, hike, snack and craft. On April 17, kids can plant seeds and decorate their own flower pots. Learn more in the Sprout calendar. Treehouse Nature Center is located at 23956 Green Acres Road, Dow, Ill., 62022.
If you live in a home without a yard or your yard isn't conducive to gardening, several area community gardens will rent you a plot or provide you one for free.
Boone's Lick Park in St. Charles offers vegetable garden plots for a refundable $50 deposit. Plots, which measure 15-by-15 feet, are still available to St. Charles residents. Call 636-925-0018 for details.
Gateway Greening can also help you find a community garden. The organization supports a network of 200 community and youth gardens, said Hannah Reinhart, community development coordinator. Families can adopt a plot for the season to grow their own fruits and vegetables. Visit the Gateway Greening website to find a garden close to home in St. Louis City or County. If you don't want to commit to a your own plot of land, families can also volunteer together in the Bell Community Garden.
If you're planting at home with kids and just starting out, White recommends growing plants with large seeds, like sunflowers or peas. "These are easier to plant for the little ones," she said. And she encourages over-planting in the likely event that plants get trampled or damaged by curious kids. Despite an unseasonably warm March, White recommends waiting to put more tender plants in the ground. For help planning your family garden, start with the Missouri Botanical Garden's website . Families are welcome to call the garden's horticulture answer line with specific questions.