Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Growing with a purpose gets kids, families involved

As I've said before, I really do miss you when I don't get this column in the paper each week. It's become such an important conveyer belt of information and sentiment I find that my week is incomplete when I'm unable to make the deadline. This article is a collaboration and I have to thank my assistant, Traci Zimmerman for pulling it together for me because if she hadn't it would have been another incomplete week!

Each year, garden and outdoor living experts put their heads together, look at surveys and look for consumer gardening trends. This year, according to Susan McCoy, president of the Garden Media Group, one of the top emerging trends is "gardening with a purpose".

Whether the purpose is to grow your own food, planting an extra row or two for the local food bank or planting more green space for the greater good, this trend is on the rise. Vegetable gardening is up nearly 20% and community gardens up 60%.

Gardening is a universal activity and can be enjoyed by people of all ages, including young children. Gardening teaches responsibility, offers short term and long term rewards and is something you can enjoy as a family. Harness their energy and curiosity by involving them in your garden.

Small children can help plant larger seeds such as corn, peas, beans, pumpkins and sunflowers. Give older children a space of their own and let them choose what they would like to grow. If you don't have a lot of space for a flowerbed or vegetable garden, plant a container garden.

Plant some quick growing and maturing seeds such as radishes in your garden spot. They germinate quickly and mature in about 3 weeks. Harvesting the little red balls is fun, even if the kids don't like to eat them. Other fast germinators are corn--5 to 7 days; cucumber--7 to 10 days; lettuce--7 to 10 days; and watermelon--5 to 7 days. Some flower seeds that are quick to germinate include Centaurea (bachelor 's buttons)--7 to 10 days; Dianthus (Sweet William)--5 to 10 days; Rudbeckia (gloriosa daisy)--5 to 10 days; ageratum--6 to 10 days; cosmos--5 to 7 days; sweet alyssum--8 to 15 days; zinnia--5 to 7 days; and marigold--5 to 7 days. Kids are tactile by nature so choose plants that are kid-friendly. Herbs such as lemon verbena and mint are wonderful aromatics and kids will recognize the fragrances.

One fun project is to design and plant a pizza garden. Choose plants that you can actually use in making homemade pizza - onion, garlic, basil, oregano and tomatoes. Or, use the shape of a pizza as a design inspiration and mark a big circle, divide it into wedges and plant a different plant in each wedge.

Do you remember making forts? You and your children can grow a couple of cool hideouts: a bean teepee.

To make a bean teepee, all you need is six tall poles, twine and pole bean seeds. Bamboo stakes that are nine to twelve feet tall will work great. The poles can be shorter, but that will make the roof of your teepee lower. Make a six-foot circle in the garden. Place your poles around the circle and poke them about three inches into the ground. Tie the tops of the poles together with twine and then stand back to admire the skeleton of your teepee. Plant bean seeds around your six-foot circle, but be sure to skip a two to three foot section for your entrance. Beans grow quickly and soon there will be a nice shady place to hide from the hot summer sun.

Remember to have your children help with the upkeep of the garden. The reward is the experience itself, however, fresh veggies and shady places to play in are fun, too!

Jim Gainan is president of Gainan's Flowers and Garden Center in Billings, MT. He can be reached via email at