Zoë, my six year old daughter, and I spend lots of time with plants and flowers. It helps, of course, having your own little after hours “Garden Park”; aka Bloom Garden Shop.I’ve owned and operated Bloom Garden Shop in South Tampa for over 8 ½ years.

When I realized that Zoë was on the Autistic spectrum, I knew that gardening might be a significant benefit to her. At first, Zoë was not all that interested in the flowers. At the time as well asnow I have rows and rows of annuals and perennials for sale on long tables at the front of the shop. Instead, she loved to run around the tables and gather rocks and other garden findings that she could organize together in one of her unique collages.

Later, she developed a love for flower petals. I used to call her my Little Katydid, as she could shred up the whole place in 5 minutes flat! After Zoë’s petal crush trend waned, she started and continues to tear foliage. Thick, shiny leaves mainly, are the leaves of choice.

With my kids’ love of plants and flowers at heart,  I am currently creating a Raised Garden which Zoë, Oliver (my four year old son who attends Elementary School, ELP program), and all of our little potential green thumb guests at Bloom can enjoy.

Keeping in mind that many kids will tear and chew on leaves, I decided to plant only edibles. Edibles include Veggies, Herbs and Flowers such as Pansies, Violas, Sunflowers and Marigolds. All of which help keep Nematodes away from your garden – Marigolds also ward off Evil spirits (if you are superstitious!).

We now sell Raised Garden kits, so I used one from the shop to start our garden. It is particularly important to choose an area that gets at least a half day of sunlight. Another important aspect is to use quality potting soil for your Raised Garden. The most important elements of your soil are texture (for rooting purposes – keep it light and fluffy with a slight density) and the nutrients your new plants will need.  Simply put, don’t skimp on the potting soil. A Pro-grade is recommended. Otherwise, buy a soil that says it is good for container gardens.

When laying out your raised bed, place the material that will grow taller towards the back. I am planning with my bed to grow Sunflowers from seed. Sunflowers, as well as Nasturtiums, are surprisingly easy to grow from seed.  The  Sunflower seeds will be put towards the back, creating a bold block of yellow color. Then, perhaps, will be Eggplants, Tomatoes and Peppers, all planted in front of the Sunflowers.

Cascading down the front of the bed, tried and true winners such as Thyme, Nasturtiums, Mint or Oregano, would work nicely.  It can also be fun to plan a few trellises within the Raised bed for veggies which several will need vertical growing space.

Texture is another key consideration in my garden plan.  Plants such as Lamb’s Ear (a perennial) and scented geraniums, such as Nutmeg  and Chocolate Scented Geraniums have a soft, fuzzy texture. Other plants may have a feathery texture such as Fennel and Dill or a stiffer texture that I’m sure Zoë will like to tear and smell such as Rosemary, Tomato and Bay Leaves.

Everything in this garden will have a great smell. Tomato leaves are one of our favorites. Arugula and Mint – especially Penny Royal Mint – as well as Lavender, Rosemary, Basil, Oregano, Fennel, Dill, Chives, Sage and so on and so forth are all potential candidates for the Raised Garden.  All of these are wonderful to smell, to feel, to pinch, to eat, AND, to use in Aromatherapy.  I enjoy cutting a clump of Rosemary Spires and tying them into a bouquet to hang from the shower head. Rosemary’s invigorating smell is revealed when steam from the hot water reaches the bouquet.

Once everything is planted, watering is the next important order of business. Children love to help water and which is not only a good relaxing daily routine, but it will, in addition to all that good sunlight, allow your veggies and herbs and flowers to grow!
I haven’t delved into Ladybugs and Caterpillars and other garden insects with Zoë and Oliver, but kids may want to explore these critters under the guidance of their parents.
Plan to use at least one Milkweed plant as a host plant which will attract the Aphids and other garden pests. Milkweed acts like a “sticky magnet” for all the bugs that would ordinarily eat your garden goodies.

Once the plants are thriving enough to pick, then it will be so much fun to gather everyone’s favorites and bring into your kitchen to wash and use. For me, nothing is more charming and satisfying that a bouquet of herbs and flowers from your own backyard garden.  Zoë and Oliver find nothing more satisfying than playing in their garden in the fresh sunlight; watering and pinching and smelling all the fresh leaves and flowers!

Happy Gardening!!