Friday, July 31, 2009

Expose children to the wonders of gardening

Los Altos Town Crier July 2009 Your Home section:

Expose children to the wonders of gardening Print E-mail
Written by Laxmi Natarajan
Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Courtesy of Laxmi Natarajan
Photo Courtesy Of Laxmi Natarajan

Children can start early in the garden, watering and tending to plants.

Given the current state of the economy, it helps to be creative and use the home garden to provide children with educational and creative opportunities.

Gardening with children and getting them involved in the garden has many benefits, including spending quality time with your children, teaching them the importance of eating healthfully and instilling them with respect for the environment at an early age.

The best way to get children interested in gardening is to let them see you enjoying and spending time in the garden. Involving them in the planning and designing of a flower garden or a vegetable/herb patch is a great way to start. You can give them their own space to work, a set of containers or allow them access to the family patch where everyone works together.

Children of all ages love to dig holes, so have areas in your garden where they can dig to bury a treasure or plant seeds and plants. Give them their own set of tools (you can get reasonably priced, child-sized tools at garden centers) to enable them to work better.

Planting an herb garden with basil, oregano, rosemary, sage and flavored mint like orange, peppermint, chocolate or lemon is a rewarding activity. Growing easy vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peas, zucchinis, beans and peppers will add to children’s amazement that they can actually grow their own food. The important thing to remember is that it is OK to have a messy patch, a less-than-perfect row of plants or mixed-up flower garden colors. You may also need to finish up their tasks, as they may not be able to perform all the required tending.

Giving them the responsibility of garden-related chores – watering specific pots, filling bird feeders, adding water to a bird bath, weeding certain areas – and sometimes even paying them a small allowance or rewarding additional privileges to do the chores helps keep them motivated.

Harvesting from the garden is great fun. Drinking lemonade with mint leaves added or eating sweet peas and cherry tomatoes straight from the plants is delicious and provides lasting memories.

Last week, my 9-year-old made herself and her sister a mid-afternoon snack of Caprese by slicing tomatoes and basil leaves from the garden, adding some fresh mozzarella cheese from the refrigerator and drizzling some olive oil and salt on top. It was a very empowering moment in our family.

There are plenty of interesting arts and craft activities to do in the garden. Work on a garden journal with the children documenting the plants, including the planting date, drawings of the plants/flowers, photographs and notes. Paint birdhouses or garden signs/markers to display in the garden. A birdbath constructed from pots and saucers is a fun way to add a personal family touch in the garden.

My 5-year-old loves to pick flowers from the garden to make bouquets. Press flowers to make potpourri or a card for their friends’ birthdays. Children love making things and will be thrilled at the gifts they can make from the garden.

Talk to children about the science associated with gardening – photosynthesis, pollination, bugs and their lifecycles, composting, worms. All the bugs and worms that reside in a garden can be better viewed and enjoyed with a bug scientist kit that has a place to hold the bugs and examine them under magnification. The Internet and books are a great resource for gathering garden-related information to share.

Building forts, secret passages, teepees and pathways with tall sunflower plants to go around the garden, hunting for seeds, berries and fruits adds to a good playtime in the garden.

Enjoy nature at its best with your family.

Laxmi Natarajan is a landscape/garden designer specializing in residential design and container gardens. Contact her at or 703-9756.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summer proves productive in the garden

Summer proves productive in the garden

Summer proves productive in the garden Print E-mail
Written by Laxmi Natarajan
Wednesday, 24 June 2009

courtesy of Laxmi Natarajan
Photo Courtesy Of Laxmi NatarajanThe Ganesha, acquired during travel, can create a personal space in the garden when placed atop a tree stump.

This summer solstice month is a wonderful time for gardeners as we wake up early to beautiful mornings. The first few hours provide precious outdoor time to look around the garden, cut some flowers, harvest the first of the summer veggies and prepare the garden for the summer. We have the long evening hours to tend to the garden and enjoy the growing and blossoming changes. The early perennials are blooming everywhere.

The sunny weather beckons us to enjoy the outdoors, to work, play and entertain in our backyards, patios and gardens a little more. It is a time to use the outdoors, be it a big estate-style backyard or a small patio, and enjoy nature.

A few thoughtful ideas can make the backyard more accessible, appealing and inviting during this season. Clear overgrown shrubs and bushes, remove the clutter, mend broken fences, clean existing water features, repair broken lights, clean the grill, fix irrigation heads and rearrange the furniture to provide an inviting space.

This time of the year, work in the garden is all about preparing for cultivation, providing mulching and beautifying the area. Weeding and mulching is very beneficial as it conserves moisture and nutrients in the soil and reduces the spread of disease and insects.

You can plant summer vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants and herbs like basil, oregano, rosemary and thyme. Plant a few Bush beans every other week to stagger the production. Make sure to provide support for vegetables like tomatoes or cucumbers with a wire cage or trellis.

Use good compost to improve soil composition for growing your vegetables and plan for protecting your harvest from critters.

Some of the young fruit trees have begun to drop their fruits, nature’s way of thinning to a manageable crop size. Clean up the fallen fruits. Citrus and apple trees may need a little help. You could manually pick some of the fruits so that the remaining will benefit and mature with extra flavor. Protect vulnerable fruits such as strawberries and blueberries from birds, squirrels and rabbits with nets or row covers.

Sometimes a splash of color with annuals or a few perennials in the flowerbed can do the trick to brighten up a space.

Deadhead (remove the faded flowers) your existing annuals and herbaceous perennials to keep them blooming longer. Stake tall perennials and train annual and perennial vines on supports. Introduce some native plants in your garden. Spring flowering shrubs like lilac and forsythia can be pruned as soon as they finish blooming. Mid to late June is an excellent time to take softwood cuttings of shrubs to start new plants.

You can achieve garden beautification in many creative ways. Use statuary, container gardens and garden art to bring fun and personality to your space. Add drama with architectural plants like Phormiums, palms and various varieties of succulents. Add a bright color to an outside wall or a fence, line a fence with bamboo mats that can be rolled out, change the cushions on a bench or chairs, add candles or solar lights, or hang paper lanterns or inspirational flag sets. Individualize an area by adding personal collectibles. Install a bird feeder and provide water to welcome the birds. A wind chime placed where it can intercept the breeze will provide soothing sounds.

For a special gathering, pick flowers from the garden and arrange them in a vase, add a colorful tablecloth on an outdoor

table, light some candles, serve a glass of wine and maybe appetizers or dinner.

Enjoy the quiet mornings, long evenings and the beautiful light. Take all or just a few of these suggestions or simply soak in the essence of your garden that glows in June and await the summer joys ahead.

Laxmi Natarajan is a landscape/garden designer specializing in residential design and container gardens. For more information, call 703-9756 or visit

Friday, June 19, 2009

Simple pleasures

This morning, as I was working and playing in the garden with my 5 year old daughter Nina, we were thrilled to see a big painted lady butterfly flutter by 2 feet from us visiting a Karma Naomi Dahlia. The first thought that crossed my mind was 'where is my camera' but then I decided to do what Nina did, run after the butterfly, take a flight around the yard and enjoy the moment…

garden pic

Dahlias for the summer