KidsGardening: Growing Gardens Across the Nation!

Amanda Slater – Interim Executive Director

We were busy this spring! In addition to reorganizing as an independent nonprofit and redesigning our website, KidsGardening partnered in the installation of 5 youth gardens across the nation.

Most of these new gardens were part of the GRO1000 Initiative. Since 2011, KidsGardening has worked with Scott’s Miracle Gro, Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Garden Writer’s Association Foundation, Plant A Row for the Hungry, and The U.S. Conference of Mayors to create 1,000 community gardens and green spaces across America by 2018. Our role in the events is to lead the youth activities and present The Give Back to Gro Youth Gardener Award to deserving youth who have shown dedication, hard work, and a passion for gardening to support their community. Today, GRO1000 Initiative has resulted in the installation of 790 gardens, impacted 64,150 youth, and planted 9,305 garden lots! Wow!

Here are a few stories from this year’s garden projects:

St. Louis, Missouri - GRO1000 Pollinator Gardens

KG-Scotts_StLouis-0891On the banks of the Mississippi River, we worked with the Grow 1000 Team to install a Monarch Pollinator Garden, one of many on the city’s Monarch Highway in St. Louis. Close to 70 second and third graders from local schools attended the event to help plant, make butterfly feeders, and pollinator journals. The children learned about pollinators and the importance of pollination, and most importantly that they can help support the pollinator population in their own back yard. KidsGardening was proud to award the Give Back to Gro Youth Gardener Award to a group of enthusiastic students who helped build an 18-bed community garden space from the ground up, transforming a vacant lot into a local food source and also offering a native plant garden for pollinators.

Providence, Rhode Island - GRO1000 General Street Park Community Gardens

KG-Scotts_RI-1375In the heart of Providence, a neighborhood full of passionate and energetic youth filled the park for gardening activities, planting, and to listen to local recycled percussionists. The GRO1000 Team hosted an Academy to educate community members about pollinators. We also organized plantings of blueberries, fruit trees and flowers. The Give Back to Gro Youth Gardener Award was given to the “Kids of General Street Park”, who took initiative and played a critical role in the design and the revitalization of the park to provide their community with a green space to spend their free time in.

East Harlem, New York, NY - GRO 1000 Pleasant Village Community Garden

KG-Scotts_NYC-1863The Pleasant Village Community Garden was truly a beautiful, secret garden nestled in urban New York. The garden, comprised of community raised beds, fruit trees, and a chicken coop grew where a building once stood. Gardeners used old brick for some of the pathways and there was still rubble in the corners. During the event, 100 kindergartener's joined us to learn about pollination by becoming pollinators! They made their own wings, antenna and searched for pollen (pom poms) in the garden to bring back to their hive! The youth also made seed balls, a ball of everything that a seed needs to grow (clay, seed, soil, and water)! The Give Back to Gro Youth Gardener Award Winner was a young girl with lots of spunk who was at the garden bright and early at 8:00am at the day of the event. She helped set up the youth activities, instructed the youth in making their antennas, and participated in the planting! We were all grateful to have spent the day with her and working so close with her made the award even more special.

Atlanta, Georgia - Gro1000 Covenant House

KG-Scotts_GA-2298Another dream oasis in the middle of a city, The Covenant House is a community of youth with challenging backgrounds who are brought together to see their potential through support and optimism in a loving environment. The GRO1000 Team had a wonderful evening of Dreamscaping with the youth, designing a space to be developed right in their backyard. It was fun to see all the different ideas that they had! The following day we made mosquito repellent wristbands with parachute cord and essential oils and our Team was invited to participate in their graduation ceremony. The Give Back to Gro Youth Gardener award was given to a team of four who really showed passion and dedication to gardening. The GRO1000 team connected with the award winners and other youth in ways we never thought we would, all through gardening!

As this exceptional spring season comes to a close, we look forward to 2017, bringing us one year closer to the completion of GRO1000! If interested in applying for future opportunities, check out eligibility requirements at:

Celebrate National Pollinator Week by Planting a Pollinator Garden!



Susan Littlefield - Horticulturist

A garden full of flowers is a beautiful sight! You might think that flowers exist just to please our eyes, but their real goal in life is to create more plants. In order for plants to produce the seeds that grow into new plants, pollen from the male parts of a flower needs to reach the female parts of a flower, a process called pollination. Many plants need help from pollinators for the pollen to make its journey from one flower to the next. Most pollinators are insects, including bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, moths, ants, and beetles. But hummingbirds and even bats are pollinators for some plants!

PTGarden2016-install_WEB-0223Pollinators are important to us, for we need their help to be able to produce many of the foods we eat. Without pollinators, we’d miss out on foods like apples, cucumbers, almonds, and strawberries, which develop from flowers after they’ve been pollinated. We’d also lose many food plants that are grown from seed, like beans, cabbage, and carrots, since without pollination they can’t produce seeds needed to grow more plants. This is why it’s so important to learn about and protect all kinds of pollinators. Plants need pollinators – and we need plants!

Unfortunately, both honeybees and many species of native bees are in trouble. Populations of both are in sharp decline due to pesticide use, disease and parasite problems, and loss of food and nesting habitat. Many honeybee colonies have been lost to colony collapse disorder, a devastating problem whose cause is not fully understood.

PTGarden2016-install_WEB-9967One way to help pollinators is to plant a pollinator garden  —  a pesticide-free habitat filled with flowering plants that provides an abundance of food resources – nectar and pollen  —  all season long. Recently the KidsGardening staff and I did just that at Army Trail Elementary School in Addison, Illinois. Around a small existing pond we planted a selection of pollinator-friendly plants to attract and nourish these vital insects.

PTGarden2016-install_WEB-0281First into bloom in the garden is native columbine with its graceful, nodding yellow and red flowers. As spring turns into summer other natives come into bloom, including purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan, bee balm, and blazing star. Later in the summer the large, pinkish-mauve flower heads of Joe Pye-weed and the white spires of Culver’s root act as pollinator magnets. Finally, the arching flower sprays of ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod provide a late season feast for pollinators and end the garden year in a blaze of gold.

The plants we chose were selected to do well in the moist soil and full sun of this Zone 5 garden. The plants you choose may be different, depending on your location and the conditions in your garden. What’s important is to include a variety of flowering plants that bloom in succession from spring through fall (or even winter in mild climates). Try to choose as many native plants as possible, as they generally provide the most benefit to native pollinators. Add some water – a shallow bowl set at ground level that contains a few stones as “landing pads” works well – and you’ll have a garden to both delight your eyes and nurture those all-important garden helpers, the pollinators.

Army Trail School Pollinator Garden Area - BEFORE
Army Trail School Pollinator Garden Area - BEFORE Garden Install
Army Trail School Pollinator Garden Area - AFTER Garden Install
Army Trail School Pollinator Garden Area - AFTER Garden Install

Join us during National Pollinator Week,
June 20 - 26, 2016!

Muhammad Ali Center Peace Garden Grants

Sarah P – Education Specialist

As tributes highlighting the remarkable life of Muhammad Ali are shared, we wanted to take a moment to remember the contributions made by the Muhammad Ali Center Peace Garden Grant Program. From 2011 to 2014, The Muhammad Ali Center in cooperation with KidsGardening and Yum! Brands Foundation, awarded 200 grant packages to youth garden programs around the world. Integrating the Muhammad Ali Center’s core principles of respect, confidence, conviction, dedication, spirituality and giving, Muhammad Ali Center Peace Gardens were designed to help schools teach students lessons about peace and hunger awareness through garden activities. The grants provided $100,000 in funding and reached an estimated 20,000 youth in 21 different countries including Belarus, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Jamaica, India, Indonesia, Israel, Kenya, Malawi, Mexico, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Rwanda, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, United Kingdom, and the United States. The reach of the program was wide and the impact great – what a wonderful legacy to inspire a new generation of gardeners to learn how to take care of the Earth and each other!

Grant winner, Annie Xiong, from Minnesota shared, “the gardening program had a huge impact on the children in our community. They were really excited to establish a garden because most had never grown their own vegetables or fruits! The students were also excited to touch dirt and experience what it is like to plant and harvest. The students in our program were at-risk youths and children of immigrants. Many did not have the same opportunities as other children in the community. To have the garden available to them significantly impacted their lives. The children were able to learn about gardening and having that space give them a sense of ownership. The garden program has been a way to strengthen relationships with one another and the greater community.”

You can continue the work begun by the Muhammad Ali Center and plant the seeds of peace by installing your own Peace Garden. Here are a few examples of lessons you could teach through a Peace Garden Program:

Cultural Awareness

DSCN0056-WEBSince different types of crops are grown by each culture, edible gardens are a great tool to teach about and celebrate our diversity. Gardens planted with cultural awareness in mind offer much more than just a delicious harvest, you can teach your students about the concept of peace by providing opportunities for them to practice communication skills, learn about and accept others, and understand the interconnectedness of people, plants, and our planet. Begin by discovering the horticultural crops consumed by the different cultures represented in your area. You can focus on historical connections or present use. Uncover these foods through community interviews, student food journals, or visits to local ethnic farmers’ markets. You may choose to focus on one culture each growing season or if you have plenty of space, plant a garden select a few crops representing each ethnic group.

The Importance of Diversity

IMG_02225A garden planted with one species quickly becomes a target for pests and disease. Planting a variety of plants and rotating crops to new locations each season, helps keep pest populations in check. Some plants grow so well together that they are referred to as garden companions. Talking about the benefits of diversity in the garden, can serve as a segue to discuss the benefits of diversity in our communities and how each individual and each culture contributes in their own way.

Competition for Resources

In the garden, plants compete for their basic needs including space, water, sunlight and nutrients. By comparing plants grown properly spaced to plants grown too close together, students can observe how competition for resources impacts plant growth and health. You can use this as a springboard for discussing how competition for resources affects human behavior and fuels conflict.

Hunger Awareness

IMG_02234Growing edible plants opens the door for discussions about proper nutrition and food insecurity. Your young gardeners can grow extra produce to donate to hunger relief efforts to empower them by showing how their efforts can help solve a community problem.



IMG_0427As young gardeners learn they must be gentle with their plants to allow them to mature and produce fruit, they are learning the importance of showing respect for living things. They can clearly see the positive results of nurturing their plants and providing for their needs and what happens when the plants are neglected or damaged. Help them connect the similarities between plants and people. People who are respected and nurtured are also able to grow to their maximum potential and bear ‘fruit.’


For additional ideas on how you can promote peace through your garden program, download an archived copy of the Muhammad Ali Center Peace Garden Activity Guide.



Come to Your Senses!

Susan Littlefield - Horticulturist

When I walk out into my garden, too often what catches my attention  are things that need to be done – weeds to pull, veggies to harvest, faded flowers to deadhead. While these chores require attention, I don’t want to miss the forest for the trees! I try to remember that my garden also offers a harvest of sensory delights to tickle my five senses and add dimension to my enjoyment of the plants I’m growing.

Children are especially open to experiencing the garden as a sensory wonderland. Encourage your children to explore plants with you throughout the growing season by using their senses of touch, smell, hearing, and taste as well as sight, and you’ll increase their connection to the world of growing things.

PTGarden2016-install_WEB-0190Recently, along with other KidsGardening staff, I designed and helped plant a sensory garden for the benefit of students at Army Trail Elementary School in Addison, Illinois. The plants we selected for the garden beds were chosen to offer a variety of sensory experiences all year long, from early spring into the depths of winter.

We started by planting two kinds of ornamental grass, ‘Hameln’ dwarf fountain grass and northern sea oats. Their graceful leaves will add sound as well as beauty and movement to the garden as they rustle and sway in the wind. Even in the depths of winter the sight and sound of the dry grass blades will bring interest to a bleak landscape. And the flower heads of the fountain grass, which begin to form in midsummer, are as soft and touchable as a bunny’s tail.  What child could resist stroking them?  Also touchable are the felty, gray-green leaves of lamb’s ears, as inviting to stroke as velvet and as soft as, well, a lamb’s ear! For contrasting texture we added the spiky, prickly rosettes of hens and chicks.

PTGarden2016-install_WEB-9530Of course, scent is where a garden can really shine! Odors evoke some of our deepest-seated emotional responses, in part because our sensation of smell is connected directly to the limbic system, the most primitive part of our brain, which responds even before our cortex or cognitive center consciously identifies what the scent is. For this garden we chose ‘Firewitch’ dianthus for the sweet, clove-like fragrance of their pink flowers in early summer, followed by the heady aroma of lavender in midsummer. The intoxicatingly fragrant white trumpets of ‘Casa Blanca’ Oriental lilies will perfume the air in late summer – and perhaps attract a hummingbird or two!

PTGarden2016-after_WEB-0658Many plants appeal to our sense of taste, but for this garden we chose chives for their multi-sensory appeal. Their narrow edible leaves have a pungent, onion-like smell when crushed and a mild, onion-y flavor when eaten. Their pretty globes of pink blossoms delight the eye and are also edible – add them to a salad for color and flavor.

Try some “sense-able” gardening this summer and have fun with your kids as you use all five senses to do some “sense-sational” garden exploration!

Click here for MORE photos of the Garden Install!