If I was a fairy godmother capable of bestowing a gift upon a newborn, that gift would be curiosity.

If I was a fairy godmother capable of bestowing a gift upon a newborn, that gift would be curiosity.

Curiosity fosters imagination, and those two traits are very valuable to the gardener.

Children are curious by nature, and I have observed in my own children, and now my grandchildren, that kids are naturally inquisitive about where food comes from and how plants grow.

I like the idea of fostering a child's interest in gardening because helping to plan, plant and tend a garden can encourage life skills such as responsibility, independence, empathy, caring, teamwork and problem solving. It will also help them learn about the energy and work it takes to grow, store and prepare their food.

A child does not need a large space for a garden — in fact a 3-by-3-foot space in a raised bed, designated as "their" garden, is a good size with which to start. Too big, and the job will seem overwhelming and more like punishment than a learning experience, especially if weeds are a problem where you live.

If the child is really young, it's best not to start with a question like, "What do you want to grow?" Instead give them options from which they can choose. Beans or peas? Carrots or cucumbers? With older children, of course, there can be more choices, guided either by what they like to eat or the idea of trying something new.

Choose disease- and pest-resistant plants, especially for a first garden. These might include carrots, beets, cucumbers, peas, beans, radishes, lettuce and spinach. Large seeds such as peas, beans and pumpkins are easier for small fingers to handle. A hint for planting carrot, lettuce or flower seeds is to mix them with dry sand and let the child use a salt shaker with large holes to scatter the seed in a wide band instead of in rows. Keep the seeded area damp until the seeds have sprouted.

Consider buying some seedlings, such as tomatoes and melons, instead of starting them from seed, as they can be tricky to start, even for an experienced gardener. Plant things that are surprising in color or size — purple carrots or beans, for example, giant sunflowers, striped beets, pear tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, colored chard or huge pumpkins, if you have the room.

For older children who like forts, playhouses and hiding places, plant pole beans, scarlet runner beans or morning glories in tepee fashion, using bamboo or plastic poles for the plants to climb. What a great place to play on a hot day.

Establish with your youngster the habit of visiting the garden daily. That way, they will learn to check the soil for moisture, to watch for insects — both good guys and bad — and how to tell the difference. They will soon learn to understand plants' differing needs and will be able to tell the beneficial insects that prey on the harmful bugs.

Another big plus of children raising vegetables is that if they grow them themselves, they somehow taste a lot better and are usually eaten more willingly.

Coming up: Stan Mapolski will teach a class on "Tried and True Flower and Vegetable Varieties for the Rogue Valley" from 7 to 9 p.m. on Monday, April 14, at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point. The cost is $10. Call 541-776-7371 to register.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at diggit1225@gmail.com.