Simple fact: Kids play in the dirt. So why not make it productive and garden together? (Your sidekick is sprier when it comes to the low work, anyway. Child learns to garden; Mom and Dad save their knees. Win-win.)

Green thumbs-in-training can learn the ropes at programs around the city and gear up with pint-sized tools from local shops. Read our picks and make urban gardening a family affair.

Morning Glories

Little adventurers may not fully appreciate the splendor of Jens Jensen’s design, but they will happily squish their hands in the soil station at Garfield Park Conservatory (300 N. Central Park Ave., 773-638-1766). A free, drop-in family event called Morning Glories happens every Monday from 10:00 am – 12:00 pm for kids five and under. It gets curious tots involved in ever-changing planting projects, artistic endeavors and story times. They can even learn to compost.


Bonsai and Japanese gardens put even super-hyper small fry in a Zen state of mind at Chicago Botanic Garden (1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe, 847-835-6801). Starting in June, the Garden hosts a variety of kid-friendly classes. A favorite among the kindergarten and elementary school crowd is Nature Nights ($25 per child), held two Saturdays a month during summer. Pack a picnic, take a walk or tram ride around the grounds, and wrap things up with s’mores. The first program goes over gardening basics like planting, mulching and watering, and includes a plant to keep and transfer to the home plot.


Local outpost Matty K’s Hardware (4874 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-654-1347) carries a full line of children’s gardening tools such as watering cans, rakes, shovels and hand tools — all in poppy colors and quirky patterns. No mere toys, these helpers really do the dirty work. In addition to tools, you can snap up gardening gloves and watering cans adorned with animal graphics.


Ukrainian Village favorite Sprout Home (745 N. Damen Ave., 312-226-5950) helps redefine urban gardening in the city (look no further than its rooftop garden) and welcomes young gardeners to touch, see and explore. Its tool selection for tots includes watering cans, gardening gloves, hand implements and a deluxe set with two rakes, a shovel and a hoe. Tell your backyard to get ready.


Little sprouts will learn the value of an honest, healthy meal when you grow your own veggies. Support the farm-to-table movement at Peterson Garden Project, a non profit that oversees several community green spaces across Chicago, each of them bustling with families. Plots are available to rent by the season, and you can plant what you like. What’s more, five percent of the plots are dedicated to the Grow2Give program, which donates produce to a local food pantry or nutrition program of the gardener’s choosing. Registration for plots is underway, but spaces fill fast; sign up on the website for updates and check out the schedule of events, including gardening classes and volunteer opportunities. Additionally, gear up at the second annual Spring Plant Sale on May 10-12, from 10:00 am-4:00 pm. You’ll come across herb and vegetable seedlings, gardening supplies and baked goods from local chefs.

What will you grow in your garden this year? Let us know in the comments section below.

–Rebecca Little

Photos: Courtesy of Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago Botanic Garden, Matty K’s Hardware, Sprout Home, Peterson Garden Project