When boys or girls are at the stage where pets and live creatures are an absorbing interest you can suggest a lot of things to grow that are related to that interest.
For example, a little girl in love with her kitten can start off her gardening career with a small bed of catnip. This is the easiest thing in the world to grow, and cats really do love it. She can dry some of it too, and stuff a "catnip mouse" for her pet's winter amusement.
Fascination with butterflies marks a phase through which many children pass. When your young charges are pursuing this fancy, let them plant things with a come hither effect on butterflies. Beds of flowers such as verbenas, ageratum, lantana, fall asters and many others will bring them swarming. So will shrubs like lilacs and honeysuckle and buddleia (quite rightfully called butterfly-bush); and there is no reason why a child shouldn't be the proprietor of a shrub or vine as well as of
the more transient flowers and vegetables that are his usual lot. A small booklet on butterflies and a magnifying glass go with this venture.
If the current interest is in birds a child can easily provision a winter birdfeeding project by growing his own sunflower seed. The mammoth Russian sunflower is the most spectacular and productive. But he might also enjoy growing the more unusual red flowered variety. Late in the season birds will eat the ripened seeds from the flower heads. This gives him a chance to watch them at fairly close range. If he wants seed for winter feeding, however, he will have to harvest his crop, or at least part of it, before the summer birds do it for him. Sunflower seed is also a favorite feed of parrots and poultry.
To further encourage birds in the home garden he can plant one or more of the berried shrubs attractive to birds. Elderberry, highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum), blueberry, shadbush (Amelanchier), winterberry (Ilex verticil-lata), white snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus), bush cherry, and redtwig dogwood all have berries that birds are fond of.
Along with this project the child should have a feeding station, a birdbath, and birdhouses. Maybe he can make these from gourds which he grows himself. Bird books, inexpensive binoculars, and perhaps the ingenious little bird call sold by the Audubon Society, will add to his bird-watching fun.
If a youngster is a rabbit fancier he can grow some of his pets' food requirements. Rabbit lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is a coarse, heavy-yielding plant, and an economical green feed. It is a quick crop, ready to cut for use in about forty-five days.