Children like Grace appreciate tiny flowers and seed pods in the garden. (Contributed)

If the partial eclipse had fallen on Earth Day, it would have been the perfect trifecta as Jupiter and Venus were also visible that day. Still it was fun to watch the moon cover part of the sun and reflect on our planet and what we can do to help. Earth Day is April 22. Here’s what we can do to keep our planet healthy.

This year Earth Day is focusing on our Planet vs. Plastics. Plastic pollution is all around us. On Earth Day we celebrate the natural beauty of our planet and are reminded to be conscientious about the products we use, the waste we produce and to keep sustainability in mind when we make choices.

Earth Day is a day of education about environmental issues. Celebrate it in your own backyard by being outside. It’s your own personal outdoor living room—a safe place for pets and kids to play. Just get outside, maybe trim some shrubs, plant something for the birds and pollinators. When you become a steward of your own yard, you are helping to preserve your own corner of the ecosystem. Our connection to the earth is one of the most valuable lessons we can share with our children.

I get to spend time with 4-year-old Grace, who used to live next door. She’s able to name the chickadee, nuthatch, Stellar’s jay, junco and the hummingbirds who are all frequent visitors. In a garden, children can breathe fresh air, discover bugs and watch things grow. And, of course, a garden offers kids and everyone else fresh, tasty homegrown food.

What better place for kids to play than in a place where they can use their hands and connect with the earth? Where else can they make a plan for a plot of land and learn the lessons of hope and wonder, suspense and patience and even success and failure? In a garden you can have conversations about life and even death in a way that doesn’t seem so sad. Grace tells me that my dog Sherman is “in the stars.” She accepts that as part of her world.

Finding things to do in the garden is easy. You probably already have some edible flowers in your garden. Flowers like tuberous begonias, calendulas, carnations and marigolds are all edible. Last year Grace and I planted zinnias for the Swallowtail butterflies. This year will be cosmos to attract more butterflies. Fragrant flowers and herbs are fun for us to smell. She noticed that some of the yellow primroses were fragrant and I have lemon verbena, peppermint, spearmint to enjoy also.

Kid-friendly gardens should not contain plants that are poisonous. Sounds like a no brainer, but even some of our common natives like the berries of snowberry and the leaves of Western azalea are poisonous. Non-toxic plants include abelia, abutilon, liriope, butterfly bush, Hens and Chicks, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis and black-eyed Susan. Better to check the poison control website if in doubt. Go to and search “plants.”

To share one’s excitement and knowledge of the outdoor world with a child is fun and rewarding. The wonder on a young person’s face as they discover a swallowtail butterfly, a flower just starting to open or a bird feeding in the garden is priceless. And be sure to leave some time after a busy day out in the garden for kids to draw what they’ve enjoyed outside.

Get a kid into gardening and nature and they’ll be good stewards of the land for a lifetime. Plus you’ll have a lot of fun in the process.

So plant a tree, clean up litter, do something in the garden, hike in the woods, enjoy a walk among the wildflowers and just be in contact with the soil, breathe fresh air and think about ways to reduce your use of plastic.

Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California-certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Email her at [email protected], or visit

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