Mama, can I help?"
The 12 spindly tomatoes that await transplanting cast long shadows under the rapidly descending sun. Delicate stems, fragile roots, holes needing to be dug just so... "Please?"
The right answer (Yes!) carries both cost and benefits. First, all expectations held dear by a finicky gardener must be shed. An invitation to your orderly garden has just been extended to a small person whose
aesthetics and purpose differ wildly from your own highly cultivated
sense of horticultural propriety.
By accepting this offer of assistance, you'll sow priceless, life-changing
experiences. Children who garden connect to the natural world at a deep level and develop small green thumbs that might, in adulthood, nurture another set of tiny, inquisitive hands.
If you've never gardened you will have someone who will share the trials and excitement of this new endeavor. Do not discount the usefulness of a partner who is closer to the ground than you!
Gardening is far more than plant tending. It offers infinite opportunities to see first-hand how "stuff" behaves. Who better to deliver a treatise on chaos and disorder than a true expert of that realm? Digging and planting is great fun, but watering the garden is maybe even better! Kids are mesmerized by how water behaves, moving slowly from sky to soil, through root and leaf and rapidly exploding from the end of a garden hose. They
ponder cohesion, adhesion, guttation, and transpiration - chemistry, physics, plant physiology and hydrology. The vernacular comes later, but the observations and concepts are effortlessly hard-wired in a young brain.
Need a place to start? The National Gardening Association (NGA) is one of the best sources for information about gardening with children. Visit their
website at www.kidsgardening.org. They have made available a huge array of fun family projects, ideas for theme gardens and art-in-the-garden activities with clear instructions and affirmations for adults in the trenches.
The website also recommends books as well as high-quality, child-sized tools that fit small hands. I clearly recall the first time I
attempted to teach a class of 25 kindergartners the proper hoeing
technique at an educational farm in Kentucky. I naively "armed" each child with a kid-sized hoe before commencing instruction.
Sixteen years later, the memory of those hoes, enthusiastically wielded
and chopping wildly without regard for classmates' heads, still
makes me weak in the knees. Clearly, some rules and instruction are necessary, but deliver them early and keep them simple and few to prevent
dampening the young gardener's spirit.
No room for an in-ground garden?
Container gardening, featured in the last issue of Living North, works great! Here's another project that sits right on top of your existing lawn: stuff a fishnet stocking with an equal mixture of moistened compost and potting soil. Insert easy-to-grow seeds such as marigolds and grow
a flowery snake. For an equally kid-friendly project, fashion a large green spiral from several soil-stuffed fishnet stockings thickly seeded with grass seed and tied together, end to end. Water these creations regularly. You can even "write" your name using this same technique.
Gardening with children is as much about the process as the harvest. You are certain to reap large rewards.
Susan Darley-Hill is an Environmental Program Coordinator at Western Lake Superior Sanitary District.
How to Grow a Gardener
By Susan Darley-Hill