Kids in the Garden, the Dream of a Raving Madman?
Hello again, friends! To answer the question above, no. Involving your kids in the garden isn't quite as difficult as it may seem, even in our age of ever-present screens and virtual reality. We know this because we had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Lilly Armstrong at the Greenwich Tree Conservancy party. She told us all about how she gets her little ones in the garden, so we're going to share her tips with you! I'll pepper in some of my own wisdom as well. So, without further ado, let's jump right in.
Where to Start?
Those of us who love to garden can tell you that it's a love that our parents passed down to us. So, getting your kids to love gardening starts with you. Let's start with Mrs. Armstrong's method. She explains, "Each child has a garden plot and I let them pick out and plant their own seeds. I try to guide them, but basically they pick what they want and then they quite literally sprinkle an entire package of seeds in one spot. It does take some restraint on my part not to be too controlling, but it's all part of the learning process for them. We mix flowers and vegetables all together with no plan. Their favorite things to grow are pumpkin vines. It's so easy for them to push a seed into the soil, and they will do that in every nook and cranny in the back yard. By mid summer we have vines taking over the yard. But it is so worth it to see their excitement when a pumpkin begins to grow."
What I love about Mrs. Armstrong's style is her leniency. She gives her kids the freedom to experiment and to play. I think that freedom of choice really makes the experience. I love to garden with my mother now, but that's a fairly recent development. When I was younger, I was never one of those kids in the garden; it always felt like a chore. That is, until I worked up the courage to ask my mother if she would let me try to grow some English roses. Of course, she agreed! Once I was able to own the project, I really fell in love with gardening. Since then, I've taken on Akebia vine, blooming Clematis Vine, and Peonies all my own. My mom is happy for the color, and I love seeing my plantings come to life.
Experimenting in the Garden & Finding Child-like Joy:
One thing that I think we older folks can take from kids is their sense of play. Frankly, I think people take gardening far too seriously. Nature is an imperfect thing, so to expect perfection in the garden is to be unfair to yourself. Gardening is our way of playing with mother nature, and the best gardeners I know try things on whims. Maybe that means planting a new variety, and seeing how it grows. It might mean pulling out older plantings in favor of new excitement. Most importantly, though, I think it entails a willingness to pull something out if it's not working. That's my M.O. anyway. If I put something in the ground and it's not growing well or is ugly, I tear it right out. The garden is a place for a trial and error, a place for experiential learning. That variety of experience is how we become better gardeners!
Harvesting Your Reward from the Garden:
Mrs. Armstrong and her brood grow lots of edibles in their garden, so she tells me: "The best thing about them growing things is that they will actually eat what they grow! Radishes are very rewarding because they come up so quickly and come in variety of beautiful colors. If they weren't growing them, they definitely wouldn't be eating them. We can't plant enough sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes or carrots. The children will eat them all day long and when they say they'd like a snack I just reply 'Go out and see what's growing.' It gets them outside and eating healthfully, so everyone wins."
Mrs. Armstrong is absolutely correct that growing our own fruits and veggies connects us to the natural world and to the source of our food in a very personal way. Moreover, it encourages us to eat more organically sourced produce, which so many of us need in our diets. I want to add, too, that there's a more cerebral reward to gardening as a youngster. My mother and I gave up on edibles years ago, overwhelmed by the prospect of waging war against all manner of local wildlife. Our garden became exclusively ornamental and flowery, but that doesn't mean we lost out. As a child, I learned patience and planning in the garden. I learned not to chuck plants into the ground haphazardly, lest they choke each other out in competition for resources. I also grew to love waiting for my flowers to come, hellebores and peonies in spring, hydrangea and roses in high summer, &c. It was a task that asked me to think ahead, and become more attentive. It wasn't one time experience either. I learned discipline marching out into the garden, week after week, to check leaves, fertilize, eliminate pests, and so on.
How to Keep Gardening from Feeling Like a Chore:
I hope, in describing gardening, I've struck the right balance between rigidity and play, between structure and experimentation. The truth is that gardening is a balancing act between following procedures and feeling things out. Fortunately, that makes it the perfect activity for parents and kids. As parents, you provide the structure while your kids provide the play. You can gently guide their hands while they become enamored with the process of cultivating a garden. Additionally, I'm believe that the key to involving kids in the garden, or learning to love it as an adult, is growing what you like. Light requirements notwithstanding, throw out any proscriptions or rules about what you should plant, or what everyone else in the neighborhood is growing, and just grow what appeals to you. Whether that's brightly colored flowers, or a whole garden of creeping vines. Your garden is your little world; its design is entirely the product of your imagination. So, get out there, work with your kids in the garden, and create something that inspires you.
Planning, supplies, and tools:
Here at McArdle's, we have a fully stocked nursery and garden center with plants and flowers of all kids, seeds, fertilizers, soils, and all manner of tools you might need, including kid-sized tools. We can make suggestions about the best kids of plants or seeds for you. We can provide you with soils and fertilizers to encourage your plants to grow. Essentially, we're always happy to help you undertake a project in the garden, and we can give you the tools to be successful. Plus, you won't be alone in the process! We can also help you troubleshoot and problem solve in the garden. We've all got green in out hears and thumbs, so please don't hesitate to reach out.
If you have any questions about gardening, give us a call at 203-661-5600 or write to us at [email protected] Until next time, thanks for reading!
Justin Lievano works in the flower shop at McArdle's, and he's patiently waiting for his English roses to come into full bloom.