One of the best parts of living New England is watching the slow process of spring unfolding before our eyes. The very last bit of snow melted from the yard this weekend and the crocuses are starting to free themselves from the frozen ground. As most gardeners can attest, this is the most exciting time of year. What changes will I make? What will I add? Subtract? Rotate? Divide? The anticipation of gardening is almost as wonderful as the act itself. Since gardening is one of my favorite hobbies and an important part of my life, I got the kids in on the act from a very young age. In fact, my son rejoices when the seed catalogs start rolling in; he was BESIDE himself when I showed him the yellow raspberry bushes offered in a catalog.
Taking my cues from Bronson Alcott, who was a genius and an absolute nut in many ways, each one of the kids gets a little plot and their plot grows as they grow. My son, now 5, has a raised bed in which he grows tomatoes of all sizes, shapes, and colors, a strawberry patch, and a raspberry and blackberry bush. My daughter, almost two, will have a little container garden with basil, lettuce, and grape tomatoes. Yes, we are very excited about getting started, but let me be clear in saying that, like the Velveteen rabbit, their gardens are sometimes faces only a mother could love, shall we say. If you give your kids plots of land, understand that Better Homes and Gardens will NOT be coming to photograph them. Just go with it. Embrace the chaos.
In addition to fostering and encouraging a love of nature and a connection to the earth, gardening with children has so many other benefits that don’t really have anything to do with the delicious fruits and veggies at the end of the journey:
Think get dirty and make a mess. Get out those trowels and get those hands and those knees FILTHY! I want a ring around the tub at the end of the day or you’re doing it wrong!
Think trial and error. My son has been known to occasionally love his plants a little too much. He over waters them, plays with their stems, digs them up to check their roots…When they don’t fruit or survive, it’s kind of nature’s way of preventing Mama from having to say “I told you so.”
Think patience. The boy who won’t wait in line for the slide without bellyaching will wait four entire months to eat his first tomato. It’s not like they even grow all at once, so he sprints to the edge of the yard, checking to see if they are ripe enough to eat every single day. Then he scoots to the top of the slide and eats his harvest. It’s his little routine.
Think discipline. You cannot plant a garden and expect it to tend to itself. You are its parent, so care for it everyday. And yes, the strawberry is now pink, which is very exciting, but if you pick it and eat it now, it will not be nearly as good as it will be two days from now when it is red. Fight the urge to pick too soon. (Man, that is deep…)
Think disappointment. My heart broke for my little guy last year when he nurtured and tended to his garden for months, showing restraint and reserve in picking things, only to have some woodland creature eat ALL of his tomatoes one evening. His tears reminded me that good things do not always come to those who wait. The best laid plans, little buddy, the best laid plans…
Think circle of life. We plant the seeds, watch them grow, fruit, and slowly become part of the earth again. We nurture our plants, love our plants, respect our plants, protect our plants, enjoy the gifts of our plants, and then deadhead them, clip them back, and assist them into fall and the end of their growing season. You don’t just bail on them when they stop offering things to you, little dudes. You never do that.
Yes, there is much to learn from gardening indeed, so clear a plot of land or grab a nice big flowerpot and provide your kids the opportunity to learn about life from nurturing the land.