The backyard was sunlit in the early morning, falling into shade in the early afternoon; you could hear the distant swing sets and the children laughing while they played. Those children were probably very close to my age at the time, yet I knew that in this backyard I had it better.
The greenhouse was old, damp and smelled of earth and potting soil. Hanging plants and standing pots that had been cared for in times past now showed signs of the aging hands that tended to them. This was my grandparents’ backyard in the middle of Southern California – a world away from the Southern Idaho farm that was my home.
Looking around the aged garden before me, I could see in the far corner a rock garden covered with yucca and cacti and a wall planter that must have been beautiful in its glory days. The large trees created a perfect canopy for ferns and hostas to thrive. Of course, as one would expect from a generation that lived through the Great Depression, there where old lawnmowers, wash tubs, jars and other relics that had long out-lived their usefulness. Yet, they still found a place in the garden because you never know when you might need a part off that Montgomery Ward machine. However strange it seemed, the objects looked comfortable in their surroundings – at least through the eyes of a child.
Children look upon the garden with much different eyes than adults. It wasn’t until many years later that I came to realize the significant role this garden played in my life and how I viewed the art of gardening. Though my grandmother was beyond the years of digging in the soil with me, her work was left behind for me to explore. To this day, I can remember all the mysteries of her garden and the memories are intoxicating.
Now a parent myself, my fond memories have made me turn my attention to my 2 ½-year-old daughter. I wonder about what she sees within our garden. It amazes me every time she takes a quiet break from playing in her sand box to smell a colorful cascading petunia; looking up at me with those beautiful brown eyes she says, “Pretty.” What could she be thinking? What kind of garden will she craft with her imagination and her hands? These are just a few questions that run through my mind.
Gardening is one of very few fun things kids can do anymore that will produce a tangible result. If you want your child to love gardening, some of the best things you can do are the following:
• Lead by example. Show them how much you enjoy and care for gardens; they will soon follow.
• Surround them with great gardens. That doesn’t necessarily mean a show place. It may be a messy, heavily-colored cottage garden; a secret hiding place behind the overgrown willow; or a small shady pond that attracts frogs and water skippers. Remember that everything is larger and more mysterious through children’s eyes.
• By giving them an adventurous gardening experience, in return you will create an artistic interest in gardening and grand memories for years to come.
• When children are younger, don’t expect them to understand things such as texture, shape and themes; that will come with age. Know all they care about is what looks fun and different. The magic in gardening for children is not in the result, but in the doing.
• We often hear parents complain about lack of children’s activities. Take an afternoon, go to your local nursery and let your child pick out a new plant or flower for their own spot in your garden. While driving home, talk about their choice and discuss why they were drawn to it, where they are going to plant it, and how are they going to help it grow. As adults, we need to listen carefully to their answers. We may just learn something new from our little gardeners.
• Create a play area unlike most. Do not make the mistake of buying the common swing sets and square sand boxes. Instead, set the playhouses in theme rooms. If your little girl loves fairy princesses, why not create a magical forest with mass plantings of enchanting flowers and trees for her to engage in? For the pirate-crazy boy, craft his very own Neverland pirate ship for the playhouse and shape the sand box to look like a winding river by placing boulders and grasses throughout it. Give your children an experience in the garden and they will forget (for a while) the computer games, The Wiggles, and every other thing that seems to always grab their attention first.
This spring and summer, set aside special times for you and your children in the garden. Involve them with weekly activities, but do not make gardening a chore; rather, make it a journey of exploration. The greatest thing you grow in your garden may in fact be your children.
“A child can ask questions that a wise man cannot answer.” – Author Unknown