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Gardening with Children

By Thomas Christopher

 

            At this time of social distancing, many of our normal family activities have gone by the wayside. However, this enforced togetherness presents an ideal opportunity to focus on gardening with your children or grandchildren.

            Some of my happiest memories of fatherhood are of the projects I undertook with my son in our garden. There was, for example, the one I dubbed “garden graffiti.”

I purchased a jumbo package of curly cress seed (Lepidium sativum) from a mail-order seed company and a bag of lime from the garden center. Then I forked up a bed by the side of our driveway and raked it smooth—my son was in kindergarten at the time and passed that spot every morning on the way to the school bus stop. Dribbling the powdered lime between fingers, I wrote my son’s initials in large letters on top of the raked soil. Any missteps were erased by re-raking the soil. When I had inscribed the initials to my satisfaction, I sprinkled cress seed over all the whitened areas. With a hand cultivator, I gently worked the seed into the soil surface, and then I watered it in.

            Curly cress is as close as you can come to instant green. Seedlings began to emerge in a week or so, and within a couple more, the finely cut leaves had made a ruffled, alphabetical thicket. My son, who was learning his letters, recognized the initials for what they were. When he asked me about them, I made a show of looking surprised and announced that I thought the garden was trying to communicate with him. Even at age 6 he wasn’t so naïve as to believe that, but he kept his eye on that bed and later used the leftover cress seed to plant a pattern of his own.

            Gardening with children is one of the primary missions of the Berkshire Botanical Garden. Ordinarily, the educators there pursue a variety of programs, many based at primary or middle schools or public libraries. As Botanical Garden Director of Education Bridgette Stone testifies, the benefits to the children can be many. Planning and planting a garden can teach not only the benefits to a diet of fresh vegetables but also life skills that children will need to succeed as they mature. Especially in a time of sequestration, when children may feel cooped up, an interval in the garden, says Stone, can help them “unplug” and explore the world around them. To assist with this, the Botanical Garden has launched Family Fun Fridays on their Instagram and Facebook pages. And on their website’s Virtual Learning page (BerkshireBotanical.org/virtual-learning) under “Family Fun Fridays,” you can find illustrated instructional PDFs and links to their YouTube videos offering entertaining and educational nature projects.

            For an entire online curriculum, parents can turn to KidsGardening.org, the website of the nonprofit Kids Gardening, which is headquartered in Burlington, Vermont. I spoke recently to its Senior Education Specialist, Sarah Pounders.

            Pounders introduced me to a wealth of online materials, including not only tips for gardening with children of different ages and fun activities to pursue with a child or grandchild, but also a section of the website devoted to lesson plans. These, she pointed out, could be especially helpful to parents who are homeschooling this spring. Besides the fun involved in gardening, Pounders noted, there is an added benefit: Children who don’t perform as well in a classroom setting often come into their own in the garden.

            For more information about gardening with children, you can listen to interviews I recorded with gardening pundit Ruth Rogers Clausen, who is currently introducing her 2 ½-year-old granddaughter to the craft, and with Sarah Pounders of Kids Gardener. You’ll find these interviews at ThomasChristopherGardens.com/podcast.

Be-a-Better-Gardener is a community service of Berkshire Botanical Garden, located in Stockbridge, MA. Its mission, to provide knowledge of gardening and the environment through a diverse range of classes and programs, informs and inspires thousands of students and visitors each year. Thomas Christopher is a volunteer at Berkshire Botanical Garden and is the author or co-author of more than a dozen books, including Nature into Art and The Gardens of Wave Hill (Timber Press, 2019). Be-a-Better Gardener is syndicated in 19 print and online publications, reaching 250,000 readers. Tom’s companion broadcast to this column, Growing Greener, streams on WESUFM.org, Pacifica Radio and NPR and is available at his website, https://www.thomaschristophergardens.com/podcast.

Caption: Last summer, Berkshire Botanical Garden’s Farm in the Garden Camp “Harvesters” expanded their know-how in the culinary herb and vegetable garden which supplies food for campers throughout the season.

 

  Thomas Christopher is the co-author of “Garden Revolution” (Timber Press, 2016) and is a volunteer at Berkshire Botanical Garden. berkshirebotanical.org Be-a-Better-Gardener is a community service of Berkshire Botanical Garden, one of the nation’s oldest botanical gardens in Stockbridge, MA. Its mission to provide knowledge of gardening and the environment through 25 display gardens and a diverse range of classes informs and inspires thousands of students and visitors on horticultural topics every year.  Thomas Christopher is the co-author of Garden Revolution (Timber press, 2016) and is a volunteer at Berkshire Botanical Garden. berkshirebotanical.org.