IN THE GARDEN: Pass on the love of gardening to children
Growing up on a farm in Washington we always had a large garden. My parents grew everything in this garden and my brothers and I were required to help. We never said we didn’t have anything to do or we were sent straight to the garden to weed. Oh the memories of those days! All of our days back then were spent playing outside with the horses and cows, riding and caring for them. However, we also had to take our turn weeding and thinning the rows of vegetables. Our animals hung outside the fence and would follow us while we were in the garden in the hopes we would throw them something yummy. As kids at the time we felt like it was a punishment to plant, weed and water and harvest and put up the garden. We would have rather gone riding with our friends and do the many other things kids like to do outside. Who knew all three of us as adults and as a result of our parents’ teachings would be enthusiastic gardeners who can’t seem to get enough of growing everything!
As parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles we have an opportunity to pass on the love of gardening to our children. Children often do not know where their food comes from. Most kids only see it purchased at the store. Now is your chance to literally plant some seeds and show your kids how this amazing transformation from seed to plant takes place. All you need is a pot, soil, seeds and light.
If you have a small area with good sunlight in your yard, help your children make a little garden that is just their own. Make a special sign that says “Sarah’s garden.” Let them start by planting seeds that will come up fast and that they can eat, like lettuce, radishes, onions, spinach and our favorite, sugar snap peas.
A must-have in every garden for children is a sunflower. These sunflowers need full sun and grow here like crazy. There are unlimited things you can grow with your children. The point is to just get outside and do it. Give the kids a reason to go outside and with some little gloves and tools their size, make a memory and grow something together. Show them how to care and nurture their plot or plant. There may be mistakes, but hey, call it a science project. Document the progress with photos and keep it simple.
Take your children to a farmers market and let them see and talk with the people who grow the food locally.
The Alaska State Fair has a children’s garden entries section that is fun to make like the Veg Head and the Giant Zucchini contest every year that are fun to see in the big barn. They also have other entries in the vegetable growing section by age group. Let them see the possibilities by stopping by and checking it out.
I am encouraged at the interest of educators to incorporate growing into their classrooms. Many schools have started growing programs. One such program is the 21st Century program in Anchorage. Patrick Ryan, Master Gardener at the Botanical Garden and a retired elementary educator, meets regularly after school with children in at-risk schools to teach kids how to grow food in the classroom under lights. This program has been very successful. Children, who would not otherwise get to see where their food comes from, participate in planting, growing and eating the food. Pat also teaches every summer a Jr. Master Gardeners program at the Botanical Garden. Stop by and see what he has done with his class and this special area of the garden reserved just for kids. It is amazing.
Teach your children how to use their tools safely and how to care for them and put them away after use. Talk about weeding and help them identify the plants from the weeds and the importance of weeding. Don’t be discouraged easily if they are not enthusiastic about every detail while learning to garden. You will be surprised at how much they will learn by just watching what you do. Children do not miss a thing, just trust me on that! They learn a lot by watching what you do, so be a good role model.
Last year I started a fairy garden in my yard for my grandson James. Together we planned the garden and had fun watching it evolve. I painted a door at the base of a big Birch tree in a bald spot where bark had fallen off and bought some cute fairy size gadgets to adorn the space. It was looking pretty good and I thought we were finished when my grandson said, “Nana, they need a back door!” Fortunately, that was easy to fix. What a fun time we had together and a memory was made.
Gardening with children is very important. You have the chance to pass on these life skills needed to learn about their natural world and for them to feel a part of it and someday they may end up affecting it in the future. If you need to know more about gardening, there are gardening clubs throughout our state to join and learn from.
Parents have an important role to play in this process. Many life skills come with learning to garden, including empathy/caring, problem solving, independence, responsibility, leadership and teamwork.
These skills get down to the basics of life and how we relate to our world around us. It is up to us really to pass the love of gardening to our children. Get outside and dig it!
Remember, we must “Keep calm and Garden on.”
WEED OF THE WEEK: Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
From the Loosestrife family, produces 2-8 feet tall spikes of purple-magenta flowers. A perennial, each plant has 5-7 ruffled shaped petals with a small yellow center. The leaves have smooth edges and have a lance shaped appearance. The leaves are usually arranged opposite from one another in groups of 2-3 along the stem. The purple-pink spikes are sometimes confused for Fireweed. Loosestrife is a fall bloomer after the Fireweed bloomed out.
Loosestrife is an aggressive plant in the Alaskan wetlands and it chokes waterways and is said to degrade wildlife habitate and fish spawning areas. This plant is spread by millions of seeds by the water, wind and wildlife. Not something we want here. Don’t let it go to seed if you have any of this in your yard. Pull it up and put it into the trash only.
Chris Wood is a certified Master Gardener from Eagle River. For questions or column ideas, write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org