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Is there a way to encourage very young children to garden? My mom knew a secret or two, even though she was never a Master Gardener and we never had perfectly weeded gardens. We did, however, grow some wonderful plants in the hills of New York state. It was in those fertile hills, in the deep dead of a dreadful winter, that I learned to love plants. Yes, mom knew a secret that I will share with you.
The cold winter winds blew against our frame home. The wind drafted in under the window sills and frosted the sliding glass door. We shivered as the cold seeped deep into our pores. I was somewhere between 3 and 7 years old. My bedroom was the floor in an open den area with a sleeping bag for a mattress because my sister would not share her room with me. I was four years younger and a creative tease who sang at the top of my lungs, jumped on beds and carried water guns or whistles everywhere. I probably would drive myself crazy now. My sister remembers that we each had our own bedroom. Somehow, I remember it quite differently: only one of us had her own bedroom. My other sister lived in a large closet area behind the bathroom and had a laundry closet full of dolls and other treasures that were generally off limits to me. I remember being jealous of that closet. Now, to be fair, I did have a bedroom years later. As you have probably gathered, we did not have much money. The winters were not just cold, they were miserable. My boots were usually hand-me-downs that had been outgrown by my sisters and by the people who wore them before us. The holes in the soles allowed water and snow to seep inside. But a promise of hope lived on, even if our toes and fingers and noses were frozen. Some of the hope arrived in the mail in the form of seed catalogs. Some hope grew in my mother's heart while she spent hours searching through these wonderful catalogs. Mom knew a secret about teaching children to love plants. Perhaps she never said it out loud, but her soul knew.
The snow lay thick and heavy on the ground when the seed catalogs arrived. I remember giggling as I asked her, "Why would anyone send a flower book now? It's winter!" Mom explained that the catalogs were sent out so we could dream and pick out pretty plants that we would like to grow when spring arrived. She circled picture after picture, knowing that there was not money for many seeds. She pointed out beautiful plants and we crowded around the table and dreamed with her. Mother never ordered all of the seeds that she wanted but she planted the love of plants deep into our souls.
Sometimes mom would say, "Look! Here is the children's area. There are gigantic pumpkins and funny cucumbers. Girls, would you like to grow these? You can buy a package for a dime. Do you have a dime in your piggy bank? I will pay the postage for you in my order."
I wanted all of the creative, unusual items in the catalog but remember thinking that I should order the same things as my sisters so I could order the special after they paid full price. My sisters were older and wiser than I and they did not fall for my money making scheme. Since we already grew plants, we knew that the pictures in the book looked nothing like the seeds that would arrive in our mailbox. However, the excitement always grew as we imagined perfectly beautiful plants, swaying gently in the soft summer breeze.
We learned many valuable lessons around that fake wood kitchen table where we had pasted together construction paper chains for Christmas decorations just weeks earlier. We learned the value of money. We learned that we could not afford to buy everything that we wanted. Sometimes we learned to spell out the names of flowers and practice our penmanship when our mother let us fill out the order forms. We learned to count our pennies and dimes as we totaled our share of the cost. We learned to dream, to love plants and to cooperate with each other.
Of course, many other lessons were learned when the box of seeds arrived. I remember being disappointed in the "grab bag" that had promised multitudes of wondrous items but delivered only some overstocked boring items instead. I also remember the packet of children's vegetable seeds. Actually, I remember eating the littlest, sweetest ear of corn in the whole wide world. It was only half ripe but I could not wait. I ordered it, paid for it, planted it and watered it. I then ate it and fell in love. And the next winter, I could not wait for the catalogs to arrive.
There are as many ways to teach children as there are to garden, I suppose. However, when the two are combined, the results may change a child's future and may even change the planet. My nephew Mitch, a member of Dave's Garden, remembers sitting down with my mother as she dreamed through seed catalogs, circling pictures. He credits her with some of his love for plants. And thus, the legacy continues.
Through ordering seeds and plants, a child can learn:
about the value of finances
about weather and zones
about advertising hype
to overcome hardships
to wait; and
to love plants.
Let's grow a new generation of children excited about plants and living things.
Thank you for reading this article. Please feel free to comment below.
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The garden in my head is better than the one in my yard. However, I plant at least one tree every year and have left every home with a little more green than it had before. I hope you enjoy reading these articles as much as I enjoy writing them.
Editor's note: Aunt_A passed away on 12-06-2010. We will miss her greatly and are thankful for her legacy of wonderful articles.