(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on March 7, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
I love it! When Ethan was just turning 3, his dad took him to Lowes to buy a sandbox to play in at Nana's house. They came home with a GREEN battery powered loader for little kids. When I asked what happened to the sandbox, Ethan told me that he needed the loader to help me move mulch to all my flower gardens. I should have known, the green shoelaces were the first clue.
Last summer in addition to moving mulch from one end of my gardens to the other, my little guy also had a large container all his very own in which he planted a few seeds that I had leftover from years earlier. I had no idea whether or not they would grow, but grow they did, filling the container and providing lots of smiles, giggles and a million questions from my grandson. We greeted the dawn waiting for one pink morning glory to wake up and bloom. We ended the evening watching the moonflower blooms gradually open. Of course I have to take into the equation that he is a little boy, and the interest in digging in the dirt and slinging mulch around and finding earthworms is very normal. Add wiping eyes, ears, nose and mouth with dirt covered hands just adds to the excitement. Wash it all off with the garden hose and you have one happy little guy!
Watching Ethan and his various interests grow and bloom is more exciting to me than waiting for my first daylily bloom, but before going through another growing season with him I knew I needed a more organized plan. My budding young gardener also loves books, every night before bedtime when he is with me, we read. With that thought in mind, I thought of ways that I might combine his interest in books with his interest in gardening, and maybe I have come up with a winner. Let me share it with you, and you can decide.
Altered books is a term for a contemporary art form. Artists have a unique way of turning trash into treasure, and creating an altered book for a child is more than fun. All you need on hand is an old hard back book that you no longer want or need, a kid's glue stick, markers and colored paper. Now I know that a lot of old books are treasures, but I am talking about small old books on useless topics like how to write a letter or cleaning your treadle sewing machine. Those you no longer need, and the thinner the book the better. An altered book is any book that has been recycled by creative means into a work of art. It can be rebound, painted, cut, folded, torn, added to, collaged, and taken away from. I like to make sure mine have uses, too.
The first thing you should do is to decide how many pages you want to keep in your book. Our book is going to include packets of seeds for children, so we need to allow for the added thickness the seeds will create. Once you have decided on the number of pages you need and allowing for a few extra just in case, start tearing or cutting out excess pages. Don't tear them all away from the same spot. Scatter the torn pages from front to back so that you will have some extra space between pages to allow for seed packets.
Now that you have your pages torn away, think about the cover. Since I am making the book for a little guy who loves green, I am going to find all the green that I can in old magazines, scrapbook paper, wrapping paper, even construction paper will work. The tearing away of extra pages created some damage to the binding of the book, but you can repair that by gluing on a piece of paper that is large enough to cover the double pages. This strengthens the binding and it also covers any obvious tears that might have been made when you removed the pages. Keep the design simple. I found papers that matched and used them to create more interest in the background. Change your design and your paper for each page. Change always eliminates boredom.
Once the pages are finished and you are happy with it, decide on the seeds you will be sharing with your little guy. Since I am working with a 3 year old, I wanted to keep it simple and I wanted him to be able to understand it by looking at pictures as well as a few simple words. I printed a large picture of each flower that he would plant, and I also printed the flower's name in bold colorful letters. I also drew big yellow sunshine faces so that he would know the plant needed to be planted in full sun. The seeds that I chose all have similar requirements, again keeping it simple. Don't overwhelm a little one with too many seeds or too many directions. The fewer the better. Use small plastic seed packets or if you purchase seeds, simply use the packet they come in. If your child is old enough and near enough to you, he can help with placing the pictures, the words, the sun, and the seeds on the page, or you can do it for him.
I use a double page for each plant. There are two reasons for this. First, the child doesn't need to be overloaded with information, and secondly it leaves room for pictures of the plant as it grows and blooms, and of course shots of your little guy when he smells the flowers!
I made this book for Ethan, but the same could be done for older folks who have limited space or limited abilities. You might also adapt the idea for a project for a senior citizen's residence, or for anyone who has never gardened. You need only to adapt the directions to the age and ability of the recipient. Another idea is to use vegetable seeds and he will learn to grow his own food.
I hope this article has encouraged you to have some fun with your children or your grandchildren, or with anyone with whom you would like to share your love of gardening. If you are not sure yet, take a look at your little one's shoes. If he is wearing green shoelaces, it's a sure bet he is ready for gardening.
My thanks again to my friend Gloria Cole, who planted the idea for this altered book.
The photographs are from the private collection of the author.