There are many ways we try to teach our children the core values that as adults we treasure.
Ideals like compassion, self-respect, independence, responsibility and a love and reverence for nature are just a few; gardening is one activity that likely will cultivate those principles.
Last weekend we had simultaneous (and spontaneous) plantings occur in our front and back yards. In the front went four large hydrangea plants and in the rear three Big Beef tomato plants were potted in a small, rectangular brick-bordered planter.
We didn’t intend to expose our green thumbs on Saturday; in fact, our day began with a family trip to Costco to stock up on the numerous big box items we are convinced we need.
It was Ashley who spotted the pink hydrangea plants as we first entered the warehouse. She immediately shouted, “Pink!” and pointed, directing us to the garden section.
The plants were hearty, succulent and rich with bold fuchsia and lilac flowers. As we looked at the plants, my husband and I silently agreed that now was as good of a time as any to begin taking care of our neglected yards. There was a strip of dirt that measured the width of the front of our house that stood empty. It must have been the last nice day we had that gave us the itch to tear out the unsightly and uneven green shrubs that never flowered. Since that day, it had been left untilled, un-discussed and overlooked.
Ashley’s suggestion to plant a few pink flowers came at just the right time, as the front strip of dirt on the outside was slowly becoming the elephant in the room on the inside.
We decided to buy four hydrangeas and spend the day revitalizing the entrance of our home. We chose the plants carefully, making sure the lace-cap blooms looked vibrant in color and the stems were strong and thick to the touch. We chose plants with an abundance of emergent blooms, an amateur’s method of guaranteeing they’ll stay alive for a couple of weeks.
While surveying our plants, Connor used his finger to chase a spider on a tomato vine, which piqued his interest in the plant. Perhaps it was sibling rivalry, but at that moment Connor grew interested in rooting a few of his own plants into the ground—and they weren’t going to be pink!
So instead of a rotisserie chicken, a Tillamook cheddar block and a 24-pack of Diet Cokes, we left Costco with an SUV full of tomatoes and hydrangeas, and a full day of work ahead of us.
We got home, changed our clothes and went to work, digging, pulling weeds, adding new soil and measuring the root diameters with the holes we dug.
Connor and I went to the back yard and the rest of the family worked in the front. Each child was armed with a hand shovel, gardening gloves and a bucket to dispose the old soil.
It was amazing to see the pride in workmanship and teamwork. For hours the kids worked together and there was an eerie absence of bickering and antagonizing, as they remained focused on the task.
Connor asked to plant his tomatoes all by himself. I watched as Connor copiously dug his hole so deep he was able to inspect the clay deep in the Earth. He was fascinated by the color and texture change, as well as his perseverance in doing something on his own with little direction.
He planted the first plant and then ran inside to reach for his ruler. The plant instructions, which he proudly read to himself, recommended 12 inches in between plants. He set about digging his second hole with as much interest as the first and soon thereafter, his three 5-inch tomato plants were nicely nestled in the ground.
With a little help from Daddy, the hydrangeas, which each held a diameter of about 15 inches, were affixed to the dirt stretch in the front. With more than 20 blooms, the hydrangea plants brought life to a dusty, sullen area, and the mental picture I have of the little ones attempting to dig two-foot holes is priceless.
Experts say that teaching a child to respect nature by either growing a garden, taking a hike or observing a honeybee can promote positive lifelong traits such as respect, compassion, curiosity and independence. It provides kids with confidence, gratification and a sweet sense of accomplishment.
With each passing day, Connor goes out to measure his tomato plants, counts the yellow flowers that form and waters them consistently. Ashley admires the splash of pink in front of our house, and is learning that the word “hydrate” is a root of the plant’s name hydrangea. She is learning to care for her pink puffs and waters them each day, taking note that if they droop they’re thirsty.
Carson has inadvertently learned a few things as well. He has learned that Mommy gets mad when there are muddy footprints on the hardwood floors and that our tomato plants do not thrive off of Capri Sun juice boxes. But the greatest value he has learned is not to stab at grubs with plastic forks—they bite! Guess you can add the value of consequence to the long list of lessons learned through gardening.
A few good green reads:
Raising Baby Green: The Earth-Friendly Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth and Baby Care, by Dr. Alan Greene
Let’s Celebrate Earth Day, by Peter Roop
50 Simple Things Kids Can Do To Save the Earth, by The Earthworks Group
Fun With Recycling: 50 Great Things That Kids Can Make From Junk, by Marion Elliot
Earth Book for Kids: Activities That Help Heal the Environment, by Linda Schwartz
Recycle: A Handbook for Kids, by Gail Gibbons
Where Does the Garbage Go? By Paul Showers
Ecoart, By Laurie Carlson
Children of the Earth . . . Remember, by Schim Schimmel