why garden?

if you’ve never experienced the joy of accomplishing more than you can imagine, plant a garden.”

Robert Brault

Wandering around mom’s garden was a part of our life as kids.  She always had one.  Flowers and vegetables and the occasional fruit experiment in our furthest-from-Mediterranean-weather we have here.

Thinking back, it really was a risky occupation with three rambunctious children running around (we were outside all the time, remember?). Oh how many looks of horror we shared when our ball flew awry and landed in a flower bed –thinking somehow we could plump up a flattened bush just like a pillow.  Maybe she won’t notice…

After-school snacks comprised of whatever we could pick ourselves (which sometimes was the only option for food when we forgot our keys and were locked out).  By the way – early spring in Ontario doesn’t offer a lot of options.  You can only eat so many green onions.  

We were introduced to the war between gardener and pest at an early age.  The racoons eating the corn, groundhogs munching the lettuce, squirrels taking a bite out of tomatoes, the dreaded earwigs, cutworms…well those are just gross.  Oh the year of the cantaloupe…the cheeky scoundrels got them the night before we were going to pick them.  How do they know right just when things are ripe??   I think I will call them Garden Pirates.

Just fyi parents:  having a dog really helps with those merciless thieves.  I’m sure we used that as an argument when pleading for our parents to get us one.  Well it worked, so there.

But despite the perils of pests, the unexpected frost (“everyone grab a blanket!!”), trampling feet, toy smashing, or over-picking from her children (“keep your grubby hands away from the carrots, they’re not ready to pick yet!”), it was her sanctuary and her therapy.  

We enjoyed it, and even as kids, we appreciated the beauty of it all and the practical side of growing your own food.  The appreciation grew during the winter months – I’m sorry, but these are carrots??  They taste like wood.  Tomatoes shouldn’t be hard and pulpy!  We’ll wait for mom’s, thanks.  But, as kids usually do, we really did take it for granted.  It was just a normal part of our lives.  Was it really that special?  

HOW DID IT IMPACT US?

Looking back (which is usually when epiphanies occur), my mom’s garden made our house, our home, feel full and alive.  Not only did it teach us that nothing compares to the delicious taste of home grown organic food, but also the deep satisfaction of seeing the results of your hard work.  Even better when you can eat the results.  It teaches patience, responsibility, and also appreciation for where your food comes from – and when you work for it, you’re less likely to waste it!  Also, anything leftover is for the compost to give back to the soil.  Gardens are a reflection of the beauty that life offers.  When your hands are in the dirt, it’s a connection to earth, our most beautiful home.  It’s healing.  Gardens give a warmth and calmness to a yard, or a balcony, or a table.  And like my mom said, dealing with the challenges of gardening teach us a vital but dying trait: resilience.  Don’t give up.  You’re tougher than you think.  

Finally (to my mom’s great relief), my thumb started turning green in my thirties.  It started small, with pots on my balcony, and is (still) growing with larger and more various garden plots.  She seems to take particular joy in my battles with pests.  Panicked text: “What’s this??” (send picture of weird worm/beetle/bug or droopy leaves, etc.).  Or the dreaded: “Look what I just saw!!!”  (send picture of fat groundhog).  Of course, I don’t have my mom’s miraculous touch with plants.  Things just grow with her – bigger, lusher, more beautiful.  Really, I don’t exaggerate.  One year I tried planting white radishes.  I took a picture of the little dude I pulled up – the size of my pinkie.  I figured it was small but still, it grew.  My mom brought in her loot and dumped them on the counter – they were the size of my forearm.   

Being one of these “late bloomers” in the gardening world has taught me something else: sometimes kids may not take off with something right away.  Sometimes it might not happen at all, and they may go another route.  But a lot of the time – once the seed is planted, the desire will grow.  Especially when there are happy memories associated with that seed.  I’m grateful my mom is able to see my budding love of gardens.  When we’re outside together, hands in the dirt, I feel like that little kid again, marveling at my mom and trying to help life grow like she does.

So mom: Thank you.  Thank you for gardening.  Thank you for the fresh food.  And, thank you for patiently waiting for me to get a clue.  

how is Gardening So Beneficial?

Physical Development and Motor Skills

Shoveling, carrying items, burying, planting tiny seeds, pruning, weeding, harvesting (delicate and not so delicate), raking, lifting, digging… Gardening is a good work out!!

Mental and Physical Health

Aside from the exercise, the fresh air and healthy microbes and fungi in dirt help build a strong immune system; Encourages healthy eating and of a variety of foods (if they grow it, they’ll want to try it!); Relieves stress and anxiety (gardens are therapeutic)

Cognitive and Life Skills

Teaches problem solving, safety skills, sense of responsibility, resilience (learning from mistakes and challenges), planning and organizing, and how to follow instructions and apply knowledge to practical situations; increases focus and concentration, creativity; builds confidence, self-esteem and independence; teaches science

Connects with Nature

As they grow in knowledge about plants and other living things in gardens, they’ll be less afraid of them and more likely to care about them and protect them.  

Relationships

Builds close family bonds

Start Sowing the Desire with Reading  

Many an adventure is sparked through reading!

Learning from Mom

Ages 3-8: The Ugly Vegetables: “In this charming story about celebrating differences a Chinese-American girl wishes for a garden of bright flowers instead of one full of bumpy, ugly, vegetables…As the neighborhood comes together to share flowers and ugly vegetable soup, the young gardener learns that regardless of appearances, everything has its own beauty and purpose.” Has a guide to the Chinese pronunciation of the vegetables and the recipe for ugly vegetable soup!

Lola Plants a Garden: Follow Lola as she plans her first garden. From the website: “After reading a book of garden poetry, Lola sets out to research what plants will grow best and how to prepare her plot. Then she and her mother plant the seeds, water, and wait to see what happens. . . . This sweet story celebrates the excitement of planting your first garden, as well as the power that comes from reading.”

Apartment Life: The Extraordinary Gardener: About a little boy, Joe, who lives in an apartment, whose world is in a rather ordinary city. He spends his time imagining a colorful world. But one day he decides to plant a seed on his balcony…

Up and Down in the Dirt: is an exploration of the hidden world and tiny lives of a garden through the course of a year. Has received several awards and was written by a middle-school teacher.

The Curious Garden: About a little boy growing up where there is little green. One parent review stated how it got their kids excited to see things grow. “A quietly marvelous picture book… Echoing the themes of The Secret Garden, it is an ecological fable, a whimsical tale celebrating perseverance and creativity.”―The New York Times

Getting Started

For some more tips, suggestions and resources and some free downloads:

Starting with Seeds – tips, advice, tools, free downloads, what to grow, book suggestions for the first steps and more

Indoor Outdoor Gardening – indoor apartments, balcony, container or yard garden tips and suggestions, hydroponics, tools, suggestions, free downloads and more