By Andrea Bellamy - Photo: Ben Garfinkel
One spring when I was about seven, my dad came home with an old wine barrel. He sawed it in half and gave one half to my sister, the other to me. With my mom’s guidance, we chose seeds and seedlings, and planted our barrels. So proud we were of the gaudy orange pompoms of the marigolds, the jaw-like blooms on the snapdragons, the gnarly and stunted carrots. Later in the season, the potatoes we’d planted at the bottom of each barrel would crowd out all that was growing above. It didn’t matter; I was hooked, and the following year I carved a small plot—modelled on Mr. McGregor’s garden—out of our suburban lawn. I don’t know if my parents were consciously trying to plant a seed in our developing brains, or if it was just a project designed to keep me and my sister busy, but that first garden was a gift—one that sparked a lifelong need to grow things.
When my daughter was born, I had similar ideas about nurturing respect for living things and curiosity about the natural world within her. I had envisioned a gurgling cherub, mesmerized by the wonders of soil, while mom worked nearby; what I got was a fusser, a babe happiest in arms and not at all amused by earthworms (though she did once eat a desiccated slug). Until she gave up her naps, the most important garden tool I owned was a baby monitor.
As she grew from busy toddler to busier preschooler, Lila began to spend more time in the garden with me. She “helped” by digging holes, watering, and planting seeds (you could always tell which areas she had planted; the lettuce came up in thick, toddler-fist-sized patches). I joked that I wasn’t gardening with her; I was gardening in spite of her.
Lila is four now, and while much of gardening with her remains in damage-control territory, she has taken a real interest in growing stuff. And the key, not surprisingly, has been giving her a garden of her own. I wish I could say I was clever enough to connect my own beginnings as a green thumb with my decision to give her a container garden, but the truth is, it was an act born of frustration. I wanted to plant my spring greens; she kept plunging her kid-sized trowel into my newly seeded pots.
“Here,” I said. “This one is all yours. You can plant whatever you like.” Then I relinquished control. Lila’s container had way too many seedlings per square inch and was heavy on the pink flowers, but she loved it, watering it carefully, and happily eating the peas and lettuces it produced.
When we moved into a house this past summer, one of the first things Lila did was dig up a patch of lawn and declare it her garden. She asked me if she could have some cucumber seeds. “Of course,” I said. “Would you like help planting them?”
“No thanks,” she replied. “I can do it myself.” And she did.
A FEW IDEAS FOR GROWING GREEN THUMBS:
- One of the first garden tasks Lila fell in love with was turning the compost. We slide open our bin’s lower access door and dig out the bottom layer, examining worms, wood bugs, and centipedes before adding the material back to the top of the bin. It’s fascinating, and also makes the compost decompose faster.
- Seed starting is somewhat miraculous for kids. Make it even more fun by planting in eggshells (draw a face on the side and suddenly your sprouts become hair), or seeding in the shape of your child’s first initial.
- Look for unusual edibles such as purple beans, globe-shaped carrots, or yellow pear tomatoes. Giant squashes, gourds, and pumpkins are also popular picks for kids’ gardens.
- Plant dessert. My daughter loves to eat strawberries and blueberries straight from the source. With berries in the garden, she’s the one suggesting we go outside. And of course, I’m happy to oblige.
Andrea Bellamy is the gardener behind HeavyPetal.ca and the author of Sugar Snaps and Strawberries: Simple Solutions for Creating Your Own Small-Space Edible Garden.