Happy National Gardening Day! Whether you have a green thumb or have never been able to keep a plant alive, this article is for you. I definitely do not have a green thumb, but do have a strong passion for cooking and fresh produce, which inspired me to start gardening. Not to mention, I grew up in California where plums, oranges and lemons grew on trees in our neighborhood, my brothers and I picked blackberries on the road beside a small church on our summer walks and friends shared their surplus of pomegranates.
My husband and I had a small garden at our first house and it was a series of trial and error, including the day we dug the grass up in order to build the raised boxes. I remember being so angry that he left me there with the enormous shovel to dig up deeply rooted Texas grass on a super cold morning while gathering supplies at the hardware store. Yes, there were tears and thoughts of leaving him because this had to be the dumbest idea ever, but let me tell you, it was worth every bit of frustration a few months later as we harvested the fruits of our labor. We love remembering back to that day when it all began.
Fast-forward to last September when we planted our first garden in our newest home, and this time with our children. I thought gardening was exciting before having kids, but it was nothing compared to doing it through the eyes of a child. Exploring new life and nature together has been one of the best experiences we’ve shared as a family; an activity that unlike others, does not end after a few hours, but will continue to grow and develop with us through the seasons and years. If that doesn’t inspire you to get out there and get your hands dirty, let me share a few reasons I believe it to be an amazing learning tool, that might just push you over the edge.
Gives kids a sense of responsibility: They are introduced early to caring for something and reaping the benefits of hard work. Plants need to be watered regularly (but not overwatered like my kids would prefer) and weeds must to be pulled. If they aren’t tending to the garden as they should the plants won’t survive or produce. What a safe environment to introduce this concept!
Produces Patience: Thankfully, plants don’t grow overnight. In a generation of instant gratification, it is so refreshing and satisfying to watch children anxiously await vegetables to sprout or a flower to bloom. I cannot describe the kind of joy their enthusiasm brings as they run out to inspect the new day’s developments, not to mention their squeals of delight as they come running in to share the news and pull me outside to “see”. It is always priceless.
Teaches Perseverance: Gardens are not always successful which can be disappointing, especially to children. Sometimes a plant dies, is eaten by pests or doesn’t produce the vegetation anticipated. Or your abundance of Dinosaur Kale is uprooted by your children one night and replaced with a vase of carnations while you’re visiting with friends…In life when things don’t work out as planned or we fail, we get back up and start over, having learned from our experiences. In gardening the same is true and it’s a wonderful space to be able to talk through these valuable lessons.
Promotes Curiosity and Learning: This is true not only for children, but parents alike. When a new insect is discovered or a plant has a pest, we learn about it together. If my child is afraid of a specific bug we find a book or article to read so we can know all about it, which I find helps alleviate the fear significantly. I’m fairly new to the gardening world and even if I wasn’t, there is never a cap on what you can know. Every garden is different regardless of whether it’s in the same space from year to year, just like you and me.
Allows Children to Learn Where Food and other Vegetation Comes From: Rather than solely shopping at a grocery store for fruits and veggies or buying flowers, they can witness the process of how plants develop and produce. This in turn causes them to start thinking about where the other food they eat comes from. Being educated and having this knowledge early helps kids make better food choices as they grow into teenagers and young adults. Not to mention, seeing this lifecycle up close cultivates adventurous eaters from the start!
I realize not everyone has the space, resources or desire for a garden, but indoor plants are just as wonderful learning tools and produce the same amount of enthusiasm. If you’re in an apartment with a balcony, having a potted tomato plant, fresh herbs or flowers is an option or even one or two on a window sill will work. If you’re on the fence or would like to introduce the concept to your children there are so many resources. The library has plenty of books on gardening for adults and children. My current favorites for kids are Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, by Kate Messner and We Are the Gardeners, by Joanna Gaines and her children. Both have gorgeous illustrations and describe the joys of caring for a garden. Another place to find inspiration is your local nursery, and there are plenty in Austin. Each have a multitude of plants and seeds to admire and the employees are always extremely knowledgeable and willing to assist with your gardening woes or questions. And if you’d rather take a field trip to Sweet Berry Farms strawberry picking, that will also do the trick!