In the Garden:
Tropical South
August, 2004
Regional Report

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Grandson Mike waters the pentas. A child can hardly go wrong with a watering can.

Gardening with Children

If you think children -- your own or your neighbors' -- won't leave a garden alone, you are right. But that is a good thing. They won't ruin your plants if you give them better things to do in the garden. They can make the place much more fun as you share your knowledge and they share their enthusiasm.

Start Early
Take babies with you into the garden and let them enjoy the color, sniff the fragrances, rub the leaves for texture, hear the music of the names. Do not make them stay as long as you do. Small doses are better for small people -- or big people with small interest. When children start walking, let them follow you, especially on that seek-and-discover walk on which you move around the whole yard quickly, celebrate every new bud and bloom, pick a few mulberries or oranges or flowers for the house. Our only Florida grandchild, Mike Covine, is an expert orange picker. Granddad rakes the oranges off the tree, and Mikey picks them up and puts them in the bags. Mike could tell before he was 2 when an orange was bad just by the feel of it.

I've picked all sorts of things with happy children and sometimes with those who were forced. Happy is better. Digging root crops or finding the fallen avocado can be better than a treasure hunt.

Add Adventure
Our granddaughter Amy used to say, "Come on, Grandma. Let's go pick something to eat." It isn't hard in Florida to always have something to eat even in a small garden, even if it is only edible flowers.

Make a garden a background for great occasions. Especially if you live in an apartment, but even if you don't, take your children, grands, or neighbors to public gardens for a short walk and a picnic. I'll never forget one time at Eureka Springs on Easter when a large family was having a reunion in the shelter and hiding eggs by the dozens in all the shrubs and flowers.

As children get older, give them a small plot or a few plants of their own. You'll be amazed at what that will teach them and what they will teach you. My children showed me that lima beans don't have to go in eye down. They can go in any old way and will find their way back to the top. A friend with a commercial greenhouse learned from her children that tomatoes do best when buried deep in the pot or the ground but peppers like to stand tall and have their roots
buried only deep enough to cover.

Gardening teaches contentment, happiness at little cost, the great rewards of even small bits of dedication, and -- as painlessly as possible -- the loss that results from neglect. So if your children are looking for something to do, take them to the nearest nursery and give them a small place in the yard to start a lifetime a pleasure.


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