Posts tagged ‘gardening’

May 23, 2013

Garden Inheritance

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on May 22, 2013.

When I was a young girl I came to Georgia to visit my grandmother who lived in Athens. She kept a little red watering can just for me because I loved to help her water her plants. She lived in an apartment, but it had a courtyard where she grew flowers. Red geraniums were her favorite.

I used to love walking with her to Charmar nursery where I was enchanted with the rows and rows of plants inside the long greenhouse. Once she bought a little green fern for me, and I took it home on the airplane.

When we lived in Colorado, our house had a sunroom, and my mother filled it with Scheffleras, spider plants and jades.  I remember watching my father tend the garden that ran along the back fence. In my childhood memory that garden was very big, but it was probably just a modest house garden.

During my year in Japan, I had a very tiny apartment, but it had a small balcony, so it seemed natural to follow in my mother and grandmother’s footsteps and fill it with greenery. It was the least I could do to improve the view of the parking lot.

Now my children have inherited this love of plants and gardening. My six-year-old saves the seeds from his mandarins and apples and wants to plant them to see if they’ll grow. He found a half-sprouted acorn in the yard, so now we have a hardwood tree growing in a pot despite the fact that we have more than enough growing in our yard.

Every night he faithfully waters our garden where we planted green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and a few herbs. He likes watering our flowers in the front yard too, but I always offer to help because I don’t want it to become a chore for him.

My three-year-old loves to water and plant too.  One afternoon he carried seeds around from some plant found in the woods. His grubby little hands offered them to me, and they ended up in the cup holder of my chair. He, too, has an acorn growing in a pot, thanks to the help of his older brother.

A friend of mine owns a landscaping business, and she taught my son how take a cutting from the butterfly bush. Cut off one of the new shoots, strip the bottom leaves and cut the top leaves in half. Put the remaining part into a small pot with some seed starter mix, keep it moist and in a sunny spot.  Now my son is pulling the new leaves off the bush to try it himself. Come here in a few years, and you’ll probably find our yard full of purple butterfly bushes.

I’m making no attempts to stop my budding gardeners even though a landscaper might cringe at our attempts to grow full-sun plants in the shade or crowd the flowers together. My education in gardening has been through trial and error, and my sons are following in my footsteps.

Whenever I watch my three-year-old stoop over to water a pot with his blue watering tin, I think about the little red one I had at my grandmother’s. I think she would be pleased that I’m still outside planting, watering, and growing seeds. Someday I’ll have to take my boys on a trip to a big greenhouse too.

March 29, 2013

How to Make a Terrarium

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on March 27, 2013.

If you’re eager to plant some greenery, but you’re still waiting for the threat of frost to pass, you might enjoy making a terrarium for inside the house. My plant-loving six-year-old found instructions in First Nature Activity Book by DK Publishing, and he asked if we could make one. I didn’t see why not.

Luckily for me, it’s fairly simple to make.  Here’s what you need: a clear container with a wide neck and an air-tight cover, small pebbles, charcoal, peat-based potting soil, small ferns, different types of moss, lichen-covered twigs or bark.

We had the charcoal, and we had plenty of moss, lichen and small ferns growing in shady spots in our yard, but we didn’t have the other ingredients. At the garden store, I bought a bag of pebbles and the peat-based potting soil. At the pet store, I found a medium-sized Kritter Keeper, and I lined the top with cellophane to make it airtight. A decorative glass container would be prettier but more expensive, or you could easily use an old aquarium.

When you let the kids do the work, they have fun cleaning up after themselves. (Sometimes.)

First, line the bottom of the container with enough pebbles to cover it evenly.  The pebbles are there for drainage. Next, add a layer of charcoal. We put in a fairly thin layer, but we covered the pebbles completely and evenly.

This is not the way I recommend you put in the charcoal. By pouring it in, it covered the walls with black soot and we had to clean them. Just be more careful.

My six-year-old had fun when I put some pieces of charcoal in a baggie and let him pound them on the sidewalk with a hammer to break them into tiny pieces.  The charcoal is supposed to act as a filter, keeping the terrarium smelling good. I have read different opinions online about whether it’s needed or not, but for a closed terrarium, it’s probably a good idea.

Next, add a thick layer of the peat-based potting soil, but leave plenty of space for the plants. Now the terrarium is ready for the plants.

We had to do some trimming.

We found all our plants in our yard. There was a small, pretty wild plant growing next to our house under the monkey grass, and I never had the heart to pull it out. I thought we’d give it a chance in the terrarium even though I have no idea what it is.

I also found an offshoot of some Japanese painted fern, which I had planted years ago near our front porch.  My six-year-old and three-year-old had a great time going around the yard collecting moss – much more than we needed.  We also found a small piece of bark with lichen growing on it.

As we arranged the plants inside the terrarium, I decided my son needed a lesson in garden design so that he wouldn’t crowd everything together. Later, I also read that we shouldn’t put too much moss into the terrarium so that the moss doesn’t overpower the small plants.

Once the terrarium is finished, you need to water it well, but after that, you only need to use a spray bottle once in a while to mist the plants and soil. Keep the lid open until the sides of the container have no more water droplets on them, and then shut it tight.

The terrarium needs to sit in a well-lit area, but no direct sunlight should fall on it.  Remember, these are shade plants.  Fertilizer isn’t needed either.  You don’t want the plants to grow too big, and when they start to get too big or the leaves touch the sides of the container, you’ll need to trim them.

After a few days, I noticed our plants looked a little brown and yellow, so I snipped off those leaves and hoped for the best.  Now, it’s looking good, and I’ve noticed some new growth on the wild, unidentified plant and the moss!

This was a fun, easy project, and it’s a perfect for children who enjoy planting or who are learning about plants.

Have you ever made a terrarium? 

August 27, 2012

Gardening Experiment Success

{Growing Pinto Beans In a Jar}

Remember the pinto beans my son sprouted in a jar?  Well, we planted a few of the sprouts in our garden, and a couple of them have been growing well and are giving us beans!  Unfortunately, they have caterpillars eating the leaves right now, so that means we’ll have to learn a lot more about organic gardening in the future.  But I’m tickled pink that we got something to grow!  My six-year-old is very happy too!

UPDATE: I just found these instructions on how to harvest pinto beans!

June 21, 2012

Lessons Learned in the Garden

“A new study conducted for Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has found that encouraging children to learn gardening boosts their development by helping them become happier, more confident, and more resilient. In addition, gardening also helps teach children patience and the benefits of a healthy diet and lifestyle.”  

–Quote from an article titled, Teach Children Gardening and Give Them a Natural Head Start in Life on NaturalNews.com

It’s that time of year again for planting and growing things, and I’m happy that my five-year-old seems just as excited about the garden as he was last year.  It’s an exciting year for me too because we’ve planted things I’ve never attempted to grow before.  At his request, we’ve got corn, carrots, onions, and garlic, and we also have the old staples: cucumbers and tomatoes.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to prune back some bushes and clip the perennials before they budded (makes them stronger), so my flower beds are crowded with daisies falling over on top of other flowers, and an off-shoot of a butterfly bush is growing between two bushes that were already suffocating each other.

The yard is a work-in-progress, and it always will be, but even when it’s unruly, it gives me great pleasure to see the plants circle around to their blooming glory.  It’s also the potential that gives me thrills – thinking about what I might be able to do once the boys are older and strong enough to haul dirt and wheelbarrows!

It’s my goal to keep them interested in cultivating a garden, so I don’t pressure them, and I let them plant what they want and overwater it at times too.  If something doesn’t grow, I tell my son we learned something, and we’ll try again next year.  My five-year-old is always talking about planting this or that, and getting a new packet of seeds is like getting a new toy.

Yesterday we went to visit some long-time friends of mine, and I knew the five-year-old would love their garden, which is spread out over their whole yard.  It’s one of those cozy cottage-like places.  Of course he was in heaven as he asked what the names of the plants were, and when I wasn’t looking my friend gave my son a packet of green bean seeds and some seeds from a plant outside.

I didn’t think we’d have room for those green beans, but my husband enthusiastically went out with my son and extended the garden by several feet.  So now we’ve got green beans too!

When I mentioned to my son that he might be a gardener when he grows up he said no because he wants to study snakes.  I had the pleasure of telling him that it’s possible to do more than one thing when we grow up, and he could certainly have his own garden.  A light bulb seemed to go on over his head when I said that.

Last year I used his enthusiasm to teach him about the parts of a plant.  I found an inexpensive “Life Cycle of a Plant” poster at a teacher’s store, and we also have two helpful books at home that my son likes to read:  From Seed to Plant by Allan Fowler and How a Seed Grows by Helene J. Jordan.  Both of these books are written for youngsters.  We also sprouted bean seeds in jars.

Gardening is a wonderful learning experience for children.  It teaches them how our food grows, about the environment, and it gives them something to take pride in.  It’s the character-building aspect of gardening that I most love.  My son has learned about patience and hard work.  And for me, it’s relaxing, except maybe when the boys are fighting over who gets to water with the hose.

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on June 13, 2012.

Please share your photos and posts about gardening with children in the comments section.
October 30, 2011

A Kindergarten Child-Led Project: Seeds, Plants, Gardening

The five-year-old grew two pumpkins by himself. I’m a proud mama.

Most kindergarten curriculums include a study of how seeds grow into plants.  I did not have to do anything to entice my son into learning about seeds.  He is obsessed with them.  Whenever he gets a chance, he’ll pull seeds off trees or plants – at church, at a park, grandma’s house or our yard – and he puts them in his pocket, telling me he wants to plant them as soon as possible.  He has done this so many times that I almost want to pull my hair out, but I don’t.  I just smile and say, “Okay.”  Sometimes I have helped him plant the seeds, but usually I just let him plant them wherever he wants, hoping knowing he might forget about them.  Since I’m a “green pinky” gardener, I usually know that the seeds he has won’t grow under the conditions in which he plants them in, but that’s not the point.  The point is to just let him have fun planting his seeds.

But I have assisted him in planting seeds under conditions that I knew hoped would grow.  Earlier this summer, we planted tomatoes, and to my surprise, he was very eager to take care of them. Since I have my hands full with two boys, I didn’t plan to plant much else, but he insisted that we plant pumpkins.  So we did.  Or I should say he did.  He planted those pumpkins, and he took care of them all summer.  He watered them every night!  I think it was quite late summer before he finally started to let his little brother do the watering, but he was still eager enough most evenings.  (He lasted longer than me.  Usually by mid-August, I’ve had enough of gardening.)  I was very proud of him.


Since plants are an interest of his, I have used the opportunity to teach him more about seeds, plants and gardening.
 This has been over a long period of time.  As I wrote about in “Learning Is Like a Chain Link Fence,” I believe the best learning comes from doing and studying something at our leisure, over time, and when we need to learn about it for a purpose.  I’ll continue to teach my son about planting, seeds and gardening in the future.  This is an easy subject for me since I enjoy gardening myself.

Here’s a list of additional projects and resources that I’ve used to teach him about seeds and plants.  And you can scroll down to see our pictures.

  • I found a “Plant: Life Cycle” Poster (see photo above) for less than $3 at a nearby teacher supply store. Though my son and I enjoy making our own educational posters, I have no problem spending a few bucks every now and then. (Actually, the price was probably the same as making one of our own.)
  • We have read and added the books How a Seed Grows by Helene J. Jordan and From Seed to Plant by Allan Fowler to our home library.
  • Using this Martha Stewart tutorial, we tried to sprout some beans in jars.  We successfully sprouted some pinto beans, and one of them is still growing in our garden! Photos and more information below.
  • At my son’s request, we have tried several times to plant seeds from the fruits or vegetables that we eat and cook with in the kitchen.  I don’t think we’ve gotten any of those to grow yet.
  • Other than this, I have let my boys play in the garden, tend the garden and plant anything they want.  If it doesn’t grow, it’s just another lesson.

Nothing teaches a child about Earth’s bounty better than gardening.

My boys have been participating in gardening and growing plants since they were babies.

We’ve also taken advantage of local farms, and I plan to visit more as the boys get older.  We went strawberry picking last spring.

Our seed sprouting project:

Our seed sprouting project had a lot of false starts.  Thinking I could remember back to my kindergarten days, I thought we could just throw some seeds in a jar of water and watch them sprout.  Ahem….This didn’t work.  Then I tried Martha Stewart’s Garden in a Jar project.  The black beans didn’t sprout at all but that may be because they were old beans from my pantry.  The lima beans and pintos (which I bought new) started to sprout, but the limas stopped sprouting and got moldy, so I threw them out (too much water?)  The pintos were a success!

This method is simple:  Lightly wet a paper towel and put it in the bottom of a jar, place the dried beans on top of the towel and then cover the jar.  I used regular dried beans that you can buy at the grocery store.  You may need to mist the beans periodically, if the towel dries out.

Pinto bean success!  My son planted these sprouts in our garden, and one of them is still growing. I doubt it’ll make it through the winter, though. Yet that is a lesson in itself, no?


At my son’s request, we have tried planting some other things.  This lettuce was a success.  We also planted some in our garden,and though I’ve had a lot of success with lettuce over the years, I’m sorry to say that crop didn’t grow.

What kinds of things have your kids done to learn about seeds, plants and gardening?

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