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A growing concern: Teaching kids about gardening, and life

Dionte Lewis, left, and Wilian Calderon water herbs at the Girard Street garden.
Dionte Lewis, left, and Wilian Calderon water herbs at the Girard Street garden. (City Blossoms)

Next, it's time to get dirty.

"I call it the ick factor. So many kids aren't used to playing in the soil or touching soil," says Lemos. "A lot of the kids we tend to work with grow up in the city. A lot of times they have very little exposure with the earth or the garden or even with nature." They also need to feel comfortable with insects commonly found in the ground, such as worms and ladybugs.

What to plant? Whether kids choose to start with flowers or vegetables, horticulturalists say fast-growing plants will hold their interest. Children get a kick out of seeing their plants blossom after a few weeks of sunlight and the right nutrients.

The City Blossom gardeners suggest radishes, sunflowers or cherry tomato plants for fast results. Lemos also suggests herbs like lavender and basil as starter plants. Children will enjoy smelling them and parents can use them for seasoning.

"And herbs [from a supermarket] are expensive," says Lemos. "So it's a payoff for the parent, too."

Randy Seagraves, curriculum coordinator at the National Junior Master Gardening program, says gardening can be a great way for children to expand their food choices. "There are so many stories that we hear about kids not eating a carrot or radish," he says, "but as soon as that kid grows that carrot or radish, he finds that he likes it."

You could create theme gardens with foods kids like, says Norm Lownds, curator of the 4-H Children's Garden at Michigan State University. If they like pizza, for example, have them plant tomatoes, basil, oregano and peppers.

Harvesting root plants such as carrots or potatoes is also a favorite activity for children, Anderson-Hall says, because they can dig underground for the goods. "It's like magic, and you're finding the treasure."

If children don't select plants that can turn into side dishes for dinner, she says that's okay: It is more important that they cultivate excitement about the gardening process. "It's all about them making the connection between 'I need to put a seed in the soil' and 'That's how it's going to grow,' " she says.

At a recent family workshop at the Girard garden, Bloom and the kids turned compost, while Bloom explained how the mixture of leaves, eggshells and other organic material will soon be used to nurture the soil and keep the garden vibrant. At next month's workshop, they will focus on growing herbs and using them to make tea.

With each lesson, plenty of time is set aside for children to just walk around the garden and water plants, as Beth Cooper and Nate did. At Cooper's Mount Pleasant home, she lets Nate water and dig in the flower garden, but City Blossoms' family-friendly approach to planting has her hooked.

"I have a feeling I'll be here every week for the rest of summer," she says.

Resources:

Dig in to these sources for tips on making gardening a family activity.

-- "We Grew It, Let's Eat It!" by Annie and Veda, as told to Justine Kenin (Tenley Circle Press, $15)

-- "Dig, Plant, Grow: The Kids Guide to Gardening," by Felder Rushing (Cool Springs Press, $16)

-- http://kidsgardening.org/

-- http://www.dcschoolyardgreening.org/index.html


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