The Power of the Story and Literature in the Garden

Guest Blogger – Sharon Lovejoy
Guest Blogger – Sharon Lovejoy

“Story is for a human as water is for a fish–all encompassing.…” Jonathan Gottschall

The Literary Garden

You can find a multitude of stories in any garden, but especially in those designed with beloved books in mind. Gwen Frostic once wrote, “In a child’s garden, imagination grows.” In a garden planted to nurture the love of books and plants, imagination soars!

Choose favorite books and cultivate a small theme garden filled with plants that are mentioned in the text. You will not only tell, but also show and root kids to the world of both gardens and literature. I’ve learned through the years that kids don’t forget what they learn from stories or gardens.

Read E.B. White’s classic Charlotte’s Web and search for examples of spider webs in the garden. Tend a patch of ground filled with the herbs that Beatrix Potter mentions in Peter Rabbit. Tuck a Secret Garden behind a fence or hedge and festoon it with roses. Grow a giant beanstalk just like the one in Jack and the Beanstalk. Sow a border of lupines in honor of Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius, who wanted to make the world a better place.

Finally, don’t forget the value of trees in a garden for children. Even older kids love the environmentally sensitive book The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. Read and explore the meaning of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono. Page through Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert and Maple by Lori Nichols. This is just a small sampling of the many thousands of books from which to choose.


Plan a garden with little reading nooks furnished with simple, natural seating. I like to use tree stumps and hay bales. Enter the garden through short, kid-sized arches and small gates. Provide shade and seating under arbors and pergolas planted with vines. This all adds to the mystery and allure of a child’s literary garden.

Make literary signs with images and quotes from favorite books. You can scan and enlarge images, and laminate them to protect them from the elements. Let the kids help design and create them.

Plant a poetry trail. Ask the children to choose their favorite poems and print them on heavy paper, which can be laminated. Mount the poems on short posts or on fences throughout the garden. Another option is to split up one poem into numerous signs scattered throughout the garden.

Install a large, outdoor “Word Wall.” Use chalkboard-painted plywood. Post a daily quote from a famous author and honor authors on their birthdays.

Be sure to have areas that are fenced or hedged so that kids have a magical, secret space in which to read and write.

Make an outdoor reading amphitheater with a throne for the reader/teacher and a half circle of seating (hay bales) for the students.

About our Guest Blogger

Sharon Lovejoy is an award winning author of nature, gardening, and historical fiction. Her books Sunflower Houses, Hollyhock Days, Roots Shoots Buckets & Boots, and Camp Granny focus on how to connect children to the world of gardens and gardening. Sharon is an Advisory Board Member for


Toddler-ing the Carrot’s Complexity

Guest Blogger – Nichole Rothaupt
Guest Blogger – Nichole R

“What’s that?” is almost two-year-old Grayson’s favorite sentence. He’s in that precarious place of trying to pinpoint what makes something different and how items are related. I cannot remember this phase myself, but I’d imagine (based on his behavior) that this is a fairly exciting and frustrating time in his life.

The process of defining the world fulfills a basic human need and way of thinking: to categorize. While classifying what something is or is not helps individuals to develop a sense of understanding, it can also lead to simple and incorrect conclusions about nearly anything. (In fact, some researchers believe that the fundamental source of prejudice is not an ideology, but rather our need to categorize.)

KG_blog-3601It has taken me a long time (probably too long) to shake the comfort of knowing that resides in dichotomies and appreciate the complicated nature of our everyday lives. And because of this all (albeit at the risk of confusing my child), I intentionally create situations that require thinking. Hence the “What’s that?” Plus, it’s far more interesting to be uncertain.

This past weekend, our purple carrots wanted in on the “thinking” action. Their tall green tops reached to the sky, seeming almost as if they were willingly volunteering to be ripped out of their soft, soil bed by a merciless toddler.

For Grayson, this dig was like searching for buried treasure—except, he was actually making quite a killing. Pulling up lush tops, brushing off the soil, and throwing the carrots into the bucket appeared to be a task that was right up his alley. After nearly every successful extraction, he’d ask, “What’s that?”

I’d respond, It’s a carrot.

I filled a Tubtrug of water, which we used to rinse off the carrots and then dry them. Then I brought out a basket filled with similar, yet somewhat different carrot-ish objects—certainly not like the ones from our garden. And some of them, you couldn’t even eat.

Grayson didn’t quite know what to make of this. He did know that he wanted to go through the basket. I added some of the carrots that we dug up to the basket. As he explored its contents, he’d ask, “What’s that?”KG_blog-3599

I’d respond, It’s a carrot.

He began sorting to his particular liking; color, size, and texture were all factors that he weighed into consideration when determining the appropriate pile. I started questioning him, adding adjectives to aid in his sorting process.

While there wasn’t a clear “ah-ha” moment, it was evident (by his growing, not-as-particular pile) that Grayson’s definition of what a carrot was no longer rested just on the purple carrot from the garden.

About our Guest Blogger; Nichole Rothaupt is mom, wife, writer, and seasoned, nonprofit professional with expertise in communications, ecommerce, and management. Learn more about what she’s up to by checking out her LinkedIn and the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging – an organization that provides the support and guidance that inspires individuals to embrace aging with confidence.


How to Use Your Excess Harvest

This week’s blog post is from our friends at, a lifestyle blog devoted to bringing you expert content to make your life easier!

We do it every year. Novice and experienced gardeners plant too much of a good thing in their edible gardens. Novice gardeners, in their inexperience, often plant all of their veggies at the same time or have no idea how many of a specific veggie to plant, while more expert gardeners like to push the envelope and try a number of different kinds of veggies, more than they did the prior year. The end result is still the same – lots more harvest than any one person or family could possibly eat. So what can you do with all of that extra food?

First up – let’s talk about how much you should be growing in your garden to avoid being inundated with excess food, leading to waste. Unless you are intentionally growing excess food for the purpose of donating it, there are generally agreed-upon guidelines for how many tomato or zucchini plants one person should plant. Of course, if you really love tomatoes and truly hate zucchini, you will adjust these numbers up or down. And if you plan to “succession plant” so that you have enough tomatoes for the entire year, use the suggested number each time you plant.

Avoid over planting your vegetable garden

Still have excess harvest? Here are four ideas, ranging from those that you have heard about but may never have tried, to a couple of lesser-known solutions.


Any kind of fruit or vegetable can be composted, leading to nutrient-rich compost that can be added to your vegetable garden next year. Compost any harvest that is overripe, spoiled, moldy, bruised, or has been nibbled on by garden pests. Don’t add diseased harvest into your compost pile, though, as that can spread the disease to next year’s garden and create a nasty cycle that is easily avoided. If you have active disease in your produce, dispose of it in a bag and put it in the trash can.

Compost piles can be open piles in your backyard or contained in covered bins. If you have wildlife in your area or have a problem with rodents, it’s best to use a container system if you plan to add spoiled harvest to the pile. Open piles with food in them will attract rodents and other animals that will remove items from your pile nightly.

Vegetable garden disease

Freeze Dry

Freeze-drying is a great option for those who like to stockpile food, live in very cold areas with extended winters, and like to be prepared for the occasional emergency – or those with excess harvest. Fresh or cooked food is put into a dryer that freezes it to -50 degrees, then removes moisture and seals it in oxygen-proof packaging to preserve freshness. It takes about 24 hours, requires no refrigeration, preserves taste and nutrition, and saves money.

Your tomatoes, squash, corn, beans, peas, and cucumbers will be waiting for you to enjoy them whenever you get the itch or the need – all you have to do is add a bit of water to rehydrate them and you’re good to go.

Water-bath canning produce

Can or Freeze

Most of us know that fresh foods from our gardens can be eaten in salads, grilled with meats, popped into soups, or sautéed with dinner. If you’re overrun with produce and would like to enjoy it during the off-season, though, there are a number of foods that are easily used in canning. Canning vegetables and fruits is the process of packing them in a glass jar and sealing them with lids that ensure no bacteria growth is possible. And if you wonder which fruits and veggies can be canned, simply look at the shelves in your grocery store.

Beans, carrots, peas, potatoes, asparagus, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, beets, onions, and corn can all be canned. If you’re into pickled veggies, reach for peppers, beets, onions, and cucumbers.

Freezing vegetables is another great option, but be sure you have enough freezer space to accommodate all the freezer bags you fill. Broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, onions, peas, squash, carrots, corn, artichokes, eggplant, mushrooms, and brussels sprouts all freeze well. It’s a good idea to blanch the produce first before placing it into airtight freezer bags – and remember to label each bag with its contents and freeze date. Consume the oldest frozen food first to avoid waste from freezer burn, which can happen in as little as three months even with proper preparation.

Share or Donate

Aside from simply giving zucchinis and cucumbers to your neighbors and family members, there are several ways you can share your excess harvest while helping other people out. Place your excess fruits and vegetables in a box or a basket with a sign that says “Free Food! Please take and enjoy.” in your front yard by the curb. Make sure to remove any spoiled food that is left over, placing those in the compost pile, and then replenishing the box daily with more excess harvest.

Many food banks and soup kitchens accept excess harvest from your backyard garden, but you’ll want to call ahead to make sure the ones in your area do accept perishable food. Ask about their guidelines for delivery, and if they have days that are preferable to receiving donations. Most donation sites ask that you bring only produce that you would serve your own family – no rotting or overly bruised foods – making sure it is clean and transported in a food-safe container.

With a little planning, you can avoid excess harvest altogether – and with a few tools and added instruction, you can feed your family throughout the year, share with neighbors, and help out those in need, all from your backyard garden.

Source: Blog

Back to School Books & Curricula!

Sarah P – Education Specialist
Sarah P – Education Specialist

It’s time to head back to school! Are you looking for lessons to help you integrate gardening into your classroom curriculum, hands-on activities for your after school program, or innovative ideas for engaging your home-schooled children in the garden? We have a wealth of resources and ideas for you!

Check out these books published by


The Growing Classroom

11-4017_TheGrowingClassroomThe Growing Classroom, written by garden educators at Life Lab, was the first garden guide I ever purchased almost 20 years ago and one that still holds a prominent place on my resource shelf. Although it has since been revised many times, its popularity over the years is a testament to the fact that the lessons provided are tried and true favorites that provide any garden educator with foundational gardening activities for a wide range of ages. It also offers excellent how-to information supporting the creation of successful and sustainable garden programs.

An exciting feature, Life Lab now offers teachers access to a database that shares how every lesson in The Growing Classroom correlates with the new Common Core Math and Language Arts standards and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). You can access this database at:

"It used to be that teachers felt like they had to "sneak" garden-based science lessons into their students' education,” shares Whitney Cohen, Education Director at Life. Recently, “we saw first hand how the tide is turning and hands-on, minds-on, inquiry-based, outdoor science education is being encouraged in schools. The K-12 Science Supervisor for the Providence Public Schools in Rhode Island called to place the largest order we've ever had for our Growing Classroom activity guide, 625 copies, because she saw useful connections between the activities and approach outlined in our book and the goals set forth by the new Next Generation Science Standards. Every elementary science teacher in her district will be provided with a copy of the book at the start of the 2016-2017 school year!"

Check out this YouTube video to watch a sample lesson from The Growing Classroom in action.

Growing Food

GrowingFood_CoverIf you are looking for a more formal curriculum to get your students excited about science while also introducing them to the garden-related topic of food systems, Growing Food, part of the LiFE curriculum series, is the book for you. Written by educators at the Teachers College in New York City and funded by a Science Education Partnership Award from the National Institutes of Health, the goal of the LiFE curriculum is for students to acquire knowledge about how food is preserved, packaged, and processed and the resulting impact on the environment.  The hope is that through the analysis, children develop critical thinking skills that help them identify the pros and cons of the current food system so they can work towards developing socially and environmentally healthy communities.

Each lesson offers detailed instructions to guide you through implementation using a five-phased learning cycle including questioning, experimenting, searching, theorizing, and applying to life. It is an excellent resource for educators wanting additional support to create an inquiry-based science classroom.

"In science education," shares one of the authors, Dr. Angela Calabrese Barton, "we often hear about the importance of hands-on activities. We believe in that, too; however, we also believe that hands-on activities have to be followed with the hard work of building new and deeper understandings if we are to really be successful in helping all students become scientifically literate."

Download a sample lesson plan and learn more!

Grow Lab

GL-Activitives-CoverOne of the biggest challenges in implementing a school garden program is the timing of the school year. Especially in northern climates, the growing season is just beginning when the school year is concluding making it a challenge for students to see crops grow through harvest and often resulting in the need to find volunteer help for summer maintenance. The GrowLab Curriculum was created to allow schools more flexibility in gardening than what their local environment might offer through the use of indoor grow light gardens.

That being said, GrowLab lessons are designed so that they can be implemented along side an indoor or an outdoor garden. Divided into 4 chapters, topics introduced include plant needs, plant growth and life cycles, plant adaptations, and ecosystem basics. Adaptable for a wide audience range, kindergarten through 8th grade, I have used GrowLab for both formal classroom lessons and informal after school and summer camp activities. Another plus, most of the activities need very simple, inexpensive supplies. GrowLab is full of lessons that can be used to introduce students to plant basics in a fun, hands-on way.

Does it sound like one of these resources would help support your garden program? All of these curriculum books and more are available at:


Zillions of Zucchinis

Susan L – Garden Editor
Susan L – Garden Editor

So what's on just about every gardener's mind at this point in the summer? I don't know about you, but one of my biggest dilemmas is what to do with all the zucchini I'm harvesting! It's a good thing they are such a versatile veggie- we eat them steamed and stir-fried, in soup and bread, in casseroles and cakes.

But then there are the ones that got away. Try as I may to pick the developing fruits when they're small and tender, there are always a few that I overlook, ripening into giant clubs lurking beneath broad leaves in the garden. Now leaving a behemoth on a zucchini plant will make it think its work is done, so to keep plants bearing well I pick these monsters as soon as I discover them and add most of them to the compost pile. Not all however…

zucchiniMy daughter and I discovered a much better use for these oversize zucchinis when she was 7 or 8 years old. As I looked at a "Shmoo"-shaped squash (remember them from L'il Abner?) one day, I was inspired to draw a face on the narrow end and tuck it into my daughter's bed with its smiling "face" resting on her pillow. The next day "Shmoo" was in my bed! Throughout the rest of the summer, club-shaped zucchini kept popping in up in more and more unlikely places as we tried to outdo each other. I declared her the winner when, one Saturday, I spent the morning driving around doing errands. My son, still young enough to need a car seat, was home with Dad. It wasn't until I was making my last stop that I happened to glance in the backseat. It was only then that I realized I'd been carrying a passenger the entire time, for there, carefully strapped in the car seat, was a smiling zucchini, quietly enjoying the ride!

But, yes, as I mentioned we do eat them too- it's not all squash silliness! Perhaps my favorite way to enjoy these summer squashes is in zucchini casserole, a recipe passed down to me by my mother. In all the years I've been making this dish, I have yet to encounter anyone who didn't love it. It's perfect for a summer barbecue or potluck dinner. I've lightened the recipe some over the years, but it's still delicious!

Zucchini Casserole


  • 2 pounds zucchini, chopped into chunks (or use a mix of zucchini and yellow squash)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 can condensed cream of chicken soup (I use a lower fat and salt selection; use cream of celery soup for a vegetarian version)
  • 1 cup sour cream (I use low fat)
  • 1 cup grated carrot
  • 8-oz package herb-seasoned stuffing mix (I use Pepperidge Farm)
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted


  1. Combine the chopped zucchini and onion in a steamer basket set over boiling water. Steam until just tender, about 5 minutes.
  2. Combine condensed soup, sour cream and grated carrot in a large bowl. Add the steamed zucchini and onion and stir gently to combine.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the stuffing mix and melted butter. Spread half of the buttered stuffing mixture in the bottom of a 13" x 9" baking pan. Top with the squash mixture, spreading evenly. Sprinkle the remaining stuffing mixture on top.
  4. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.
  5. Enjoy!

Photo of adorable kid provided by: Nichole Rothaupt