Plant the Seed of Gardening

start gardening

Unlike many of the staff here at KidsGardening, I am not an expert gardener; nor have I been gardening since childhood. In fact, this past summer was my first gardening season! I’ve been passionate about health and how food connects us to nature for many years, but it took a while for me to find the time and space in my life to “dig in.” I’m so glad I finally did! As soon as I began, it was like I had found a piece of myself that I didn’t know was missing. Since then, my health, my happiness, and my sense of purpose have blossomed.

start gardening
The author in her happy place.

I’m not sure what originally planted this seed for me. Trying to think back on what it might have been, one summer when I was maybe seven or eight stands out. I remember eating a tomato and recognizing that there were seeds inside. I knew that plants grew from seeds, so I wanted to see how a tomato grew! Keeping it a secret from my parents, I pulled out all the seeds of the tomato and brought them outside to plant. I found a spot right up against a fence (certainly not enough room for a tomato plant to grow!) in the driest, sandiest soil imaginable. Needless to say, the tomato plant didn’t grow. I checked back every day that summer to see if my plant had sprouted.

While I didn’t get to see a tomato plant grow that year, I think the connection I made of food as a living, growing, reproducing thing - just like me – left its mark. When I got to college and started to learn about some of the big issues our world is facing, those related to food and agriculture really resonated with me.

I often wonder what life would have been like if I did get a chance to grow a tomato plant as a young child. How would the many social, emotional, academic, and nutritional benefits of gardening have affected my life? I’m grateful that I found it when I did; and that I now have the opportunity, as a part of KidsGardening, to help share that experience with as many children as possible.

With the holidays upon us, many of us are making our year-end contributions. As a member of our community and someone who understands the value and life-changing effects of gardening, I’d like to ask you to join me in making a gift to KidsGardening this season. It only takes $12 to plant the seed of gardening in one child’s life. You can be that difference for a child and become part of our mission to create generations of happier, healthier kids with close connections to their food and community, and engaged in nurturing a healthy planet.

What planted the seed for you? Leave a comment and let us know. We’d love to hear your story!

Good-by and Keep Cold

plant cold hardiness

Winter is once again descending on the Vermont landscape. When I venture outside now I’m well-wrapped in warm jacket, hat and mittens. But there are no cozy scarves or down parkas for trees and other plants to don against the cold. How do they make it through until spring?

Plant cold hardiness is pretty amazing. Plants that are adapted to my New England winters (and other cold winter climates) have evolved ways of making it through the long months of cold and surviving some pretty frigid temperatures. A plant that might be injured or killed by below-freezing temperatures during active growth will undergo physiological changes that enable it to withstand winter temperatures many degrees below zero. These changes happen in part in response to signals from the environment that the season is changing. Shorter days (it's actually the longer nights that plants are responding to) and falling temperatures send a message that winter is on its way. That's why it's important not to cover plants like roses with winter protection too early in the fall. They need to be exposed to the environmental signals to develop as much of their natural hardiness as they can.

However, sometimes Mother Nature throws meteorological curve balls that can affect how well plants weather the cold. Plants develop the full extent of their hardiness by degrees, going through a period of acclimation before settling into full dormancy. When the onset of cold weather is early and sudden, plants that haven't had a chance to prepare their full defenses may be injured. When a midwinter thaw is warmer and longer than expected, when midwinter temperatures plunge unusually deep into the negative numbers, or when temperatures fluctuate rapidly from cold to warm and back again, especially early and late in the winter, plants can suffer.

If there is a period of cold weather followed by a return to warmer than usual temperatures in late fall, some plants get "confused" and begin to shed their winter hardiness in expectation of spring. Sometimes they even begin growing actively, only to be injured when the cold returns. This is why you may see early spring bloomers like forsythia unfurling a few blossoms in November and December warm spells. Usually enough flower buds remain dormant to preserve the springtime show.

The soil movement that occurs during periods of alternate thawing and freezing during winter warm spells can result in plants being heaved out of the ground, leaving their roots exposed to injury from cold and drying air. When we spread protective mulch over perennials in the garden, we are not trying to keep them warm -- we are actually trying to keep them cold, locked safely in consistently frozen soil. That is why gardeners are advised to wait until the ground is frozen to cover plants with mulch and why a consistent blanket of snow provides such good winter protection.

Of course, plants can be injured by extreme cold temperatures as well. To use forsythia as an example again, the flower buds are not as hardy as the leaf buds. Often winter temperatures here in Vermont are cold enough to kill forsythia flower buds, resulting in a burst of foliage in spring, but few blossoms. In fact, sometimes the only flowers seen are at the base of the plant -- where snow cover provided insulation to those lower buds. 

Like other woody plants, fruit trees adapted to cold winter climates spend the winter in a period of dormancy. In fact, they are programmed to require exposure to a certain amount of cold before their flower and leaf buds are ready to open, nature's way of making sure they don't open before spring. This is called their '"chilling requirement," the number of hours of below 45 degree F temperatures the buds must be exposed to in order to come out of dormancy. But once this requirement has been met, the buds, especially on stone fruits such as cherries, peaches, and plums, can begin to lose their cold hardiness if there is an extended spell of warm weather in mid to late winter. When this is followed by more cold weather, the flower buds may be injured. The same type of injury can also occur in spring as the plant begins to deacclimate to the cold -- a late frost can nip future fruits “in the bud." As in the fall when plants are developing their winter hardiness, a gradual and consistent pattern of temperature change suits plants best.

Robert Frost, our beloved New England poet, was a keen observer of the natural world and its cycles and uncertainties. So I'll leave you with his lovely and seasonal meditation on trees, winter, and the acceptance of the vagaries of nature, something we gardeners must all confront.

Good-by and Keep Cold

by Robert Frost

This saying good-by on the edge of the dark
And the cold to an orchard so young in the bark
Reminds me of all that can happen to harm
An orchard away at the end of the farm
All winter, cut off by a hill from the house.
I don't want it girdled by rabbit and mouse,
I don't want it dreamily nibbled for browse
By deer, and I don't want it budded by grouse.
(If certain it wouldn't be idle to call
I'd summon grouse, rabbit, and deer to the wall
And warn them away with a stick for a gun.)
I don't want it stirred by the heat of the sun.
(We made it secure against being, I hope,
By setting it out on a northerly slope.)
No orchard's the worse for the wintriest storm;
But one thing about it, it mustn't get warm.
"How often already you've had to be told,
Keep cold, young orchard. Good-by and keep cold.
Dread fifty above more than fifty below."
I have to be gone for a season or so.
My business awhile is with different trees,
Less carefully nurtured, less fruitful than these,
And such as is done to their wood with an ax--
Maples and birches and tamaracks.
I wish I could promise to lie in the night
And think of an orchard's arboreal plight
When slowly (and nobody comes with a light)
Its heart sinks lower under the sod.
But something has to be left to God.

From: New Hampshire, 1923

ProFlowers Volunteers Give Back

To celebrate the UN’s International Volunteer Day (Tuesday, December 5, 2017), KidsGardening teamed up with ProFlowers for an exciting garden expansion at Sequoia Elementary School in San Diego, California.  Giving back in their local community, close to 30 ProFlowers employees volunteered their time to spruce up a succulent garden, build compost bins, plant fruit trees, and construct four new raised beds to house pollinator-attracting plants.  With great enthusiasm, the garden club students joined the adult volunteers to add soil to the new beds and dig in the colorful array of flowering plants.  By the end of this beautiful morning, proud smiles and dirty hands could be found on participants of all ages.  Just take a look at these amazing photos.

The work of ProFlowers to support youth garden programs is just beginning this holiday season.  Recognizing the value of garden-based learning, ProFlowers will support youth garden programs across the country through their Gifts for Good™ Collection. For every arrangement sold from this special collection, ProFlowers will donate $5 to KidsGardening, up to a total donation of $50,000.*  Including both fresh flower arrangements and a glowing Giving Tree, consider shopping for a cause this year by purchasing one of these special gifts for friends or family.  Your holiday gift will last a lifetime as it is used to plant the seed of gardening in a young child.

*The Gifts for Good ™ Collection is available for purchase from 11/25/17 – 12/25/17, and is void in AR, CA & DC.

Carton 2 Garden Contest

carton 2 garden

I have fond memories of making little gingerbread houses each December in elementary school using a milk carton as the base, then covering it with icing, graham crackers and candy.  Probably not the healthiest holiday activity out there (I fully admit that not all the candy ended up on the house), but it was one of my earliest experiences in turning something that would have been trash (yep, I am old, we could not recycle paperboard in those days) into a treasure. 

carton 2 garden
Carton 2 Garden past winner

Many years later milk cartons are still a staple supply in schools across the country and available to serve as inspiration for teaching kids about the value of reusing products to reduce waste. Repurposing cartons is a fun way to provide opportunities to learn about conserving our natural resources and protecting our environment.  Even better, through the Carton 2 Garden Contest you can win money for your school garden program through your environmental education endeavors!

I like to say that entering the Carton 2 Garden Contest is as easy as 1, 2, 3 (does anyone else hear young Michael Jackson’s voice with that phrase? I digress…):

  1. Save empty milk and juice cartons.
  2. Creatively re-purpose cartons to build or enhance your school garden program while engaging students in hands-on activities that foster environmental stewardship and healthy living (sorry, no candy-coated gingerbread houses).
  3. Capture the results of your efforts with photos and video, and complete the online entry form by Monday, April 16, 2018 for your chance to win one of 14 prizes up to $5,000.

I love how open-ended this contest is because it gives you and your students room to let your imaginations run wild. Reading through the entries is a delight because they always blow me away with their creativity and ingenuity. I highly recommend checking out some of our past winners to spark your brainstorming.  Click here to visit the Carton2 Garden Inspiration page. You can also read through some more in-depth program spotlight stories from our 2017 winners:

Lemon Avenue Elementary School

PS 135 Q The Bellaire School

Medea Creek Middle School Garden Club

The Carton 2 Garden Contest is open to all schools serving any grades from PreK-12. There is no entry fee.  You do not have to have an existing garden program at your school to enter. Visit for complete details. 

Think you might be interested in participating this year?  You can complete our short online Interest Registration form to receive additional information and free seeds to help you get started. Questions?  Email us at [email protected].