I jumped into the youth garden world almost twenty years ago while I was in graduate school at Texas A&M University. My research was focused on using school gardens as a nutrition education tool. To gain additional hands-on experience, I also volunteered to conduct weekly gardening activities in a classroom based at a youth shelter for kids ranging in age from 5 to 18. Even with many horticulture classes under my belt and having grown up in a gardening household, I discovered just how much I had to learn during those weekly garden sessions. I have to chuckle a bit about some of the things I planned – like building a raised bed using a fence that was not flush to the ground as one side of the bed (what was I thinking? of course the soil eroded…) and forgetting to label the seeds we planted indoors so when we set out the transplants outdoors we had surprise plants everywhere – like eggplant in the flower beds (I am still sometimes label challenged, but I must say I am getting much better at identifying plants from just a couple of leaves). But, despite all my crazy mishaps, it is the memory of the kids out in the garden – the pride in their eyes and the excitement in their smiles –that stands out the most. All of the kids living at the shelter had been removed from homes because of severe abuse and neglect, but you would never have guessed the weight of their burdens from our time out in the garden where the plants and insects captivated their minds and imaginations. It was through this experience that I discovered there is magic in a garden.
After graduate school I continued to work with youth garden programs in a number of different capacities. I’ve conducted kids’ educational programs at botanical gardens, worked with Extension Master Gardeners in Virginia and Texas, organized trainings for volunteer educators and teachers, and written extensively on youth gardening and school garden curricula. Honestly it was not my intention to specialize in this area– I love plants and want everyone to love plants which is why I went into the field of horticulture education, but I think watching the significant impact of garden programs on kids kept me circling back to youth garden programs.
As we embark on this new Growing Ideas Blog series, I am excited to have this chance to share some of my current and past garden adventures. I am definitely living proof that you don’t have to know it all and that it is okay to make mistakes because you learn as much from your “oops” moments as you do from your successes. You can expect that many of my posts will share stories from current home gardening experiences involving my 9-year-old daughter Abby and 5-year-old son Graham and a yard that has way too much shade. I am also a volunteer at my daughter’s elementary school were we have 22 raised beds and conduct fall and spring gardens (which since I live in Texas means we are gardening for all but about 1 month out of the school year).
In my posts, I will share some of the ideas that have worked for us, resources I find particularly helpful, and I am sure I will have plenty of “oops” moments to pass along too. Don’t expect fancy and elaborate projects – my focus is always on activities that are easy, practical, and enjoyable. I hope you walk away from my posts with the inspiration and motivation to get started gardening with the children in your life whether that would be at home, school or in a community garden.
Coming up in my blog – you will get an update on our spring garden adventures. This week at Abby’s school we are preparing our raised garden beds by incorporating 2 yards of new soil and the following week we will plant, so by my next post I will have lots of new stories and pictures to share.