My love affair with plants began as a young child at my grandmother’s side. I loved to wander through Grammy's gardens with her, marveling at the oddly shaped purple blossoms on the Dutchman’s pipe vine that scrambled up the porch trellis or the delicate speckled blossoms of tiger lilies that bloomed in her side garden. But my favorite spot was her backyard garden. Within the neat border of a white picket fence, a riotous mix of flowers bloomed with wild abandon. My grandmother believed that Nature's hand was a great designer and she was delighted when plants sowed themselves. Foxglove, cosmos and larkspur sprouted up amidst the peonies and phlox, but my favorite flowers were the tall spires of hollyhocks that came up year after year in places of their own choosing.
I grew my first vegetable garden when I was eight years old. I don’t remember now what sparked my interest in growing food plants (no one else in my family grew vegetables), but I do remember that my mom was, as always, eager to help me explore and learn by trying something new. I still recall the thrill of my first harvest from that small garden. Later, when my interest in plants had grown, she joined me for many trips to our local nursery so I could search out new perennials for my flower gardens. And when as a teenager I decided I wanted to try growing vegetables in a big way, she hired a local farmer to come and plow up most of our half-acre backyard – much to the dismay of my non-gardening father! That early encouragement set me on the path to degrees in biology and plant and soil science and a career in horticulture that’s spanned more than three and a half decades.
It also gave me a blueprint for introducing my own two children, now grown, to the wonders and joy of gardening. I loved sharing with them the delicious taste of home harvested fruits and berries and the beauty of trees, shrubs, and flowers in the landscape. But we also delighted in discovering all the living things that frequent a garden – from birds and toads and bunnies to earthworms, fungi, and insects of every kind. Even pests and diseases are fascinating if you overlook the fact that they’re competing with you! We marveled at the weird fungus called corn smut (it’s even edible, I’m told, but we never dared to try it) and learned that the ferocious looking tomato hornworms in our veggie garden would metamorphose into large, night-flying sphinx moths, cousins of the amazing hummingbird moths we observed sipping nectar from our petunias! Gardening with my kids showed me firsthand the important role it can play in cultivating curious minds, healthful bodies, and an ethic of environmental stewardship.
So it’s a privilege to work with KidsGardening.org, helping to bring the joys and benefits of gardening to kids everywhere. In my blog posts I’m looking forward to sharing a little of what I’ve learned over many years of gardening – sometimes practical tips; sometimes ideas or information I find interesting or inspiring. And I’d also like to hear from you, the educators, volunteers, and parents who are out in the garden with kids making good things happen – please feel free to use the comment section below to connect. If you have a gardening question, I’ll do my best to provide an answer. I’m also eager to get suggestions for topics you’d like to see covered in future blog posts, and hope you’ll share your own experiences and ideas for connecting kids to the wonderful world of plants.