Gardens have always been vitally important during times of great change. They fed Southerners during the Civil War, sustained Britain during the Great War, became essential during the Great Depression and some were finally labeled victory gardens in World War II. Many adults tell how their own grandparents’ gardens so greatly influenced their lives. In fact, this is how many of our most famous horticulturists got started with plants.
These grandparent gardens taught some boomers about the value of plants and soil, while inspiring others to take up horticultural professions. Today, it’s a boomer’s garden that can influence a new crop of grandchildren. When parents are extraordinarily busy, grandparent gardening is an ideal way to teach them to grow while pondering great truths.
Truth: Vegetables and fruits aren’t created in the supermarket. Many children have never seen a melon vine or dug a potato, so they don’t have any way to link a living plant to the food they eat. Something as simple as a giant zucchini will not only connect the dots from earth to produce, it can grow such an enormous fruit kids will take notice.
Truth: Patience is required when working with nature. You can’t speed a food crop, and one that takes 90 days to mature cannot be shortened no matter what you do. In a world where everything is done in a rush and schedules are tight, the gradual process of plant to flower to fruit shows how nature follows a process. Kids learn it’s neither nice nor productive to try and fool her.
Truth: Observation is key. My mentor once advised me to “observe, observe, observe” because that is the key to learning horticulture. Taking time to study a plant, to assess a response to its environment demonstrates many key truths. Getting to know the plant and how it looks when happy and productive precedes the ability to know when it is unhappy. Seeing the details in anything helps us to understand it at a fundamental level, and that takes time, study and comparison.
Truth: Care and attention results in a superior product. Regular watering, weed control, removal of insect pests and cultivation of the soil all contribute to a productive garden. You can’t get around this fact without seriously threatening your crop. If not adequately watered, that giant zucchini may not flower, or its fruits may fall off the vine for lack of moisture. Without long-term care, all the hard work to plant the garden is for nothing because plants will not thrive, and if they are struggling they cannot produce abundant fruit, nor will it be full-sized and well flavored.
Truth: Everything in nature has a cycle. Children see life in a linear way, always dreaming of what they’ll do when they get older. The cycle of planting, harvest and dormancy of a garden shows kids life is actually a cycle based upon seasons and weather and moon and sun. It teaches kids how birth and death occurs with all living things, that it is a natural process. And when the garden is composted at season’s end they are shown that all life returns to the earth.
As we face a coming new year shadowed by uncertainty and illuminated by promise, we too may find great comfort in growing beautiful things in the yard. Rather than going out and spending money, grandparents can leisurely tend the garden. While pulling weeds with a youngster, we can share what we know about these simple joys of life. We can help them in the art of observation. We can demonstrate how we care and nurture fragile things. We may exhibit patience when planting seed or training a tomato to contribute to its overall success. And someday when those kids have children of their own, they’ll pass on this knowledge of plants and the importance of gardens, which extends much further than merely paying the gardener to do it for you.
Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at www.MoPlants.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 891, Morongo Valley, CA 92256.