The team at NHG meets each Friday morning for training, to review plans for the coming week, and to share our thoughts and perspectives on our personal and professional lives as gardeners. Recently, the topic centered around sharing what first connected us to plants and nature. Overwhelmingly, the answers began with recollections of time spent with grandparents, parents and other mentors who took the time to share their own love of gardening. It got us thinking: what steps can we gardeners take to grow the next generation? Here are our top three recommendations:
1. Teach them that soil and insects aren’t ‘gross.’
‘Dirt’ implies that something is dirty or ‘yucky’ and should be avoided. When children learn that soil is a complex substance made up of rock particles and organic matter and is teeming with microscopic life, they’re inclined to take interest. Watching earthworms move through soil and seeing the many contributions they make to our soils can be fascinating for young ones.
When kids learn that bees are busy at work pollinating–not solely out to sting them–they find joy in watching from a respectful distance. My three-year-old niece and I came up with a little song while watching bees on a fruit tree. With a cheerful greeting and a pledge not to disturb, it soothed her initial fear of them and taught her calm respect for these important insects. She still watches them, and she still sings that little song to herself.
2. Help them use all five senses in the garden.
Looking at flowering plants or tall grasses from a distance is nice, but it’s not necessarily where the real connection happens. Start with observation: each petal, each leaf; its texture, color and fragrance. Rub leaves to release essential oils and explore the changes in fragrance. Do the petals or leaves produce colorful juices when crushed? Be cautious, of course; not all plants release skin-friendly saps when crushed–but starting with culinary herbs like lavender, basil and mint can be a profound experience for little ones.
Share the delight you feel when you experience your garden with all five senses. Hearing grasses rustle in the breeze and sampling the flavors of herbs and produce straight from the garden can make a lifelong relationship blossom.
3. Let them reap the rewards.
There’s nothing quite so fundamentally satisfying as planting a seed, nurturing its growth, and harvesting flavorful, nourishing produce. It’s the start-to-finish relationship of understanding the source of our food, and children love to be a part of it. Even something as simple as sprouting bean seeds to harvest a pod or two can be that crucial, lasting connection that makes them gardeners for life.
Encourage your kids to plant something they can eat later–even a tiny patch of lettuce or a single potted tomato–and guide them through the care, watching fruits develop and ripen, and that rewarding moment where they pick and taste. It’s wonderful.
During August 2015, NHG hosted four weekly workshops aimed at getting kids connected to gardening. From cool succulent planters to fairy gardens and starting wildflowers, there is something for everyone. Keep an eye on our classes & workshops page and bring your little ones in to NHG to start gardening!