Family Roots

Move over, grown-ups. The younger generation really digs gardening.

July 23, 2000|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Sun Staff

Forget perfect roses, a bumper crop of tomatoes, or weed-free turf -- this is the best measure of the Windle family's gardening success:

For more than two months this spring, whenever Bob Windle walked through the front door of his home in West Columbia after a long day of work, one of his two sons would inevitably ask, "Are we going to do some of the path tonight, Dad?"

Sons Chris, 13, and David, 10, wanted to lay flagstone to build a new path through the garden -- a difficult, messy and physically demanding job. Not because they had to, or because they'd get paid(neither was the case), but because they wanted to. Their parents were thrilled.

"It was a Kodak moment," says their mother, Paula Behm-Windle. "I can't tell you how pleased I was to hear that."

What's this, young children proud to work outside? The Pokemon generation excited about gardening? Shouldn't they be playing video games or watching TV and complaining whenever their parents need some grass cut?

Gardening experts say they are seeing more and more families like the Windles for whom gardening is a shared event -- and not merely an adult activity where children are sometimes enlisted as laborers.

"There's a grass-roots movement in this country to make gardening a more child-centered activity," says Valerie Kelsey, president of the National Gardening Association, a private, non-profit organization promoting gardening that's based in Burlington, Vermont. "People have come to realize that kids need this opportunity."

Gone are the days when children could be left to explore the natural world on their own. Instead, their time is more scripted -- with after-school activities, team sports, and day-care playing a larger role in their lives.

Parents and educators have seized on gardening as a way to teach children about the environment. A recent Gallup poll estimated that about 67 million American households maintain some form of garden. It can be an ideal place to teach lessons about such basic themes as nurturing, cooperation, patience and planning.

"When a family is learning to garden together and sharing the experience and the process, it can really tie a family together," says Diane Relf, a professor at Virginia Tech who studies human issues in horticulture. "It's not so much about having special plants or the best plants or any other sort of competitive -- those aren't compatible with family gardening."

Gardening is clearly a lot of fun at the Windles. Both boys love to give visitors a tour of the grounds from the oriental maple that greets visitors at the front door to the serpentine beds that line the backyard. See the mint, eucalyptus and silver thyme? Those belong to Chris. The pineapple sage, lavender and fennel? David made them happen.

Chris helped build the bluestone patio. He pulled up most of the sod when they built the flagstone path. Each week, David gets on his hands and knees to trim the grass around the stone edging around the backyard. But he prefers to move mulch for his Mom with a wheelbarrow and pitchfork. That's his favorite job.

"I volunteer for a project and Mom and Dad tell me what to do," says David, who will be entering 5th grade at Pointers Run Elementary School this fall.

" The path was the biggest project I'd ever done," adds Chris, a soon-to-be 8th grader at Clarksville Middle School. "There were times when I was digging sod, I wondered, 'Why are we doing this?" When it was finished, it felt like it wasn't so bad. I think I did a good job."

The Windles trace their gardening habits to the fall day nearly a decade ago when Chris was little more than a toddler and was allowed to plant flower bulbs and help raise a few vegetables like carrots and radishes.

"By the age of 5, he was correcting a neighbor who wasn't planting bulbs to his liking," his mother recalls.

Bob, 45, an associate professor of business at the University of Maryland College Park, credits his wife for getting him involved in gardening. He grew up in southern New Jersey in a family that considered cutting the grass and pruning the rose bushes the proper extent of yard work.

"I think I started out as manual labor," Bob says. "But I like the finished garden. It's pretty. It's nice to come home and maybe sit quietly in the garden -- and I appreciate all the work that went into it."

Paula, 45, a stay-at-home mother and artist whose watercolor paintings decorate several walls in the four-bedroom home, says she inherited her green thumb from her parents. Her fond childhood memories of gardening alongside her parents in her native Northern Virginia were inspired, in part, because they "never made me do it."

"Sometimes, I ask the boys to help, but I think they'll enjoy it more and learn more if they're not forced," she says.

The couple also wanted to teach their children about the natural world. They have abstained from spreading chemicals on their plants, minimized the amount of lawn on the quarter-acre lot, and planted native species that require less watering.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.