Making the garden grow

Purpose: The Metzler family's Kids Club intends to teach children about the joy and wonders of gardening when they are young.

February 06, 2002|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The greenhouse at Metzler's Garden Center is an oasis on a cold winter day. Children in search of Zachary, the resident talking parrot, dodge dangling greenery and tables of flowers to find him.

"It's a beautiful place in the winter, lush and green," said Andrea Ratajczak, Metzler's activity coordinator.

But on Saturday, some of the flowers in the greenhouse were more than beautiful. They were delicious.

These delectable plants were entries in an edible art competition. Using candy, pretzels and colored frosting, schoolchildren created bouquets, flowering trees and Lifesaver flowers blooming next to a pond of gummy fish. The contest marked the start of this year's Kids Club.

The Metzler family, which has owned and operated the Columbia garden center for 30 years, began the Kids Club program 10 years ago, Ratajczak said.

"They have seven grandchildren, so they encourage children being active in the garden center," she said.

In the past, children would pick up a kit at the store to take home. Instructions for completing the project appeared in the Kids Club corner of Metzler's newsletter.

This year marks the beginning of a newsletter devoted entirely to the Kids Club.

The winter issue features tips on recycling Christmas trees for a backyard winter bird shelter, growing a window herb garden and making a terrarium.

Along with the how-to items, the newsletter provides historical and scientific facts related to the projects. It also has a word puzzle.

Ratajczak said the quarterly newsletter and Kids Club events teach children that the garden is active in every season.

Tom Smith, a Metzler's staff member, said he hopes that in addition to events such as the edible art contest, the Kids Club will hold occasional club meetings with planting projects.

"I wanted to dig [the Kids Club] deeper," he said. "They are the future of gardening."

Working with the children

Smith, a grandfatherly man in his 60s, enjoyed working with the children at Saturday's event. He helped them design candy flowers at a worktable heaped with treats and handed out pinecone birdfeeder kits.

"It's a nice little project," Smith said of the kits. "They can get messy in the peanut butter."

He said the birdfeeders have educational value. Making them, he said, was "teaching children to feed the wildlife, that birds have to be provided with food" in the winter. "It also starts them observing. Most kids love birds."

Behind the worktable, where children were putting together floral designs, the creations of several Howard County schools were on display. La Petite Academy and the Goddard School had entries by their children.

The schoolchildren completed their projects during the week. Preschoolers worked in groups, while older children did individual designs. The artwork was on display Saturday until 5 p.m. Prizes were awarded for the best school display, and individual awards were given.

`A chance to be creative'

"I thought it would be a fun thing for the children to do," said Suzan Smith, director of La Petite Academy on Columbia 100 Parkway. "It's going to provide the children with a chance to be creative. The excitement that the children are feeling is a self-esteem thing."

Priscilla Groomes, a Columbia resident who works at La Petite Academy, brought her daughter to see the displays. Kyonna Groomes-Powell, 10, created a flower with orange jelly slices for petals and a green icing stem. She said "the flowers in the room" had inspired her.

Across from her spot at the worktable, yellow primroses were in full bloom. Kyonna said that she enjoys gardening and often works in her grandmother's flower garden.

For Smith, a lifelong love of gardening began when he was young. "I gardened with my grandmother, and that's stayed with me all my life," he said.

And catching kids' interest in gardening while they are young is the goal of the Kids Club, Ratajczak said.

"We'd like to get them outdoors, away from the television and video games," she said.

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