Teaching kids the joy of gardening

September 10, 2006|By Virginia A. Smith | Virginia A. Smith,McClatchy-Tribune

Carina Flaherty points to a feathery mound of pale yellow blossoms.

"Coreopsis `Moonbeam,' my favorite," she says nonchalantly, moving on to pentas, sedum, bee balm and assorted other Latin and common names for what's growing in her family's tiny Philadelphia garden.

Garden educators, always looking for ways to introduce kids to a world still primarily enjoyed by adults, would swoon over this lively 9-year-old. She's living proof that kids can dig gardening big time, if given the chance.

"It opens their eyes to what is around them, and it leads to so many things," says Jules Bruck, a landscape designer who taught the first children's gardening workshop Carina attended -- at age 5.

That workshop, at Swarthmore College's Scott Arboretum, was intended to be "just something to do in the summer," says Carina's mother, Helen Gym. It may have sparked something lifelong.

It inspired Carina to plant a butterfly garden in a corner of the 12-by-18-foot space behind her home in the city's Logan Square section. That led to even more kid-friendly stuff that she and her siblings -- brother Aimon, 7, and sister Taryn, 3 -- thought of and, with their parents' help, installed.

They have a fountain with horsetail, three snails and two tadpoles; sections for fruit (blueberries, grapes, raspberries and blackberries), vegetables (tomatoes and cabbage) and herbs (apple mint, chocolate mint, pepper mint and chives); a couple of dwarf Japanese maples; a bench; and a model train that delights Aimon.

The Flaherty family's experience reflects what schools and public gardens all over the country are realizing: that gardening is good for kids, and vice versa.

"There's a growing sense of the need for kids to get outside, and there's a renewed interest in plant education," says Sarah Pounders, education specialist with the National Gardening Association.

Kids who garden or take part in gardening programs "have a sense of community and beautification and pride that follows them everywhere," Pounders says."It's amazing. The kids I work with are so proud of their work in the garden."

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