Even though I am completely inept at taking care of low-maintenance houseplants, I volunteered to help my daughter’s kindergarten class tend their garden. (I know my friend with the chicken coop in her backyard is LOL.)
Let me backup a bit: one of the ideas that came up in regard to my desperate post last week was for me to volunteer more in my daughter’s class. This seemed a reasonable suggestion since I have to contribute more hours to the school anyway (lest I end up with a poor school service record to go with my delinquent library record). When I asked the teacher how I could help out I was thinking, “Storytime! I can break out the hand and finger puppets!” After all, it’s Joanna reads, not Joanna roots around in the dirt.
But all Catholic school teachers are gifted with the ability to receive a “yes” answer to any request and my years as a teacher haven’t yet balanced out my years as a student. So when the teacher eagerly asked if I could assist the children once a week with their garden, I was helpless to say no.
I wasn’t kidding about my ineptitude with plants. Remember that Sex and the City episode when Aidan brings a plant into Carrie’s apartment? Yeah. When my husband had to go to Newport, RI for training, he seriously considered taking his plant with him because it had a better chance of surviving a New England winter in a Navy barracks than six months of my negligence care. (He should have gone with his instincts on that one.)
Predictably, I have turned to books to help me out. At ALA Midwinter, I picked up Succulent Container Gardens by Debra Lee Baldwin. While I love Baldwin’s ideas and succulents probably could withstand the abuse they’d take from me, this book is actually not helpful for the project at hand, what with kids and cactus being a bad combination.
Three books that I have been reading this past week are Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots: Gardening Together with Children by Sharon Lovejoy, How Does Your Garden Grow? by Clare Matthews, and Gardening with Children: Brooklyn Botanic Garden All-region Guide, all available at my local library. Each takes a slightly different approach to gardening with kids.
Charmingly illustrated, Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots offers a list of the 20 best plants for kids as well as 12 backyard projects. In the section titled “Gardening Basics,” Lovejoy says that children can easily feel overwhelmed by long lists of garden chores. This applies to me too so Lovejoy’s suggestion to break gardening tasks into ten-minute chunks sounds about my speed. The section gets progressively more complicated so while I think I can handle weeding and watering I will certainly not be composting nor having anything to do with worm boxes.
Truthfully, I preferred Clare Matthews’ approach in How Does Your Garden Grow? Matthews arranged her book into projects, listing materials recipe-style and providing step-by-step instructions with pictures by Clive Nichols to illustrate the directions. Whereas Lovejoy’s book will appeal to older kids who already have an interest in gardening, it is too text rich to be accessible to the age group I’ll be working with. In fact, I think Lovejoy’s book is aimed at adults who want to garden with kids (even though the book is classified in juvenile non-fiction).
Matthews includes straight-forward answers to typical questions such as, why is grass green? Why do plants have roots? Why do most flowers come out in the spring? Between the clear pictures, colorful projects and simple language, this book is the best of the three for young children. (As an aside, I have to say that I love how Matthews (who is British) uses the term “black dustbin liner.” Doesn’t that sound so much classier than “trash bag?”)
Finally, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden book Gardening with Children offers the most scientific perspective of the three books and really appealed to the biology nerd in me. With diagrams of the food chain and photosynthesis as well as information about climate and habitat, this book provides older children with an expanded discussion of common classroom science topics. For someone like me who has an intellectual interest in plants and ecology but little to no skill with the actual living specimens, this is a great book.
I placed a hold with the library on How to Grow a School Garden but as I’m still waiting on it I can’t do more than mention it now.
Well, at this point, I welcome the insight of those of you with green thumbs—any tips for me? I’ll let you know how this endeavor turns out.