Teach Your Children Well: A Gardener’s Thoughts on Earth Day…

April 22nd, 2011 § 2

Holding Earth in Her Hands – Photo ⓒ Tim Geiss

As gardeners, most of us consider ourselves environmentally minded, and for us, every day is Earth Day. But, it’s important to remember that gardening —in and of itself—  is an unnatural act. When we work the soil and sow seed, fertilize and water, thin plants and harvest, we are manipulating the natural world. Agriculture is a human activity, and the end-results of irresponsible gardening and farming are as detrimental to earth as many other, more obviously harmful human activities.

Teaching future generations how to protect and preserve the environment by growing food organically and living sustainably, is one of the most important things we can do for our planet.

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ in my garden

Help the children in your life to become active and interested in learning how to grow their own food, organically. Even the simplest gardening projects —indoors and out— can help build positive experiences and teach skills to last a lifetime. Take the time to teach little green thumbs about the diversity of our ecosystem and how to identify and respect the plants, insects, spiders, birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and other creatures all around us. Need some new garden projects and ideas for children? Books like The Family Kitchen Garden, Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots and The Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Gardening with Children are a great place to start. More children’s gardening book recommendations can be found in the library page at left; where I’ve listed some of the best titles-in-print for teaching children about the joy of gardening organically. Although this blog is geared toward adults, throughout the growing season, you will find articles, projects and links worth sharing with children. In addition, you will always find online resources linked in the right hand column; including bird & insect identification sites, educational programs, non-profit environmental organizations, and more.  Have a look around, and feel free to recommend great resources for gardening with children, that you have found and would like to share!

Happy Earth Day! Celebrate by helping the next generation learn to garden organically, responsibly and sustainably.

Sowing the Seeds of Our Future – Photo ⓒ Tim Geiss

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Special thanks to Tim Geiss for permission to use the beautiful photographs of his daughter Dharma, taken especially for The Gardener’s Eden.

Article and other photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Joyful New Beginnings: Bright-Green Herb Seedlings Emerging from the Soil…

February 3rd, 2011 § 1

Seedlings in the Morning Sun:  Johnny’s Herb Disks in the Windowsill Garden (Coriandrum sativum)

Lately, the weather in here in Vermont has been a bit challenging (to say the least). Even we native New Englanders start to groan when back-to-back blizzards deliver multiple feet of snow and there’s nowhere left to pile it! Three feet, four feet? With all of the blowing and drifting and snowbanks everywhere, I’ve lost track of the total accumulation here on my hilltop. Let’s just say that you now enter the house through white tunnels. Enough said…

Coriander (Cilantro) Seedlings Emerge from Johnny’s Herb Disks in the Windowsill Garden (Coriandrum sativum)

If you live in a northern climate like I do, then you are probably beginning to tire of the big storms and the endless shoveling, and you may be wondering if spring will ever come again. Yes, yes she will. I promise. And while we gardeners are waiting, there are a few things we can start to do. If you live in zone 4 or 5, you will want to start gathering your seeds and checking on start dates. Over the next couple of weeks, you can begin setting up grow lights (full spectrum), and sow onions, leeks, celery and hardy herbs indoors (for tips on starting onions & leeks visit this post here)…

Pots brushed with Primary Colors Add Life to the Kitchen Countertop

Of course, round ’bout February, most kids will be starting to get stir crazy indoors. Plus, those mid-winter vacations are coming up soon… Aren’t they? This simple project is the perfect way to introduce seed-starting to little gardeners and to help keep those tiny hands occupied. Even if you don’t have children, these seed disks make starting herbs indoors simple and quick. I love fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves in my guacamole and I use lots of fresh basil, and other herbs in my kitchen. So last year, I decided to give Johnny’s Seeds pre-prepared herb disks a try, to see how they would work in clay pots. And the results: totally fun and easy project!

Seed starting disks from Johnny’s Seeds fit perfectly inside these brightly painted, 6″ tall clay pots

All you need to do is purchase seed-starting soil (a well-drained medium with super-fine soil particles) and fill appropriately sized pots near-full with the mix. Moisten the soil thoroughly and lay a seed disk atop the soil (pots with a 4.5″ diameter at the top work perfectly for Johnny’s Seed disks). Cover the disk with soil to the recommended depth (varies depending upon the plant – check instructions of the back of each packet) and moisten again. Line your herbs up in a brightly lit window, water regularly with a fine mister and wait.

Depending upon the kind of herbs you grow, within a few day to a couple of weeks, you should begin to see bright green seedlings emerge. Be patient, though! Some herbs take quite a bit of time to germinate. Parsley seedlings, for example, can take a month to emerge. Once the seedlings have popped through the soil, keep the herbs moist, but not soggy. Be sure the pots are located in a warm spot with good light and air circulation. One the first set of true leaves appear (as opposed to the tiny seed leaves) you will want to mix up a weak solution of organic fertilizer (I use fish emulsion), and feed your herbs every-other-week. Rotate the pots once a week to keep seedlings growing straight, as opposed to leaning toward the light. For best results, you want to start your seeds beneath full-spectrum grow lights (keep the light source very close to the plants and raise it as the seedlings grow). The nice part of using prepared disks is that the seeds come pre-spaced. Of course you can always start seed without disks; planting them in trays filled with starter soil mixture. If you do this, you can thin the seedlings of herbs and vegetables later on (see photo below).

I will be writing much more about starting seeds indoors and out over the coming months, so stay tuned and think spring!

Is there anything more hopeful or uplifting than fresh green seedlings emerging from damp soil?

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Article and Photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, with noted exceptions, is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal, and my not be used or reproduced without express written permission.

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Dangerous Beauty: Poisonous Plant Information for Homes with Small Children & Pets…

November 30th, 2010 § 2

Outside, Looking In: Dreamy —But Poisonous— Kalanchoe mangini Sits High Up in a Bedroom Window

Like many cold-climate gardeners, now that the growing year has ended —and my outdoor garden pursuits are limited to vegetables in raised beds beneath hoop-houses— I find myself catering to a large Indoor Eden of overwintering plants. Throughout the cold months, I keep a wide a wide variety of common and exotic plants in my home. Some of my tender plants —including culinary herbs and other edibles— are located on my kitchen countertop and in stands on or near the floor. Other plants —such as a giant ficus, sago palm, ferns, various succulents, cactus, a cherished collection of orchids and rare exotics— populate my studio workspace, bedroom, bathroom and an indoor, Secret Garden Room.

Kalanchoe mangini – Beautiful, But Toxic to Pets

Poisonous Plants —Like This Sago Palm and Succulent Container— Are Kept Behind Closed-Doors in my Painting Studio

Kalanchoe pumila: Another Pretty, but Poisonous, Plant

Plants are a big part of my life, but animals are part of my family  —I have both a dog and a cat— and yes, they have been known to “sample” the greenery. Although most plants are harmless when consumed, some can make the taste-tester quite sick -and eating certain species can even be fatal. Many common holiday-gift plants —such as amaryllis, poinsettia, mistletoe, Christmas rose, Easter lily, iris, narcissus and hyacinth— as well as common houseplants —like English ivy, elephant’s ear, philodendron and caladium, to name but a few— are toxic to pets. Even tiny bits of leaves, roots or blossoms from certain plants may cause vomiting or diarrhea in both humans and animals. And, when eaten in quantity or over a prolonged period of time, some plants may even be fatal.

Plants are Safely Off-Limits in My Secret Garden Room (Sorry, No Pets Allowed)

If you share your home with small children and pets, it’s critical that you know which plants are potential threats to their safety, and how to handle the danger. Because I garden professionally, it’s my responsibility to know which plants are toxic —both to humans and their animal companions— in order to avoid accidental poisoning and disaster. For human poison-concerns,  The National Capital Poison Center (Affiliated with GWU Medical Center) maintains a website and common poison lists (again, this list is for humans) —including toxic plants by common and latin name— which I have found useful (click here and bookmark). And for quick pet reference, I often check with The United States Humane Society online -their website includes a fairly comprehensive poisonous plant list, (click here for more information). The ASPCA also maintains a regularly updated listing of plants toxic to dogs and cats here on their site (search by common or latin name). In addition, I highly recommend keeping a copy of the Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants (pictured at bottom of this post) in an easy-to-locate spot for quick reference.

This Semi-Enclosed Terrarium Would Be a Great Way to Showcase a Less-Safe Plant on a High Shelf

Of course, the safest decision is to completely eliminate all toxic plants from your home. But for many of us, that isn’t really the most desirable —nor is it the only— option. Plants grown behind glass —especially within completely enclosed terrariums, like the one pictured below— are much less likely to be eaten by children or pets. Plants kept in high, out-of-reach, places —bookshelves and dressers come to mind— also tend to be safe from curious fingers, noses and mouths. Keeping toxic plants in a separate room, behind closed doors, is another way to avoid trouble. I do keep some toxic plants in my home. However, I take special care to make sure my pets are never exposed to the more poisonous species. Even the most mildly toxic specimens in my house are kept safely out of reach; grown within terrariums, upon high shelves or behind closed doors in my studio or Secret Garden Room.

One Safe Option for Toxic Plants, and a Lovely Holiday Gift for a Gardener: A Beautiful, Fully-Enclosed Terrarium

If a child or pet accidentally ingests a potentially poisonous plant, you should immediately call for help. Try to remain calm –remember that more often than not, small quantities of toxic plants are not fatal. However, the side-effects of poisonous plant ingestion can be quite serious. So, don’t take a chance -always seek the help of a doctor or veterinarian if you suspect your child or pet has eaten something unsafe.

Dr. Goof in the Garden

A Thoughtful Holiday Gift for A Gardener with Children and/or Pets: Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants

Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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November Garden: Late Autumn’s Sunny-Day Chores & Pleasures…

November 13th, 2010 § 2

Glowing Tufts of Ornamental Grass (Miscanthus sinensis)

My Trusty Old Garden Cart ( from Gardener’s Supply Company )

Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ (Switch Grass) – Golden Color Illuminated by November Sunlight

Days of beautifully warm, sunny weather, a free weekend, and a list of end-of-season garden chores = Michaela in Bliss. I’ve had a really busy week —filled with deadlines and end-of-season projects to finish up for my design clients— so I’m looking forward to a weekend’s worth of work and relaxation in my own garden. The fun began yesterday afternoon, when I planted 400 landscape-size Narcissus bulbs; 200 N. ‘Ice Follies’ in the long border and 200 premium mixed daffodils in the entry garden. Yes, I am still planting bulbs, and I will continue to do so until the snow flies. I did warn you that it’s compulsive. Plus, with all of the end-of-season sales, how can I help myself?

But Daffodils, Michaela? Aren’t they a bit… pedestrian? Bah. Don’t you believe that nonsense. The genus Narcissus is one of the most amazingly diverse groups of bulbs. If you don’t believe me, just have a look at Brent and Becky Heath’s incredible collection of Narcissus on their beautiful website. And not only are Narcissus long-lived and gorgeous, they are also tough as nails; resistant to mice, deer, insects and cold. I like to plant a cheerful mix of yellow shades where the entry garden meets the driveway to greet springtime guests. And in the long border — as well as the other flower beds near my studio and kitchen windows— I prefer to plant bulbs in single-color drifts for a calm, soothing effect. Yesterday, I added 200 landscape-size N. ‘Ice Follies’ (below) in the long perennial border, which I am currently renovating (pulling out old ‘holding tank’ plants and re-designing).

Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ (photo from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, where I bought mine)

Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ bulbs from Brent and Becky’s. If you have small children, planting daffodils is a great way to share the experience of gardening with them.

Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ with winter aconites (photo from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs)

Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ belong to the division 2 group (large cup daffodils). These long-lived perennial plants are perfect for beds and borders, as well as for naturalizing in large landscapes. Because division 2 daffodils are so popular, they tend to be less expensive -perfect if you have a large area to plant on a tight budget (yes, and yes). I believe that one of the keys to good landscape design is understanding the big picture -and I do mean the really big picture. Specialty bulbs are lovely indeed, but you needn’t spend a fortune in order to have a beautiful garden. What you do need is to develop your eye, and to train yourself to think creatively.

Budget only allow you a few bags of landscape daffodils? Work with what you’ve got. Plant those bulbs in clusters of 5, 7 or 9 —I like to dig oval or circular holes and plant in irregular patterns— between your perennials. Work with the timing and colors of other flowering plants (and foliage!) in your border to maximize impact. Have forsythia in your garden? Instead of planting solid yellow daffodils, why not try a subtle contrast instead. Plant white, two-tone, or a combination of darker, orangey-yellow daffodil bulbs beneath your yellow-flowering shrubs. Is there a white-flowering tree or shrub in your early to mid spring garden? Add a pool of lavender-blue grape hyacinth (Muscari ‘Valerie Finnis’ is particularly gorgeous) beneath the branches to create a soothing scene. Muscari (grape hyacinth) bulbs are very inexpensive, and they multiply freely over time. Look back at pictures of your garden from last spring. See spots that could use a little umpf or more color-play? Let those photos be your guide this fall during bulb planting.

Cluster’-planting Narcissus bulbs helps to create a full and natural look in the garden and landscape. Much better than wimpy little polka-dots of yellow! Be sure to mix a bit of bulb-booster into the top layer of back-filled soil for best results.

Have a daylily patch (or a neighbor with one in need of dividing)? Hemerocallis make great planting companions for Narcissus. As the foliage of your daffodils dies back, the daylily leaves and flowers will conceal the yellowing and dormant Narcissus (never braid or tie daffodil foliage after flowering, and until it has completely withered and turned yellow/brown before cutting back). And while it’s certainly true that the dividing and planting of perennials is best done a bit earlier in the season, most tough-nut daylilies can be divided and replanted late (oh how they take the abuse!). Other good and inexpensive daylily companions? In semi-shade areas, I like to combine Narcissus with native ferns —particularly cinnamon (Osmunda cinnamonea) and ostrich ferns (Matteuccia pensylvanica)— and other big-leaf beauties like Hosta. Daffodils prefer dryish soil during their dormant period, but they are fairly tolerant of less-than-ideal conditions. The daffodils in the drier sections of my shade gardens are all doing quite well.

Here in the Secret Garden, Muscari ‘Valerie Finnis’ (grape hyacinth) and Narcissus ‘Misty Glen’ (white daffodils) are well-timed spring companions

Also keep in mind that bulbs can make great companions for other bulbs. If you are new to gardening, it may not occur to you to plant bulbs in ‘layers’. Some bulbs, like most Narcissus, are large, and need deep planting holes. But other spring flowering beauties emerge from tiny bulbs, (like crocus, grape hyacinth and snowdrops) requiring minimal planting depth. Of course this creates an opportunity for a ‘bulb sandwich’, and I love this planting method! Simply plant your larger bulbs first, then backfill until you reach the depth required for medium-bulbs, then —if you have them— finish off with shallow-planted bulbs. Here’s an example….

Plant three big bulbs, like these daffodils, 7 inches deep, between a grouping between perennials (these are spaced a little tight in this photo, be sure to give bulbs enough room to grow). Then backfill with about 3 inches of soil, to just cover the bulbs. Next…

Plant Three Muscari 4 inches deep, staggering them between the daffodils (you can feel around for the tips of the Narcissus, but it’s OK if they overlap a little. Bulbs will find their way around one another)

Another example of bulb companions with spring blooming perennials (Narcissus ‘Misty Glen’ with Erythronium and Helleborus x hybridus)

As I plant my bulbs each fall, I sometimes unearth previously planted daffodils, grape hyacinth or other spring bloomers. If this happens to you, don’t worry —no harm has been done, unless you chop it up!— just replace the bulb and keep going. Do remember to water your bulbs thoroughly after planting, and continue to water until the ground freezes if nature doesn’t do so for you. OK. Back to the garden -there’s more work to be done! I’ll be back with bulb-a-rama II later! Don’t you just love this time of year? It’s so lovely out there…

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’ beside Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’

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Article and photographs (exceptions noted an linked) ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

***The Gardener’s Eden is not an affiliate of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. But, Michaela is indeed a very happy customer!***

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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The Strawberry Shortcake Facial – A (Mostly-True) Country Girl Story, Where Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon Crest Meet Fruit Mush. Plus, a Really Great Recipe for Strawberry Shortcake. I Swear…

June 12th, 2010 § 6

Strawberry Shortcake with Homemade Butter Biscuits…

I grew up in a strawberry patch. Yes, I mean that literally. My family grew and sold organic berries, and when I was a kid, my sister and I spent many hours in the strawberry fields picking and tending the crops. Once you’re a grownup, this sounds pretty idyllic. However for a couple of kids, it’s kind of boring to pick berries for hours and hours on a beautiful summer day. You have to use your imagination to break up the monotony. And since my sister and I were always pretty inventive, we found plenty of creative ways to entertain ourselves…

If you’ve ever grown strawberries -or spent time picking them on hazy summer days- you know that there is a point in late June when the berries ripen so quickly, that you can’t keep up with the harvest. Add humid weather -which we often get in New England- and a few days of steady rain, and soon all of the over-ripe berries start rotting right on the plants. My dad instructed us to pick off these mushy, often slimy berries, to protect the rest of the crops from mold. And sometimes, after a particularly wet week, we would have as many throw-away berries as market-worthy fruits. Usually we would fling these slimy rejects as far away as we could; aiming for distant trees, clanging tin pie plates, wooden stakes or the odd scarecrow. Sometimes, we would collect the mushy berries and pile them on rocks for hungry chipmunks, or toss them into the meadow for birds. But then we got another idea…

This was the 1980′s and, as country kids, we were pretty fascinated with the glam city-culture beyond our reach.  T.V. Shows like Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon Crest, mostly airing past our bedtime -though our mom was pretty lenient about those kinds of things- were populated with sexy characters who sauntered around in puffy-shoulder pads, silky robes and high heeled mules. Talk about another world. Things like sports cars, cocktail parties, private jets, exotic spas, pedicures and facials were a big part of those fictitious women’s lives. In fact, much of their scheming seemed to take place during conversations on their boudoir telephones, while (unbeknownst to their male love-interests) goopy masks of one sort or another were smeared upon their pouty pusses. At the time, our mom was also into beauty treatments, though her’s didn’t come in Borghese or Chanel jars like those we saw on Alexis Carrington’s dresser. My mother of course made her own facial concoctions from what we thought to be truly gross ingredients; mostly things you would eat -but usually not in combination- like yogurt, eggs, cucumbers and lemon juice. Definitely NOT glam. But somehow, we must have been influenced…

I’m not really sure of how it all started. Maybe it was our mom’s idea, or maybe it was something we came up with. Maybe it was an accident, and maybe it was on purpose. Anyway, one hot afternoon, certainly following some drama, a handful of smashed berries ended up on someone’s face. And then another handful… And another… And another… Until our faces were completely covered in mushy strawberry goo. Of course this reduced us to gut-splitting giggles, and we thought it was all pretty hysterical -and outrageous – but somehow we decided it was also very, very glam. This ‘spa treatment’ came to be known as the ‘strawberry shortcake facial’, and it was all the rage that summer in the field. Yes, I know we weren’t the first -and definitely won’t be the last- kids to smear strawberry mush on our faces… But it sure is a sweet summer memory…

Strawberries are still my favorite fruit, and although my berry patch is quite small when compared to the one I grew up with, I do grow several different varieties in my garden. This year the early-bearing crops are fruiting a bit ahead of schedule, and even the alpine strawberries are beginning to turn red. Strawberries are easy to grow, and I will be posting more on the subject soon. But if you are just starting a patch for yourself, you may want to skip ahead and check out the post “Strawberry (and Blueberry and Raspberry and Kiwi) Fields Forever” I wrote for B&N’s Garden Variety earlier this week, featuring a review of Barbara Bowling’s great guide to raising small fruit, The Berry Growers Companion.

As soon as they are ripe, the first thing I always make with my fresh strawberries is shortcake. To me, this treat signals the unofficial start of summer. And to this day, whenever I pluck ruby ripe berries in the field, and slice them to make strawberry shortcake -my favorite summertime dessert- I think of my sister and our glamorous fresh-fruit facials. And you want to know a secret? Sometimes, when I am by myself, I still sneak a bit of the strawberry shortcake mash on my face as a special ‘treatment’. Truth be told, on rainy days, I might even do it while scheming on the phone. Hey, it’s like I always say: who says a gardener can’t be glamorous… ?

Freshly Washed Strawberries from the Garden…

Strawberry Shortcake

Ingredients (Serves 6)

4           Cups washed and sliced strawberries – plus extra for garnish

1           Tbs sugar, (adjust to tartness of berries)

1           Pint whipping cream

1/2       Tsp vanilla

Fresh mint leaves for garnish (optional)

Biscuits

2            Cups flour

2 1/2     Tsp baking powder

1            Tsp salt

6            Tbs unsalted, chilled butter, plus extra for serving

3/4         Cup whole milk (plus extra for brushing biscuits)

Directions:

In order to get a juicy bowl of shortcake, you need to start at least an hour ahead. I don’t hull freshly picked berries, but if you prefer to do this, hull right before you slice them, or they will dry out. Wash and pick over the berries, and slice them, (not too thin… gross), into a bowl. Mash about 1/3-1/2 of them, but don’t turn the whole bowl into mush, (again, gross). Add sugar, tasting as you go, then cover the bowl and refrigerate for an hour or so. You can whip the cream and vanilla ahead of time too, if you like, and refrigerate. Some people prefer sugar in their whipped cream. I like mine unsweetened in this instance, to create a contrast between the tart/sweet berries and the vanilla-tinted cream.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients together well. Cut the butter into thin slices, (about 10), and mix into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender. Work the dough until it’s crumbly and resembles cornmeal. Add the milk and quickly mix it together, blending well. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it just a bit.

Roll the dough out 1/2 inch thick and cut into 3 inch round discs with a cookie cutter or pastry form. You should end up with about 8 biscuits. Place the biscuits on an unbuttered cookie sheet and brush with milk.

Bake 15 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Remove promptly. Split hot biscuits in half and place them in bowls. Spread with fresh butter. Once the butter has melted, add a generous amount of berries and whipped cream to one biscuit, then top with the other biscuit, and repeat. Garnish with fresh mint and a whole berry, and serve warm.

Dallas on DVD !!!

Dynasty on DVD !!!

Article and almost all photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Photos of Messy Michaela by an Anonymous Accomplice

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Sowing the Seeds of the Future: Starting Early, In More Ways Than One…

March 2nd, 2010 § 1

Dharma’s Sunflower Seeds, Photograph © Tim Geiss

Is it just me, or does it seem like there are babies everywhere right now? While visiting my sister last week, we stopped in at her local bakery for a quick lunch and the place was just packed with expectant mothers, infants, toddlers and little children. Everywhere I go these days, from the post office to the grocery store, when I look around, I see dozens of tiny faces staring back at me. I don’t know what’s going on in your circle, but almost all of my friends are either raising small children, pregnant or trying to get pregnant and feathering their nests. Of course my sister’s son, Morgan, is just six months old. So when I first began noticing all the little munchkins, I thought I was simply becoming more aware of babies because of my nephew. But from what I am reading, it’s not my imagination, there’s actually something of a baby boom going on…

Dharma in the Family Garden, Photograph © Tim Geiss

So why am I writing about this on The Gardener’s Eden ? Well, even though I am currently childless, I really like kids and I think about their future all the time. As a horticulturalist, I worry about the way we treat our earth today, and what we will leave for our children and the children of tomorrow. For better or worse, we are leading the generations that follow us by our own example. We reap what we sow. What kind of seeds are we planting, if we’re planting them at all ?

Dharma and the Seeds, Photograph © Tim Geiss

Do you remember starting seeds for the first time? I do. It felt like a miracle to me then, and it still feels like magic today. One afternoon in mid March, my Kindergarten teacher announced that we would be planting seeds to take home in spring. She had us save our milk cartons every day for a week, to use as starter pots. After our daily graham crackers and milk, we rinsed the red and white containers and dropped them into a large bin. I can still remember the slightly sour smell as I cut the tops off my cartons with round-tipped scissors, and filled them with potting soil. I pushed tiny holes into the dark dirt and carefully settled my little seeds – I was so excited. Although I’d helped my mother and father direct-sow vegetables and flowers in our garden at home, I’d never started plants indoors while snow still sat on the ground outside. Every day, first thing when I entered the classroom, I would rush to the wide windowsill to check on the pots marked with my big letter “M”.  Where are they, where are they ? A week seems like forever when you have lived less than a decade. Knowing this, my teacher wisely chose fast germinating plants for her little green thumbs to grow. Soon, the sunflower and zinnia seedlings began to burst forth, pushing up from the soil…

Dharma’s Sunflower Seedlings, Photograph © Tim Geiss

Do you want to encourage a love of nature and gardening in the next generation? Why not start some seed indoors with a child you know. If the gardener is very young, (like my friend Dharma, pictured here in the garden she planted with her mom and dad), choose something simple and fast germinating, like sunflower, zinnia or marigold seed. Try not to complicate matters too much. Get a bag of seed-starting mix and a few trays of pots, and/or recycle some milk cartons of your own! Remember, the idea here is process, not product. Focus on the miracle of germination, and the beauty of photosynthesis, not blue-ribbon plants. Water the seeds and watch them together; sharing the joys and rewards of effort, diligence, discipline and patience. Need some help explaining how things work? Pick up a copy of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Gardening with Children, Sharon Lovejoy’s Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots, and/or Patricia Kite’s Gardening Wizardry for Kids. These books are filled with easy and inexpensive project ideas and simple scientific explanations for children. Looking for more ? I’ll be back with other kid-friendly gardening ideas soon – but for now, check out my earlier post on gardening books for children here.

Emerging Carrots, Photograph © Tim Geiss

Article © 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. Photographs © Tim Geiss. All rights reserved.

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Sowing the Seeds of a Gardening Future: Great Holiday Gift Books to Nurture the Little Green Thumbs in Your Life…

December 7th, 2009 § 4

miss-rumphius

Late this fall, I was helping my client and friend Leah design and install a perennial garden at her home, (if you read this blog regularly you will recall that Leah loaned me a copy of The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World, by Michael Pollan, turning me on to the author’s book). Leah has a beautiful son named Sam and she is also expecting another child very soon – any day in fact. My own sister brought a little boy named Morgan into the world this past August. You may have read a post I wrote about him earlier during the fall bulb planting season, “I Believe in the Promise of Tomorrow“. Morgan was a newborn when I began working with Leah, and as result she and I spent quite a bit of time talking about children and gardening. Leah is quite keen on creating a space that is both attractive and child-friendly for her youngsters, (little Sam displayed quite an interest in helping his mom dig while I was visiting!). I delighted in everything about Leah’s philosophy, from her interest in native plants and wildlife, to her unabashed love of botanical beauty. Often my clients become friends, and they almost always give me as much as I give them. This is very much the case with Leah.

A few weeks after we finished planting the last of her perennials, a package arrived in my mailbox. When I opened it, I was surprised at the beautiful book that slipped into my hands. Leah sent a copy of Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius as a gift for my nephew Morgan, but the book immediately captured my own interest and touched me very deeply. Is it possible that the young Miss Rumphius bears more than a passing resemblance to yours truly? It could be. Perhaps that is why I found the book so moving. But more apropos to this blog, the story touches upon all of our deep-rooted need for connection to the natural world and our universal desire for beauty. Although the book is recommended for children aged 3 – 8, I clearly enjoyed it myself !

Leah and Barbara Cooney’s fictional character, Miss Rumphius, got me thinking about the importance of inspirational and educational gardening books for children. After all, many of us develop our life-long interests at a young age. If this generation of parents, (or grandparents or friends or relatives), wishes to nurture a love of nature and gardening in the next generation, there is no better way to begin than with great stories and hands-on educational books. I hope you will consider a garden-inspired gift for the children in your life this holiday season. Together with a packet or two of seed, (and perhaps a terrarium or even a worm farm for older children), these books can truly become gifts that keep on giving. Gardening often becomes not only a skill, but a passion that lasts a lifetime.

So as we move into the gift-giving season, I thought I should pass along some personal recommendations for the youngest gardeners in your life. I am quite familiar with all of these titles – in fact some are dog-eared favorites from my own childhood. These books are a delight to read as well as to behold, both for children and the adults guiding them…

Ruth Krauss 'The Carrot Seed'

One of my favorite stories, Ruth Krauss‘s poetic book The Carrot Seed Board Book is a children’s classic written more than 60 years ago. The simple lessons of gardening and life contained within these pages are as timeless and beautiful today as they were when this book was written, so many years ago. I have ordered a copy to give to my 4 month old nephew, Morgan. This book is appropriate for reading to babies and toddlers, and as a beginning book for children learning to read…

The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle

I have also, always loved Eric Carle’s books. When I was a kid, I was fortunate enough to go to school with a little girl whose family actually knew this celebrated author. This lucky girl’s parents had Mr. Carle come to their house for her birthday one year, to draw pictures and read from his books. I am so glad I was invited to the party, for I will never forget the experience of watching this artist work his storytelling magic with a group of my seven-year-old friends. Now there are people who dislike Eric Carle’s books, (what could they be thinking?). Some critics insist that Carle takes liberties with scientific facts, and claim that he can sometimes be ‘dark’. Well – bah. As and artist and a gardener, I happen to adore Mr. Carle’s books, and I don’t care a whit about his botanical or entomological inaccuracies. We read Eric Carle for creative inspiration, not for scientific study; and for the imaginative child, his books are a delight beyond description. If you are looking for science, scroll to the titles below. And if you think your young child might be scared when reading about gobbled-up seeds, then wait a few years. But, I can not imagine sheltering a child from Eric Carle’s delightful stories forever, (disclaimer: I grew up reading and loving Edward Gorey – now that is dark). The Tiny Seed (World of Eric Carle) is a wonderful book about nature, as are many of Carle’s other titles, including my all time favorites, The Very Hungry Caterpillar: board book & CD, and The Very Busy Spider. They are all appropriate for kids 5 – 8…

roots shoot buckets and boots sharon lovejoy

Sharon Lovejoy is another inspirational and popular author of gardening books for children and adults. Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children, is my favorite. This wonderful hands-on book is great fun for children and grown-ups alike. A perfect gift for a slightly older child, (aged 4-8), combining this title with a few packets of seed and perhaps some indoor seed-starting trays, would make a great introductory gardening kit for any child in elementary school…

jacksgarden

Of course a children’s garden book written and illustrated by a science teacher is bound to be a fabulous teaching tool, but in the case of Jack’s Garden, author Henry Cole manages to do far more than educate – his book is truly magical inspiration. From the gorgeous drawings to the delightfully well-chosen words, this book will quickly enchant both children and adults. Henry has a rare gift, and if you would like to spark horticultural interest an elementary school children aged 4 – 8, this is a book is a great choice…

gardening_wizardry_for_kids

Gardening Wizardry for Kids by Patricia Kite is another excellent activity book, especially for restless kids looking for something to do with their hands over the winter months. Kite teaches children many indoor gardening skills through hands-on projects. Geared toward slightly older kids, (grades 4 – 6), it includes fun windowsill and kitchen experiments, including a few squiggly, wormy ones…

Gardening with Children

The last book on my list for today is the work of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, (see link in side bar at right under public gardens). The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is home to the oldest public garden for children in the United States, and this wonderful place is worth a visiting if you are anywhere in the Northeast. Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Gardening with Children (Brooklyn Botanic Garden All-Region Guide) is an excellent guide for young families learning how to garden. Even more experienced green thumbs will enjoy the beautiful illustrations in this book, while learning more about how to introduce botanical concepts to curious kids. I highly recommend this title as a gift for families with young children, especially if they are looking to explore gardening and science.

Enjoy your seasonal shopping, and Happy Holidays !

Michaela

All of these titles should be easy to find at a local book store, or through the links provided to Amazon.com. As a matter of personal integrity, I review all books and products from an strictly unbiased view-point, (I do not receive payment or product for review, of any kind). However, The Gardener’s Eden is an Amazon.com affiliate, and this site will receive a small percentage of any purchases you choose to make through the Amazon.com links here. With your help, these commission will help to pay for this site’s maintenance. Thank you for your support!

This article is copyright 2009, Michaela at the Gardener’s Eden. All content on this site is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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