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We’re Gardening! (At Least I Think We Are)... Are You?

Taylor Hengen Newman

I really love the idea of gardening – especially of growing my own food (talk about local) – but I’ve killed more plants in my life than I can count; I’m a little afraid of what I might do to an actual garden. Yet green-thumbed friends tend to dismiss this personal history and insist on how easy gardening is: simply put seeds in the ground, they say. Add water and sunlight, and: voila! You’re gardening. I ask skeptically about different plants needing different types of soil, and different amounts of water and sunlight, at different times of day -- I don’t know enough to put my knowledge to use and grow something, but I’ve done cursory research and know there are details involved. Aren’t there planting cycles and crop-rotations (whatever those are) to account for, I ask, not to mention local climate considerations (like last summer’s crazy-hot, crazy-long Texas draught)? My green-thumbed friends reply with a nod. They tell me nonchalantly that most people fail in their first year of gardening. That's not the most motivational nugget right there. 

Still, my passions as a person, and as a parent, keep pointing me toward growing things. What better way to teach kids (and know for oneself) where your family’s food comes from? Or to get out there in the fresh air and dirt, both of which boost health and happiness? Kaspar’s in a, er, 'busy' phase right now, too, and focusing in on "work" is something he responds well to. He takes real pride in helping with tasks, and in doing things ALL by himself. He tells me about working in the garden at his school (lots of schools are creating outdoor curriculums around gardening—check this out, and get your kids’ schools in on the action), and when he chose this book, and this one, during a recent trip to the library, I knew it was time I ponied up, got over my mental block and got us gardening at home.

We brought this book home from the library that day, too; although it’s a children’s book, I chose it specifically for myself. I juggle enough details in my daily life; I don’t feel like taking on soil acidity and crop rotation as well. I want this process to be as simple as putting seeds in the ground, watering, weeding, and watching them grow. The kids’ book brakes it down to the basic elements in a way I can digest, as an already-busy beginner. I thumbed through it – learning a few things as I went, even – and made a short list of veggies I thought we could grow.

This past weekend, on Mother’s Day, we took a family trip to the local organic gardening store. We hit a few speedbumps there—Kaspar got “poked by an ‘actus” (cactus… youch) and most of the seeds I wanted weren’t available (due to the kinds of gardening details I don’t want to know... seasonal relevancy and all that) – but I think the staffers pegged me pretty quickly for a novice; they helped me find some suitable seeds, and an all-purpose soil, for my back deck container garden plans. “Just put the seeds in the soil,” said the girl at the register. “They’ll grow.” Then she gave me a free Mother’s Day flower, which got Kaspar’s mind off the ‘actus and got me squarely in the mood for gardening success.

Kas and I planted our seeds yesterday. He filled our pots with dirt, one scoop at a time (hello, awesomely occupied child), as I studied the seed packets’ instructions. We poked holes in the soil and dropped seeds in, more or less according to said instructions, and patted ourselves on the back for making a garden. Next, it rained all night; Aaron moved our pots to shelter and safety at 1 AM when I worried aloud they might be drowning… good man. They’re soaking in sunshine today, and I – already emotionally invested in our seeds’ well-being – am hoping they're doing their germination thing, beneath the soil. So far, it's a waiting game. I'm determined to get my own green thumb into good working order, though; I’m going to graduate, soon, from kids’ gardening books to more of the grown-up details; I plan to tap my friend Bee’s intuitive sense (and extensive knowledge) around all things horticultural, and to get involved with a super-cool project, Food is Free, that’s taking community gardening to the streets here in Austin. Assuming all goes well with this first run (please, please don't fail, little garden), next year’s gardening endeavor will be growing in the actual ground. 

Do you have a flower or vegetable garden? How do you get your kids involved? What’s the secret to keeping gardening simple (and successful)? What are you growing right now? What are some helpful resources for involving children in gardening projects? (I’m loving this site, and this one, right now).