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Phildelphia, PA: Gardeners, the next generation

  • Subject: [cg] Phildelphia, PA: Gardeners, the next generation
  • From: adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Fri, 25 Aug 2006 11:33:21 -0400

Encouraging the sprouts to take up gardening
By Virginia A. Smith
Inquirer Staff Writer
Nurturing kids' interest should be fun 
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 Center City 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 Flaherty 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.
Short-term, 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. And 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, helped install.
They have a fountain with horsetail, three snails, and two tadpoles; sections for fruit (blueberries, grapes, raspberries, blackberries), vegetables (tomatoes, cabbage) and herbs (apple, chocolate and pepper mint, chives); a couple of dwarf Japanese maples; a bench; and a model train that delights Aimon.
"It makes lots of smoke and noise," he says.
The point is not lost on Carina.
"I think that even though we have a small house, this is very nice, kind of peaceful, except when they're around," she says, rolling her eyes at her brother and sister.
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."
Key to developing this sense, and this pride, she adds, is "the idea that children learn best when they get to experience it firsthand."
In this region, that can be done at places like Winterthur near Wilmington, which opened its Enchanted Woods in 2001, and Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square. Longwood already has an outdoor maze, but a larger indoor children's garden is in the works.
Camden Children's Garden, which opened in 1999, remains the area's only botanical facility devoted solely to kids. It's designed to entertain them with dinosaurs, fairy tales, and trains, while drawing them into the gardens.
"Nature's a great leveler," director Mike Devlin likes to say, "and children are very open to it."
In the garden, nature isn't an abstraction. Kids observe what happens when it rains and when it doesn't. They learn about good and bad critters. They see life, death and disease and come to understand how plants, animals and people are connected.
"Let them see nature and the limitations of nature," Devlin says. "Someday, they're going to have to right some of the environmental problems we have."
In the garden, children also learn where food comes from.
Linda Antonacio-Hoade, a master gardener with the Penn State Cooperative Extension, hears it all the time from her Montgomery County students:
"As the kids are pulling carrots out, they're saying, 'Whoa! You mean that's where they come from?' "
Unlike many of the schoolchildren she encounters, Antonacio-Hoade grew up with a direct connection to the source of her food.
She used to pick asparagus from her Dutch grandfather's vegetable garden in Trappe, which was country then. On the other side of the family, her Italian grandparents cooked up fresh dandelions from the yard and fried pumpkin blossoms from the garden in pancake batter.
"Moms are busy working today. They're not canning. They're not freezing," Antonacio-Hoade says. "It's a way of life now, but it means the kids are missing a whole lot in the life-cycle process."
Carina Flaherty is so enamored of that process that she's already dreaming of a bigger garden, one with cherry, peach and apple trees and more attractions for lightning bugs, butterflies, and praying mantises. She's also curious about her Korean heritage, on her mother's side, which could lead to some ethnic-gardening adventures.
Brother Aimon is thinking big, too. He saw a waterfall in a garden in the suburbs, and now he wants one.
"We need to scale him back a little," his mother says.
Carina and Aimon gather their green thoughts in gardening journals, keeping track of everything they see and drawing images of flowers, pests and butterflies. They're great reading.
Neither Gym nor the kids' dad, Bret Flaherty, was all that involved in gardening before Carina got the bug. Now, they both enjoy it - and watching their children, pardon the expression, blossom. Even the youngest has her own snapdragons and gladiolus.
"It teaches them creativity," Gym says.
With creative flourish, Carina wraps up her garden commentary with butterfly bush and Gerbera daisy, stumbling briefly over gayfeather and skimmia. Then she turns pensive.
"Some people think digging in the dirt is completely disgusting. I like getting my hands dirty.
"I might be gardening my whole life," she says with wide eyes
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