Teaching Gardening, Despite the Black Thumb

photo: Jean-Noel Lafargue

I'm always looking for ways to teach my children how to live a healthy lifestyle. A couple of weeks ago, I decided that should include horticulture. What other way could they possibly understand how the succulent strawberries, crispy lettuces and carrots, rich sweet potatoes and squashes made their way to our table?

(No, my children are not of the alien variety that actually eat produce. In fact, except for the strawberries, the above mentioned fruits and vegetables are regularly sneered at, gagged on, and wholly unappreciated for their beauty or nutritional value).

Nevertheless, we were going to spend a Saturday afternoon planting. Nothing too extreme, just a few pots of herbs to get us started.

Let me pause here. If you know me well, I expect you are laughing right now, because I am far from an "earthy" girl.

That's not to say that I don't recycle, conserve energy, and carry my grocery bags everywhere I go, because I do.

But I'm not a gardener.

In fact, when we were looking for our first house, I told my husband that I'd be happy to buy one with a yard, but he'd be hard pressed to find me in the garden weeding. He could do the yard work himself. He could hire a landscaper. I didn't much care, as long as someone else did the work.

I simply hate weeding. I hate getting dirty, and I hate bugs.

Yet, ironically, now that we've lost our house due to a recession and are renting a townhouse that has no backyard, I've decided to give gardening a try. All of the sudden, it seems not only manageable, but a fun family activity.

So we pile in the car and off we go, to the gardening store. We buy rosemary, thyme, chives, and basil.

(Though I have grand ideas, I also know my limits. Starting small is a smart thing to do. After all, the only green plants in my house are fake).

Herbs are also fun. You can heap them on fresh tomatoes, salads, fish, or chicken. My husband puts rosemary on everything and basil is our favorite summer seasoning. It's a perfect beginning.

My 2- year-old daughter responds to my activity beautifully. She loves getting her hands dirty. She helps me prepare the planters and arrange the plants inside them. Then she takes fistful after fistful of dirt, transferring it from the bag to the planters. When she's done she has salt and pepper hair and mud smeared all over her face. Her fingernails are black. She's had a marvelous time.

My son is another story. He doesn't want to get his hands dirty, so he insists on using his shovel, which is too big for the bag of dirt and is too big for the planters. He waves it around a bit, nearly hitting each one of us on the head, until I tell him to cut it out. Now he's sour on gardening.

So what did I achieve? I'll admit, it's not entirely clear. Here' s how I see the results:
Did I organize a fun family activity? Mostly.
Did I teach a lesson in healthy living? That's debatable. But, hey, this is an ongoing lesson that I must work on every day. It's a start.

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