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  • Writer's pictureM. Winston (Winn) Egan

Some like dirt, and some do not! But everyone loves a well-cared-for garden.

Springtime is an exciting time of the year. It is a time for tilling, planting and nurturing plants and grandchildren—and even some neighborhood kids.

This year, we decided to replace some of our backyard lawn with a small garden. We wanted to use the garden to grow all kinds of vegetables. But more importantly, we knew we would use the garden to develop relationships with young children in our neighborhood and our grandchildren.

So for the past seven days, we have become gardeners with James, Kate, Caroline, Christopher, and Andrew. These wide-eyed, enthusiastic gardeners range in age from 3 to 8. They have approached their gardening work with great enthusiasm and zeal and you might imagine.

What kid does not like digging in dirt and making mud? Well, some do not. As we engaged in our gardening activities, we discovered that Caroline did not like touching the soil with her hands or feet. Fortunately, we had some garden mats on which she could sit, kneel and stand. She used her weeder/trowel tool to dig holes and move the soil around rather than directly touching the dirt with her hands. It was fun to watch her deal with her soil aversion.

We decided to let each child select a tomato plant. Each plant is different. Some plants produce small cherry tomatoes. Some are yellow in color. Some are huge. Others are in between. Some are heirlooms. The point is this—like people and families, tomatoes come in different sizes and with distinctive personalities. Our job is to determine what they need so they can grow and realize their full potential. Today, young Kate returned to water her tomato plant and to see how it was doing.

In our gardening efforts, we also planted pumpkins, lettuce, peas, and corn. Our child gardeners learned a lot about how, when, and where to plant various seeds. Some seeds need a lot of room to grow into plants like pumpkins and cucumbers. Some plants need full sunlight, and some do not. Other seeds need just a little space. Some need a lot of room to grow. Also, seeds for various plants differ in size. For example, the lettuce seeds were so tiny we were forced to lick our fingers to gather them from the seed package. Grandchildren are very much like seeds. They have special requirements. They need constant nurturing if they are to grow, flourish, and reach their full potential.

The children gardeners also learned that some seeds can be planted close together, and others need to be spread out. The same is true of the depth at which the seeds need to be planted. We made measuring sticks so they could accurately bury and space their seeds. Our child gardeners learned a lot about measuring and counting. They also loved using the watering can. They knew that without water, the seeds would not sprout or become what they needed to be. Over time, as the children continue to weed, water, and nurture their tomatoes, we will have a lot of fun comparing their little gardens to their lives and ours.

We know we can buy vegetables at the grocery store. Still, our little garden will provide a special connection to these dear children that will last throughout this summer and well beyond. Their visits to our/their garden will spawn many meaningful conversations about how plants and people grow and how important we are to each other and the plants around us.

If you have not considered a family or grandparent garden or a mini garden, think again. It does not have to be elaborate, small pots would do, but you will be surprised how much children love planting, growing, and nurturing tomatoes, corn, pumpkins, or peas. You will be surprised how much children and grandchildren can learn about themselves and others as they master the beginning skills of gardening. Also, the garden project will serve as a creative way to deepen and sustain meaningful relationships with those you love the most—your grandchildren and a few neighborhood children.

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