This is Emma standing beside the mammoth-sized sunflowers she grew from seed last summer. Emma is an elementary school student, and most recently, a co-author and illustrator of a book about gardening with kids.
She is 9 years old.
A young Emma in the garden. ©2015 Grow Gardeners
How you view age is relative to where you are in life. When I was 9, I used to think 30 was "old". But now that I have stepped over the great divide that puts me closer to 60 than 50, I see 30 as impossibly young.
Why bring up the issue of age?
Have you ever looked around you at a garden club meeting? There is a lot of "older" folks and not nearly as many people under the age of 35. Part of me wonders if a love of gardening comes with maturity along with an appreciation of mushrooms, spinach and Brussels sprouts. But the other part of me worries that gardening has failed to capture the imagination of younger generations.
How can we pass on a love of gardening to our children and grandchildren?
Working in partnership with her Dad, author and horticulturist Steve Biggs, Emma has helped to write a short book, Grow Gardeners, that suggests that there are four ingredients to making gardening fun for kids: Playing, Exploring, Collecting and Growing.
As well as being the author of two previous books on gardening, Steve Biggs is the proud father of three young children. Steve believes that it our responsibility as adults and gardeners to help kids realize how much fun the garden can be. Steve writes, "It's easy to make the garden a fun place for children because they have imagination, energy and curiosity. All we as adults have to do is channel that spirit towards the garden."
Steve, Emma and her brothers Quinn and Keaton
Steve advises we adopt a child-like approach: Peak their curiosity. Laugh. Be playful. "If you need to work, dovetail your work into play. My kids like train rides after I empty the wheelbarrow. "Hit the bumps, Dad," they howl. We are playing together while I work."
Foster play in the garden:"I think the best way to cultivate play is to be playful. Stimulate play by providing ideas, if needed."
Steve's "tool kit for play" involves simple, everyday items like leaves, soil, garden tools and water. We adults forget the joy a puddle can bring or how much fun it is to play in the mud.
Emma's illustration from the book. ©2015 Grow Gardeners
Emma: "Playing with the hose is I think one of my favourite things outside because you can get soaking wet. You can make many cool things when you're allowed to use the hose: we dig in the dirt, make mud pie, we make rivers, we make dams."
Cultivate collecting: Long buried memories of childhood came flooding back as I read through the chapter on exploring. It's been a while, but I warmly recall lifting up stones to see what's scurrying and crawling underneath. Here is a small sampling of the book's super simple, absolutely fun ideas for exploring:
• Crawl through the lawn looking for a four-leaf clover.
• Walk toward a chirping cricket and see how close you can get before it stops chirping.
• Touch, taste and smell leaves in a herb garden.
• Blow, flick and kick dandelion seed heads. Run through a field of them!
Cultivate exploring: On Steve and Emma's list of things to encourage kids to explore nature are everyday items like a basket for gathering things or a jar for collecting insects. Here's just a few of the book's suggestions to get kids exploring:
• Start a collection of feathers. Frame them or put the collection in an album.
• Press leaves between the pages of a book for later use, to be traced or identified.
• Collect pine cones for crafts
Cultivate Growing: Steve advises that once children enjoy playing and exploring outdoors, gardening is the next step. Just don't expect kids to garden exactly the same way adults do! Instead Steve recommends that when gardening with kids, make adjustments like using larger seeds such as peas and sunflowers that can be "poked" right into a loose soil.
Steve:"Strawberries are a good choice for small children, as plants are low to the ground and strawberries are sweet. Digging potatoes- which are like buried treasure- is fun too."
The chapter on growing includes terrific a list of kid friendly garden themes such as an alphabet garden, butterfly garden and a salsa garden where your kids grow all the ingredients.
Steve and Emma's book, Grow Gardeners, is not long- I read it in about an hour. And that's perfect! If you're a busy parent, the last thing you want to do is read a lengthy book. The suggested ideas are laid out in simple point form that allows you to quickly find activity to make the garden a fun place for your kids or grandkids.
Emma's illustration from the book. ©2015 Grow Gardeners
If you pop over to see Emma's blog, you'll find a list of veggies she hopes to grow this spring: red iceburg lettuce, banana legs tomato and dragon carrots to name but a few. She notes,"I grew dragon carrots last year and they were great. They are a bright red carrot and something you will not see in the store. I've grown giant sunflowers before and they were HUGE."
Emma's proud parents are delighted with her enthusiasm for gardening. Steve writes, "We're simply sowing the foundation of a life-long love of the outdoors."
I honestly can't think of a better ambition when it comes to gardening with kids.
I have a copy of Grow Gardeners to give away to one lucky reader. Just add "Count me in" to your comment if you would like to be included in the book draw.
More Information and Links:
Emma Biggs is an elementary school student with a passion for gardening and drawing. She often helps her father, Steven, at gardening events. A tireless scribbler and doodler, this is Emma's first book.
Visit Emma's blog.
Steve Biggs is an award winning journalist and author specializing in gardening, farming and food production. A life-long gardener, he favours a practical and fun approach to things. His book No Guff Vegetable Gardening, co-authored with Donna Balzer is a Canadian best seller. Grow Your Own Figs Where You Think You Can't is the winner if the 2012 Silver Award of Achievement, Garden Writers Association.
Visit the Grow Gardeners website to purchase a copy of Steve and Emma's book.