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by Monica Brandies


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Sweet Treats and Valuable Lessons

Children find gardens a gateway to nature.

School is out and children have time to explore their possibilities. A garden can give children valuable lessons and parents needed therapy. So I have a sweet treat for my readers, the view point of a much younger mother, my daughter, Gretchen Covine.

"Nothing instills a love of gardens like the taste of a sweet berry on a sunny day," she says. "Even as you read this, perhaps your mouth is watering for the favorite ripe fruit or vegetable of your youth. For me it was a particular raspberry bush in my childhood yard in Iowa. When we stumbled upon ripe berries, we stopped dead in our tracks and ate until all the ripe ones were gone. I never saw a single raspberry ever make it to the kitchen.

"For my boys it is the mulberry tree in the backyard. When Michael was four he changed an ordinary afternoon into a celebration when he ran into the house out of breath and jumping up and down with excitement… 'The mulberries are ripe, the mulberries are ripe!' Then he ran back out with his little brother following closely behind to learn what mulberries are as they were clearly something to get excited about.

"When I saw them next, they were under the tree with purple juice dripping from their chins. I love the mulberries myself and have a weakness for seeing my children turn themselves purple enjoying fruit off the tree. After all, don't they say the more colorful the food the better it is for you? This obviously applies to one's nutrition, not necessarily to one's laundry.

Grandson David Covine helped pick strawberries this spring.

"These moments serve a powerful part in nurturing children's understanding, love and respect for the earth. Although it appears they are simply enjoying a sweet treat, they begin to learn and know what part of the year the berries will appear and about all the elements that go into having many delicious berries. We talk about the berries that drop to the ground nurturing the soil and fertilizing the tree. They can see how the tree brings the birds and bees. They can see first hand how their tree that is fun to climb and generous with berries is an important part of the world around them. "The garden and the outdoors can be a very powerful classroom where children not only learn about biology, but also about life, understanding and respect. Here are some things you can do to help your children get involved. Notice what birds and bugs like certain trees and plants and when they come around most often. Ask your children if they can tell you the name of the plants, animals and bugs they see. Talk about the weather and what effect it is having on the plants and nature outside the window. Involve them in the gardening. They love to water, plant, pick and trim plants, flowers and fruit.

"The outdoors is very important to us. So it is natural that we want to share this love with our children. When each of our sons was born we planted a tree in the front yard to celebrate the occasion. Son Michael (five years) has a Japanese Bottle Brush and son David (almost 3 years) has a white orchid tree. Both the boys enjoy telling us about their tree. 'It is getting big.' 'The bees sure like my tree.' 'My tree is almost taller than Mikey's!'"

Okay, so I got my daughter Gretchen to write most of this column for me and she did a great job. Four of my children are avid gardeners and sometimes better at it than I am. The other five are involved at least marginally. My son Mike plowed a plot in the sun of his nearly empty yard so I could plant green beans this spring. When Phil saw me coming to water them, he took over that job. Tom picked them and everyone ate with gusto.

I never had any trouble getting my children to eat fruits and vegetables, and many they ate without my even picking them, like those raspberries. We always ate better than kings and they all knew what their food looked like in the ground or on the hoof. Sweet treats indeed, both the children and the food.

There is a permanent butterfly house at Kerby's Nursery where children can sometimes enjoy the thrill of holding a butterfly or petting a caterpillar and always see some in their various life stages.