Fun and beauty in the garden for children and adults

  • ”The Book of Gardening Projects for Kids: 101 ways to get kids outside, dirty and having fun” by Whitney Cohen and John Fisher of Life Lab Science Program. Contributed photo

  • “Fearless Color Gardens” by Keeyla Meadows. Contributed photo

Published: 5/2/2020 6:00:23 AM

In these treacherous days of the coronavirus, when many of us been laid off, children have been sent home from school and no one can even remember what day of the week it is because we no longer have schedules, we should stop and take a deep breath. What can we do when so many must-dos no longer exist?

First, we have to remember it is spring. The world is changing all around us. Birds are returning and singing. Children are running around the yard but are forbidden from going to play with their friends. Opportunities are created.

Certainly, Whitney Cohen and John Fisher of Life Lab have some ideas. Life Lab is an organization that cultivates children’s love of learning, healthy food and nature through garden-based education. I think their new book, “The Book of Gardening Projects for Kids: 101 ways to get kids outside, dirty, and having fun” (Timber Press, $29.95), will suggest fun for everyone in the family. They know the importance of having a sense of humor.

Cohen and Fisher are realists about the amount of time children will stay engaged in a project. At the same time, it is true that children will often become engaged for lengthy periods of time. The first part of the book reminds parents about children’s skills, time tolerance, imaginations and ingenuity with suggestions about working with these. 

The rest of the book is given over to fun and learning. Children will understand the fun and parents will be happy to notice all the learning. Included in the book are the basics of growing a garden from design to compost and digging.

Seed starting begins with creative containers, empty yogurt cups, newspaper cups, milk cartons and more. There are all manner of experiments to teach about soil. How to measure? With your hand. Measure your hand and finger span and you’ll never need a ruler when working in the garden. Learn to identify bugs. Brew up an insect repellent. Design theme gardens: pizza gardens, three sisters gardens, a sunflower house and more.

Pay attention in the garden and you can learn about the stages of butterfly life, harvest peppermint, lemon balm, chamomile and calendula for flavor and make tea for good health. There are lists of plants that attract birds and ways to feed and provide water for the birds. There are directions for building houses for barn owls, bats and chickens. Talk about hands-on learning.

Besides chapters on all the things you can make and play with, there is a chapter on cooking. There are recipes and information for children of every age. Another chapter on harvest season has recipes for freezing, dehydrating and canning the vegetables and fruits from the garden.

I know some parents are now particularly aware of how much learning can take place outside the classroom. This “Book of Gardening Projects” will keep everyone happily busy — and learning.

‘Fearless Color Gardens’

Keeyla Meadows, who is an artist and a teacher, wants to encourage gardeners to jump off the color wheel and create “Fearless Color Gardens” (Timber Press $27.95). She wants you to free your mind and create a color-rich garden. She shows us many ways to look for and work with bright congenial colors.

As a timid arranger of my garden space I welcomed this book full of ideas about how to organize color combinations. Any artist begins with a color wheel. Meadows works with a color triangle made of blossoms from blue at the apex down through purple, on to red and pink, then orange to yellow and up to shades of chartreuse to deep green.

But choosing colors for the garden does not begin with the plants. It begins with allowing yourself to listen to your garden muse and to practice placing different colors alongside your favorite color to feel how they change each other. Do these other colors add warmth or a coolness? Which do you prefer?

”Fearless Color Gardens” is divided into three main activities beginning with putting together color palettes, learning about color and harmony and about shades and hue.

Part two suggests ways to frame your space, outline spaces and their colors and organize the space. In addition to plants, the hardscaping design and color of your garden has to be considered. The final section of the book is a tour of gardens that Meadows has created. When you look at your garden and walk the paths, do you think of it as a sanctuary? Or as a paradise? Meadows’s gardens include lots of painted color on the paving or rocks and sculptures as well as on furniture. 

Reading this book certainly opened my eyes to new ways of arranging plant combinations. My garden is small but the colors are unlimited. There is fun to be had.

I am spending more time in my garden in this pandemic year. I am working more slowly because there is no reason to rush. I have more time to pay attention to the bare spots, more time to think about harmony. Since we will be spending more time in the garden, I am insisting that we get an umbrella for our garden table. I can see myself among my colorful flowers and large shrubs, lounging, reading, enjoying tea time. I will ignore the weeds. I’ll tend to them later.

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980. She now lives in Greenfield. Readers can leave comments at her website: commonweeder.com.


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