The magic of children in the garden

Editor’s note: This column is a revision of an article published in 2012.

Each summer, our grandchildren, Jared and Jade, enjoy a one-week sojourn from Anthem to our home five miles northeast of Flagstaff. Hugh, my husband, takes a few days off work so he can enjoy their visit. Since I would like my grandchildren’s gardening experiences to provide them with pleasant memories, I gather some key gardening supplies before their arrival.

Whether last year’s garden gloves are worn out or not, I buy each grandchild a new pair in the brightest neon colors available. Also, since they may not be around in a few weeks to enjoy the fruits of their labors, I purchase perennials or shrubs already in bloom and ready to plant. Indeed, children appreciate instant gratification as well as adults. Hats, sunscreen, and gardening tools complete the list of must-haves for the week.

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The morning after their arrival a year ago Jade, age 6, announced excitedly, “Grandma, I brought a special shirt to wear just for gardening!” I replied, “That’s great! Now we don’t have to worry about you getting your good clothes dirty or torn. In fact, you can change into it right after breakfast. I have some gardening projects that all of us can get started on right away.” Hugh interjected, “Yeah, Jared, are you ready to put down sandbags again this year? “What? Nooo!” Jared, age 9, objected. He remembered all too well the sandbagging he and Hugh did the summer of 2010 in preparation for flooding resulting from the Schultz Fire. Chuckling, Hugh said, “Not to worry. The sandbags are already in place.”

Later, as Jade emerged from the bedroom after changing out of her pajamas, I noticed that the shirt she was wearing was neither too small nor worn out, so I queried, “Jade, where’s your gardening shirt?” Slightly exasperated, she explained, “Grandma, this is my gardening shirt. See all the flowers?” She was right. Huge tropical hibiscus blooms adorned what was the perfect gardening shirt.

By the time Jared and Jade arrived midsummer, our vegetable garden was well established, so I instructed them to take turns watering the squash, green beans, corn, bell peppers, and tomatoes. Jared enjoys rifling through the tomato foliage in search of perfectly ripened, warm cherry tomatoes that he can pop into his mouth.

Jade, an avowed tomato-hater, looks on in disgust, but Jared nonetheless attempts to win her over, “Jade, you’ve got to try one!” His sister sums it up in one word “Yuck!” Not one to give up easily, Jared continues, “I promise you. You’ll love these. They’re not like store-bought tomatoes.” But Jade remains unmoved.

Our grandchildren are now adept at deadheading. Two summers ago, Jared cut off the finished stalks of about 70 Palmer’s penstemons. Last summer, I asked Jared to deadhead old, shriveled beebalm blossoms, and he completed the task in quick order.

Jade’s assignment was a bit more involved. The spent blossoms of columbines resemble their buds, so I instructed Jade how to differentiate the two and set her to work deadheading. Twenty minutes later she was still hard at work, and I didn’t want her to become discouraged, so I said, “That looks perfect! Let’s go eat lunch.” “But I’m not finished, Grandma,” she countered. I said, “You’ve done a much better job than I would have had patience for.” That seemed to convince her, so we went indoors.

The following morning, however, when I went to tell them to brush their teeth, Jade wasn’t in the guest room. I asked Jared, “Where’s your sister?” “Outside,” he responded. “Why?” I questioned. “I don’t know” was his customary reply. I stepped out the front door, and sure enough, there was Jade. She was deadheading the columbines!

Six or 86 years old, no matter. Gardening in northern Arizona is great!

Cindy Murray is a biologist, co-editor of Gardening Etcetera. and a Coconino Master Gardener with Arizona Cooperative Extension. Note: Wildflower seeds native to northern Arizona are now available, free, at the Grow Flagstaff! Seed Library in the Coconino County Extension office at 2304 N. 3rd St.

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