Wednesday, I received a text from my eldest son who is in graduate school in Iowa. He was letting me know that he applied for a piece of a community garden plot near his apartment building. Besides letting me know this, he was also asking advice on plants.
Little did he know, this was a great compliment to me – a long time Master Gardener Volunteer and his mom who introduced him to the benefits of gardening. When he was in fourth grade I started a garden club at his school, exposing him and many of his peers and those students to follow to the wonderful world that awaits in our local gardens.
One of the greatest gifts one can receive is that of emulation or imitation. As the years of garden club went on (13 years to be exact) and my teaching evolved, it became evident that I was inspired to plant the seed of environmental stewardship in our youth. Recently, I wondered about this seriously enough to conduct a formal research study on what former students remember about being in garden club and whether their time spend attending our meetings, learning about plants, and exploring the natural world that existed outside of their classrooms in the school yard did just that. Did I help to plant the seeds of environmental stewardship and sustainability? What of their actions now indicate this?
If my son’s text is any indication, I did influence this. Certainly, by being brought up in a household by two parents who maintain a thirty-tree home fruit orchard, had some successful vegetable plots, and witnessing the planning as well as execution of pollinator habitat restoration at home as well as at school were among influential factors. Was I the sole inspiration? No, I do not claim to be. Other aspirations of being self-sufficient, a minimalist, saving money on food, and knowing the health benefits of working in a garden are also ideas put to work by his plans for a garden.
So, when I got his text, asking for plant recommendations, I had to give it some thought. Gardening is often a grand experiment. There are many factors that influence success. Careful planning is one of these factors. Time is another factor. He asked if he should start seeds indoors. The answer to that was an easy “no”. When someone starts to garden on their own, you want it to be as successful as possible to encourage future ventures. Starting seeds inside is not easy! I know! For years, I tried and had problems with dampening off and spindly seedlings that barely stood up to any wind stronger than a breeze. Starting seeds inside also requires a fair amount of light, space, and attendance. Then, you have to “harden” off the plants before taking them out to the garden plot and placing them in the ground. Too much, I say, for a first independent experience.
When we finally got to talk about his plot, which will be 10 x 30 feet, I asked him what plants he was interested in having. Peas, beans, chives, and peppers were amongst the first to be named. I suggested lettuce and marigolds. Luckily, it sounds like he might be able to put up a small fence of a certain type to keep bunnies and such out of the plot. This was good news – after all he is not Mr. McGregor. The marigold suggestion was also made to help keep the local hungry critters out, if planted as a boarder around his plot. Marigolds have a strong, distinctive scent that smells (to some) like the unpopular skunk, which serves to direct hungry rabbits elsewhere. They will also help to attract pollinators and add a little color. Zinnias were also suggested to help with the aesthetic factor as well.
Other actions suggested were to direct sow some seeds right in the ground, like the peas – who like cool weather, while others could be purchased as plants already started and then just transferred to the plot. His budget will determine the size he is able to buy. Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Lowes are amongst the store available to him to get plants that have had a head start. The growing season in Iowa is not much longer than it is in Wisconsin. Getting plants with a head start, especially for things like peppers, will allow him to reap the rewards of his efforts sooner than later. This piece of advice will also increase his chances of gardening success.
Hearing my eldest son would electively plant and manage a garden of his own – priceless!