The intricate pattern of a spider’s web glistening with dew in the morning light, the unbridled beauty of an orchid’s bloom perched high in an oak, the absolute grace of an osprey flying overhead. All are experiences that happen only in nature, and, no matter how hard we try, they cannot be faithfully reproduced by man.
Nature has the power to calm, excite and inspire. Children clamor for information from the moment they are born — listening, watching, mimicking, learning and processing everything that goes on around them. They are thrilled by discovery and are filled with tremendous wonder.
Prejudices and preconceived notions do not exist in their world. They are ready for new experiences and knowledge that they soak up like sponges. With all the incredible sights and sounds of nature and all of the thirst that children have for wonderful things, it is only natural to bring these two worlds together. And there is no better place to do that than in the home garden.
There are many ways to involve your children in your garden, from adding plants to attract butterflies and wildlife, to planting an edible garden, to simply taking time to observe what is going on.
THE YOUNGER, THE BETTER
How you introduce your children to nature is up to you, but the younger they are, the better. It’s easier to convince a 4-year-old that a butterfly is cool than to convince a texting teen. I introduced my daughter to nature simply by having it all around her.
I made our back yard into a planted paradise full of potential for hideouts, exploration and discovery. I made sure to include plants that would attract birds and butterflies or that would interest her with fantastic blooms or heavenly aromas.
I also planted a tree for her a few days after she was born. It was a tiny, four-inch gumbo limbo and as she has grown, so has the tree. Every year around her birthday we take a picture of her and her tree together. She refers to it as "my tree" and she has genuine concern for it when tropical storms or hurricanes brush our shore.
That tree was one of the first things to bind her to our garden, and its pull has remained strong over the years.
It’s never too late to plant a tree for a child, and older children can even help plant the tree and pick out the species.
GROW YOUR OWN VEGGIES
Edible gardens are another great way to bring your children closer to nature. Watching plants grow from seed, to bush, to ripe vegetables is an incredible learning experience and something that kids love. My daughter has informed me that she will only eat tomatoes from our garden — store-bought just won’t do.
We never eat healthier than the few months each winter when our garden is in season. There is nothing more satisfying than visiting the garden each day to see what we can pick for dinner.
Your children’s ages will have a lot to do with how much they can do in the garden. Younger children can help plant seeds and young plants with a little direction from you. Letting them help choose what you are going to plant is also important, as it will give them ownership of the garden and something to look forward to as tiny seeds begin to send their sprouts skyward.
As your garden grows, weeding will become important, and kids can easily help with that. Harvesting is a job that children love, and even the youngest gardener can be taught to pick only the red and ripe cherry tomatoes and leave the green ones for later.
As your children get older, you can even give them their own portion of the garden to plant and tend on their own. The wonder of nature is very often missed because we simply don’t take the time to look for it. If you plant the right trees and shrubs and refrain from using pesticides in your garden, it will burst with life as hummingbirds, cardinals, warblers and ladybugs frequent your yard and delight your children.
Of course, you need to make the time to get out in the yard. The television and its numerous game consoles will always have a strong draw, but it’s OK to shut them off every now and then to see what Mother Nature is doing in the garden.
VISIT THE EVERGLADES
If your yard is too small for veggie gardens or you are bound to condo living and have nowhere to plant, the great outdoors is still never too far away, especially when you live in South Florida. The Everglades are a wonderful place to visit during the winter, when temperatures are low and mosquitoes take a holiday from pestering us.
Take your child to Flamingo for a canoe trip out into Florida Bay or for a hike along the easily accessible Anhinga Trail to see the wading birds and alligators. You won’t be disappointed. How you decide to introduce your children to nature doesn’t really matter. It matters only that you do it and that you and your children have fun. Let them know that the great outdoors isn’t just mosquitoes and high humidity; it can be a wondrous place where amazing things happen right before your eyes.
BY JEFF WASIELEWSKI, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden