Building an appreciation of gardening into a child's educational experiences begins in your own back yard. Then, it can carry over to school playgrounds and classrooms and can extend from the first day of school until graduation.
The value of a lifelong, hands-on encounter with planting includes experiencing the taste of fresh vegetables; the sight, smell and feel of big, brightly colored flowers; and the sounds of wind rustling through leaves.
Karen Angelucci, author of the children's book Grimy, Grubby Gardening (McClanahan Publishing House, $14.95), has been an active advocate of gardening at Julius Marks Elementary School, where her daughter Rachel is a second-grader. About three years ago, Angelucci and arborist Dave Leonard began collaborations with school administrators and grounds staff to establish a small arboretum of 10 native trees, including yellowwood, swamp white oak, tulip poplar and Kentucky coffeetree.
Angelucci also created a garden environment in the fenced playground for Early Start students, where they can feel the soft texture of plants like lamb's ears and gnarly red cockscomb, smell the pungency of crushed yarrow leaves, and plant seeds that grow into tall coreopsis blossoms and enormous sunflowers.
"You cannot walk past them without a bit of shock and awe," Angelucci says, "yet the garden itself is small and easy to maintain. The Early Start teacher has taken it on, and the children learn there."
Angelucci also conducts programs in elementary schools throughout the state, setting up a nature table where students can discover more about flowers and seeds. For more information, go to Karenangelucci.com.
Resources abound for parents and teachers who want to establish programs in their schools. Reference books, organizational support and garden catalogues can help get you started. Here are a few worth looking at:
■ How to Grow a School Garden: A Complete Guide for Parents and Teachers by Arden Bucklin-Sporer and Rachel Kathleen Pringle (Timber Press, $24.95) is packed with a wealth of inviting color photographs that feature students and teachers working on garden projects, and it includes lists of organizations, suppliers and Web sites.
Integrating garden projects into curriculum requirements, organizing volunteers and fund-raising, observing safety issues and developing layouts are discussed, as well as the down-to-earth issues of what and how to grow gardens. This book will orient you to issues and ideas to get going. The authors draw from a lifetime of gardening and a decade of teaching, parenting and working as members of the San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance.
■ With a little research, it is easy to find organizations willing to support school-based gardens and Web sites with projects you can incorporate into curriculums. Just recently, for example, the Subaru Healthy Sprouts program, co-sponsored by the National Gardening Association and Subaru of America Inc. awarded $500 gift certificates to the Gardening with Kids catalog to 30 winners, including Kentucky's Southern Oaks Elementary in Utica and Hopkins Elementary School in Somerset.
"Through the Subaru Healthy Sprouts Program, children are given the tools to grow, maintain and harvest whole foods to share with their classmates, teachers, families, and the surrounding community," said Mike Metallo, president and CEO of the National Gardening Association.
More than 800 applications were received from programs across the United States.
Another gardening association collaboration, with Welch's Harvest Grants program, brought support to two other Kentucky schools in 2010: Montessori Middle School of Kentucky in Lexington and St. Aloysius Elementary School in Louisville. If you want to try for a grant from Welch's, applications for 2011 awards must be submitted by Feb. 11.
To learn more about NGA's grant programs, go to Kidsgardening.org.
■ Seed and perennial catalogs are mailed in January, so this is a great time to plan projects that involve starting seeds. A few not-to-miss catalogs include Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. The bite-sized Sweet Yellow Stuffing peppers are superb and unusual little treats. Learn more at Rareseeds.com.
Renee's Garden Seeds is very user-friendly. Renee Shepherd searches out the best garden seeds from around the world and tests them in her gardens. Be sure to look at the Apricot Blush zinnias. Reneesgarden.com.
Kentucky's Ferry-Morse Seed Co., with headquarters in Fulton, has been in business since 1856. Its line of Jiffy pots for starting seeds indoors and more than 500 varieties of "seeds guaranteed to grow" are available at local retail garden shops. Ferry-morse.com.