Are Kids Thinking About Gardening? Hell No!

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Kids Watering Flowers

Christmas has come and gone. So has the end of the year and a little time for reflection. It’s one year later and one year older for all of us, including my demon grandchildren.

As I spent time with the wonderful little monsters over the winter holiday, I started thinking back about the experiences they had with plants and gardens. I wondered if they might become interested in gardening a little more this year. After all, we as an industry are always discussing our angst about young people not gardening, and I wanted to be part of the conversation.

Is There Hope?
We occasionally host school kids in the trial gardens at the University of Georgia. These kids enjoy the beauty and the stories, but really, what choice do they have – their teachers brought them. Nope, I wanted to check out real kids, like my crazy brood.

You think I exaggerate? My daughter Heather was a hellion when she was growing up. Suffice it to say that Heather’s mantra, unspoken of course, was “My way is the only way.” We almost divorced her a half dozen times and … well, you get the picture. I have a feeling that many of you also have a “Heather” in your family.

How we love and laugh with our kids now, remembering such teenage times. After three boys (including a set of twins), Heather and her poor husband David said “Enough!” But not quite in time. Somehow baby Kate appeared, and Heather was the mother of four kids younger than five years old. Yes, there is a God.

So I asked all the grandkids (my other daughter Laura has two more), “Who likes to get their hands in the dirt?” That was probably not the right question – the boys revel in muck and mire, making a pigpen look immaculate. However, I bought some plants for Heather’s yard and to my surprise, Drew, the eldest, enjoyed planting some zinnias and begonias. There is some hope here.

Twins Will and Ben got the shovels out and soon the yard looked like a minefield. The tools soon became WMDs as the boys attacked any plant with pruners and lacerated many to a bleeding pulp. Will picked up a shovel and started to dig, but soon the others were fleeing as dirt was flying. Mom was yelling, and Granddad was laughing. Kate just stared. Then, she joined in – one girl buffeted by three boys.

Between four wild kids, two unruly dogs and jobs for both parents, Heather’s garden is not a high priority. But, as Christmas approached, Heather asked Santa for some hydrangeas (some of the injured did not recover), so I felt there was hope for her.

When the kids made their lists for Santa, I realized that anything “gardenesque” was highly unlikely. For the boys, the list was filled with boy toys for sure: scooter for Drew, truck for Ben, tractor set for Will. No amaryllis, no pansies. For 3-year old Kate, the wish list included anything the boys wouldn’t break. A Barbie house and clothes would keep her smiling, but unfortunately, no daffodils or African Violets made her wish list either.

Laura, whose teenage mantra was “Yes, Daddy, of course I won’t do that” – yet then did it anyway – has two remarkably normal children. Mary Grace has her garden at home and at her grandmother’s, and we hope to encourage her every step we can. She is good at it. Hampton is so busy with basketball, baseball, football and soccer that the only thing he knows about the garden is that the grass is a great place to play. And that is not such a bad thing, either.

Overall, the naysayers are correct: the youngest set doesn’t really think about plants, design and gardens. The older set, like my daughters, absolutely thinks about plants for containers, decoration and pleasure. Give them a little time. Wait for them to have a little money and fewer demands, and they will be there.

As for Kate, Will, Ben, Drew, Mary Grace and Hampton, just let them grow up. They are doing just fine.

Allan Armitage was a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia for 30 years. He recently retired and remains an active consultant, author and lecturer.

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