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The Humble Gardener

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Gardening Gramma

Last weekend, I had the overwhelmingly pleasant experience of creating a garden with my granddaughter. I won't bore you with how incredibly smart, charming, and exceptional Ms. Maisie is. At 3 1/2, she has more energy and enthusiasm than this old gramma could keep up with, but the new garden we created served as a testament to a practice that originated with my immigrant Italian grandfather and that I now have passed to the fifth generation. I thought about my grandfather taking two street cars to his garden plot in Chicago. Then, of course, he had to return home with his produce. I thought about the determination to garden in the inner city of Chicago that Papa showed. And it seemed indulgent to be able to roll out of bed and step outside to begin the new vegetable and flower gardens without having to travel very far.

The first thing we had to do was outfit Maisie with boots, her trowel, a hat, and her child-sized rake. The second thing we had to do was give her a pot and dirt so the adults could figure out what we were doing. Maisie happily emptied a pot of old potting soil directly in the path where the adults had to walk, which spoke loudly to lack of planning on our part. Adhering to my philosophy that a quiet kid is a happy kid, we walked around her as she happily dug away.

After settling on a plan, I grabbed Maisie, some herbs and veggies, potting soil and grow bags and we began to plant. The yard is small and already boasts a gorgeous perennial flower garden around most of the yard's edge, so the grow bags seemed like the best space saving idea for the herbs and vegetables. Maisie is one of the few Littles I know who thinks fruit and vegetables are necessities for great 'nacks. She will not eat cake or cookies or candies at snack time and disdains ice cream. She was excited when I told her we were planting stuff to make guacamole, which she considers an entree (although her parents do not go for that).

So we had peppers and tomatoes and cilantro ready to plant. Her dad asked if the jalapeno peppers were spicy. Of course, there is no way to know, in my experience, outside of tasting them. But Maisie zeroed in on the key word in the conversation. "Too 'picy?" she said. She has rules about her guacamole and being too spicy is a definite turnoff. Reassured that the peppers were not too 'picy, we continued with our gardening, me hoping I hadn't lied.

When someone has not been around Littles on a continuous basis, it is amazing how much stuff is forgotten. For example, it never occurred to me that Maisie could fill a hole faster than I could dig it and reach for a plant. I had forgotten that I needed to guide little hands to the bottom part of a plant, although smacking the top of the cilantro with a plastic trowel is an alternative planting process that I never thought to implement. And who knew that the entire contents of a watering can could be dumped on and near the cilantro (and Gramma's shoes) by an enterprising toddler? I ignored my wet shoes and thought happily that at least Maisie had noticed that plants had to be watered. Maybe not an entire gallon of water but still, the concept had gotten through.

We took a break and while Maisie snacked on carrot chips, I read her Lois Ehlert's book "Growing Vegetable Soup." Not only is this beautifully illustrated, but it follows the process from planting the veggies, caring for them, harvesting them and then making the soup. Again the gap in childrearing emerged because Maisie swallowed the last of her snack as I finished reading her Ehlert's book and headed for her little kitchen. She grabbed her soup pot and announced, "Me make soup!" She started for her boots before I figured out her intentions.

Somehow the actual growing time had escaped Maisie's notice. She knew the planting was done and decided that we should harvest our crop. Soup for supper! I loved the enthusiasm and the nerdy English teacher in me loved Maisie's attention to the story. I glumly acknowledged that the adult (ahem) had apparently skipped the teachable moment involving patience and growing time. What caused a bit of consternation was how to explain that nothing was ready to be picked for the soup. Fortunately, I remembered that we had some petunias to plant and distracted Maisie from making soup to pounding some petunias into a pot. In case you're wondering, petunias can take a little pounding and a gallon of water as well as cilantro does. Maybe we can write a gardening book on new techniques of planting. Did I mention the child is quite brilliant?

Master Gardener

Sandra DePalma-Odell

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