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Monday, October 20, 2008

Kids and Plants

Kids and plants are a magical combination. It's one of the favorite "lessons" that I've taken away from my first months as Garden Outreach Ambassador at Tagawa's.

It's not a new lesson, really. It's just that it keeps reinforcing itself. Over the past five months here at Tagawa's, I've had the fun (and adventure!) of working with kids of all ages, sitting them down in front of trays of plants, having them pick the plant of their choice, and then walking them through the steps of "potting up" a flower or houseplant that's going to be their's to take home and care for.

Mentally, the kids might be a thousand miles away when we start. But their focus seems to shift in a heartbeat when I tell them, "This is going to be your plant. It's up to you to be gentle with it.... to move it to a bigger pot with new potting soil... to tuck it in just so.... and then to take it home and give it the care it needs. "

"Grandma MiMi" is Tagawa's grandmother-in-residence and a wonder with both kids and plants. She and I have worked with hundreds of kids over the past several months. Neither one of us ever tires of watching the kids' eyes light up when they actually coax a plant out of its old pot and look at the way the roots weave and twist through the soil. It's obvious that a lot of these kids... maybe most of them... have never seen or smelled healthy plant roots and the rich, earthy world below the soil line.

We encourage them to "tickle" the roots.... to open them up with gentle tugs so the rootball can start expanding into its newer, bigger "home." Maybe the sweetest thing of all for Grandma Mimi and me as teachers is how quiet most of the kids get. As they tickle open the cool soil, they take a kind of ownership. This is their plant. They chose it because they liked the way the leaves or flowers looked. And now they've seen up close the part that's always hidden away, working "below ground" to make the above-ground parts look good.

Introducing kids to plants is such a simple thing, really. No high-tech equipment needed. No long words or fancy names. But with a little luck, that brief, magical moment when the kids go quiet will stay in their memory long after they've taken their plants home to show them off. It certainly stays in mine.