Learning and Growing

Learning and Growing

By Fay McKenzie

Since I was a child plants have fascinated me. I first got interested by helping my grandfather in the allotment; digging ‘tatties’. I can still smell the mud, remember my dress being all dirty and my wellies all sticky. Putting potatoes into sacks was the job of the day although I probably put more back on the ground, I do remember it being fun. I am glad he had the patience to let me ‘help’ him, I am sure it would have been a lot quicker and less messy without me. My favourite job when I was with him was picking strawberries, raspberries and taking in Grannies favourite flowers; she loves carnations and my Grandpa grew lots especially for her. The smell of carnations and the tastes of the odd berry that found its way into my mouth is still with me. I experience it each time I sneak a strawberry from the greenhouse or sniff carnations in my own garden or on a flower stand. I don’t remember much else about being a child but it’s the little things that stick into your head from experiencing something special.

Shaping a Love of Gardens and Nature

Those experiences helped to shape my love of the garden, nature and flowers. I picked my first herbs from his patch of mint, which grew, in the pot outside the greenhouse door. I must have been a little over zealous and as I pulled a little too hard I got a bit of the roots too. I realise now I had been a little over enthusiastic but instead of scolding me he helped me to pot it back into a new pot telling me that there was far too much of it anyway and would I like some for MummyÂ’s garden? And did I realise it would need a suitcase? I was puzzled? Why would a plant need a suitcase?

"Well" he said as he scraped a little soil from the pot my new mint came from into the new pot "you wouldnÂ’t want to leave home without your suitcase, would you?"

From my experiences with him I have learnt many things about plants and gardens. Each time I pull up a little piece of plant for a friend I make sure it has its own ‘suitcase’, a little soil from where it was growing to help it settle into its new home. When I l caught myself telling my friends to do the same, I had to smile; I was 5 years old when he told me that. Having studied plants I now realise why this is important; there are many more association between plants and the organisms that make up the soil than we still realise. It makes perfect sense then to incorporate these ‘bedfellows’ with a plant that is moving to a new site.

Teaching Our Children

These days I have my own children, we have been lucky to always have a garden and they are often out ‘guddling’ about with me. They are often keen to help and request jobs. When they were very little they use to like to help pull up the weeds from the gravel; we made it a game and the job got done in half the time. (Naughty me!) They now both have little wheelbarrows and as I edged the flower beds this March they were both being ‘trucks’ being filled up with soil to take to the skip we had hired. The skip was a major success and many days were filled by climbing all over it and trying to get the dog to follow suit. Many of our walks are also filled with silly plant stories, fairy kisses on daisies; trolls hiding under bridges or rhododendron flowers that smell of juice, (really they do! And you have to guess the kind). It’s a way of getting children to notice plants and find them fun.

My favourite silly story is about dinosaurs laying their eggs under the leaves of the giant rhubarb (Gunnera) so we have to creep past them. This story still lasts now and the plant is often referred to as the ‘dinosaur egg plant’. As we are surrounded by trees, shrubs, herbs and flowers its not too difficult to get their attention; especially if there are dinosaur eggs involved! By keeping it fun, a little silly and interesting it’s an enjoyable way to learn. Someone told me about fairies kissing the daisies; but I had to invent the dinosaur plants. It was quite fun though!

Little Garden Helpers

As summer is here we are in the garden often, thereÂ’s lots to do and the children often want to help. Hazel spends many days collecting caterpillars and snails; good news for me. ( I feed them to the chicken later; please donÂ’t tell her!) Jamie heads straight in the direction of the hose; beyond all else he likes to water everything into oblivion. With the right attachment he is fine and I go away content that the most damage he can do is to either his sister, the dog or me; the plants should be fine. I help him to water the tiny seedlings, the tactics he uses would water them into extinction, apart from that he is great. All the caterpillars are collected, I am delighted and steer my daughter towards a packet of seeds to be sown, there is absolutely no point in telling her where in the garden to sow them as she will make her own mind up and let me know when she has decided. Seeds seem to be the most fascinating things to her; that you can fit a whole flower inside one tiny seed she decided was just great. I let her sow all of the old flower seeds and she goes about it chattering happily and then gets her watering can. The fact that sunshine, water and mud make plants grow from those seeds she finds amazing; I still do too. After five minutes soaking when they havenÂ’t germinated or she has washed them down the garden path a little over-enthusiastically, sheÂ’s off to draw a picture of her flowers, which will be pink; they are always pink in her world. If all of the seeds she has ever sown actually germinate the combinations of colours will be fantastic, the design inspirational and a secret part of me would be delighted and horrified at the effect on my borders. But, they havenÂ’t come up so far! (Thank goodness!)

Learning by Experience

The kind of fascination that children have when they are learning about new things is amazing and often it shapes the way that they themselves are nurtured, develop and grow. As with all of us learning by experience is the way in which we reinforce key points and issues; it helps us to remember. It’s a little difficult sometimes to take the time and kindle such an interest, especially in our busy lives; but it really is worth the effort. Most plants are pretty robust and take picking or potting up by a little persons fingers in their stride. After all the same plant will probably have to fend off footballs and the occasional trampling in years to come. The satisfaction children gain by helping or doing it for themselves is enormous; and they are learning at the same time. Some of the plants get squashed, dropped on the floor and broken in half. Compost generally ends up everywhere and but we get there in the end; having had much more fun doing it. They have helped me to plant the herb garden, and are now remembering some of the plants we grow. They recognise many of the vegetables and now are starting to remember some herbs too. The mints I am informed smell of ‘tic-tacs’; the fennel is fluffy; and lemon balm really smells of lemons. They helped me to plant most of the more robust plants; my more delicate ones I saved for a time when they were out at school. All plants were then dutifully and liberally drenched in by Jamie pretending the hose is a ray gun, whilst Hazel looked for some more caterpillars. We need to pot up some chives for a friend. As I dig a little clump out of our rather large one Jamie stops trying to soak the dog. "Don’t forget its suitcase Mum" he shouts, and I find myself packing my newly dug up plant into a pot with a little of the soil from our garden; smiling.

About the author:

Fay Mckenzie is a qualified Plantswoman/Horticulturalist from the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, specialising in herbs and works from the remote scottish Island of Orkney. She has 2 children and is keen to work and live in such a special place for family life. She is available for specialist writing, consultancy and runs her company, Orkney Herbs. She writes monthly for Discovering Herbs. Beachcombing, eating and growing plants form her daily life as does battling against salt laden winds! Fay can be contacted at Fay@Orkney-herbs.co.u


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