Friday, January 6, 2012

Let your kids DO something in the garden!

This pathetic pepper is my favorite plant in the garden.

It is almost dead.  Still barely clinging to life.  There is but one leaf that still has some green on it.  It never grew more than about ten inches tall, but it did produce one pepper.  This pathetic little pepper plant, probably the one plant that has thrived the least, is by far my favorite plant in the garden.

The reason is because my son planted it.  One day toward the end of the summer, when the blazing heat of our Mediterranean sun was at last less intense, at the time of year that was a bit too late to plant summer garden vegetables, I had a tray of seedlings that I finally got around to planting in the garden.

My two boys, ages three and two and a half, were contentedly playing with their cars and trucks on the patio and in the dirt at the edge that we call the sandbox when I started my planting.  My oldest, Isaac, enjoyed observing me from a safe distance as I knelt at the edge of the garden bed planting cauliflower, spinach, and a few pepper seedlings.  When asked if he wanted to help, his response was a short, "No fanks.  I just wanna play here with my cars."  And this he did for the next thirty minutes.

Although playing with his cars looked a lot more like watching Daddy try to keep his brother Elijah from killing every seedling Daddy was trying to plant.

My youngest son, Elijah, in classic opposition to his neat and clean older brother, within minutes of being asked if he wanted to join me, already had dirt caked under his fingernails and grass stains on his knees obtained while trying to "he'p Daddy".

I would let him carry my hand shovel to the next work area.  I would let him try to drag the bucket of compost, and then scoop up the trail of dark dirt he would leave behind.  I would let him slide the tray of seedlings.  But planting required a bit more finesse than his two year old hands and bull in the china shop demeanor could quite muster.  So I ended up planting the seedlings one after the other with my son just glad to be there with me.

Then I paused.  What was I doing here?  Was I trying to teach him to be a good helper or a gardener?  Did I want him to appreciate the grunt work and not the joy of giving a plant a new place to grow  Fortunately, when I realized this, I had at least one plant left in the tray.  It was one of the smaller pepper seedlings.  It was probably a bit too late in the season for it to even flower let alone produce any peppers.

But it was this plant that I gave to my son.  With a "saved the best for last" attitude, I relinquished control, albeit a tad late, and gave full command to my two year old son.

"Fo' me?" he asked with wide blue eyes, and yes he actually said this.  I showed him where to dig the hole, helping only a bit.  I let him take the plant from the tray and remove it from its container.  He put it in the ground and piled the dirt back around it.  I only straightened it a bit... okay, I picked it up off its side.  We both tamped the soil back around its roots.  Finally we both held the hose and watered it in.

That was too much for Isaac to resist.  Shooting water all over the backyard?  He had to help with that.

Over the next few weeks, every time I went out back to water or weed or prune or harvest, Elijah would point out his pepper plant with such pride.  "Daddy, that's mine pepper pwant!"  He would help water it with the hose when I was outside with him.  When I was not outside with him, he would just drop his pants and water it himself.  He would walk back to the porch, pulling his underwear back up and telling me that his "pepper pwant was rearey firsty."

Surprisingly, the weather stayed warm enough for long enough and a few flowers bloomed.  Shortly after that, one little pepper began to form.

As the days have gotten shorter and cooler, we have spent less and less time in the garden, but that pepper has continued to grow very slowly.  The last few weeks have been more cold, and the plant is showing signs of throwing in the towel.  With vigor that originates from deep down in the cells of that plant, it is doing all it can to grow that pepper, to mature that fruit and produce seed.  It has been time to harvest that little pepper for weeks now.

Elijah will have none of it.  That is his pepper pwant.  That is his pepper.  When I remind him that his pepper is going to have to be picked soon, he tells me, "I don't fink so, Daddy.  I don't wanna pick my pepper."

So the pepper sits.  The plant has given all its resources to keep that pepper alive.  The last leaf wilted with last night's drop in temperature.  I don't know how much longer it will survive.

I still don't know how I am going to handle that one pepper.  I am glad I have a few days to try and come up with a good idea.  But for now the pepper plant remains.  My favorite plant in my garden.


  1. Your kid's pepper pwant is now MY favorite plant in your garden too. Wonderful post.

  2. What a great post John. It captures Elijah's love for that plant perfectly.

  3. Best story ever of a child's first introduction to the joys of gardening:) How about handing him your camera and letting him take his very own pictures of his pepper?

  4. How like our Heavenly Father =)

  5. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing.

  6. i love this story as well! if you have to watch the pepper shrivel up on the plant, maybe next year he will be ready to "save it" from sure death... and maybe even eat it! =) letting him take pictures of his pepper plant and pepper before it's too far gone is an excellent idea, too! =) great job!

  7. Precious story. I laughed out loud at the part about his thirsty pepper pwant.
    : ) Lisa

  8. Let them help now, John, for when they are teenagers they won't want to help. My teenagers grumbled and complained, but they all knew HOW to help, and knew that it was expected, so they cooperated (and we usually ended up having a good time in spite of it all).

  9. A lot of it has to do with your attitude regarding what you're doing and how you treat your kids. If they see you love to do something, and better yet, love them enough to share it with them and have fun with them doing it, wonders happen! Cultivating a garden has a lot of parallels with how to bring up your kids the right way, and a lot of lessons you can teach your kids about life from. If your kids know they are loved and included in your life, as your son obviously is, John, you will make a powerful impact on them that will last a lifetime as your teaching will not be just mere words (accompanied by tedious work), but they will see your love for them in action and hence bearing good fruit in their lives.
    I loved this post, made me laugh as it's sooo familiar. Young kids in the garden can make your work take a little longer, but the joys and smiles you get to share make it worth it! Thanks for putting this up!

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