It was a damp June morning, but Noah Ross barely noticed the misting rain and below-average temperatures. Wearing a baseball cap embroidered with the words "Live Simply," the 4-year-old was busy digging in the soil with a small yellow shovel, planting marigolds, lavender and zinnias.
Thanks to his father's passion for gardening, Noah has developed a keen interest in tending the soil.
"Noah loves to weed our garden, he loves to water plants and he loves digging," says his dad, Rick Ross, who grows tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and eggplant in the Williston family's garden. "Noah's very interested in where things come from and how they grow. Gardening really reinforces his love of nature."
To help cultivate Noah's green thumb, his parents brought him and his 2-year-old sister, Harper, to Kids Club, a free gardening workshop at Gardener's Supply Company in Williston. The classes, held one Saturday a month, are organized around themes ranging from fairy gardens to planting sprouts. They're aimed at children ages 3 to 10.
Three is the age when children typically start showing an interest in gardening, says Sandy Cunningham, who runs Kids Club. She encourages parents to get their kids involved in the garden as soon as possible, whether it's planting seeds, watering flowers or raking soil. The idea is to introduce them to the basics of how seeds sprout and plants grow, and the ways in which weather affects the process.
There are other lessons, too. "They learn about science, cooperation and the importance of eating healthy, local food," Cunningham explains.
Gardening is also a great way to spend quality family time. Parents can help foster patience and confidence in their children, teach them environmental responsibility and encourage physical activity through digging in the dirt, Cunningham says.
"Gardening is such a hands-on activity," she observes. "It's something children can get very excited about."
Not sure where to start? She suggests choosing a theme for your garden — pizza, for example. Many ingredients for pizza — basil, oregano, peppers, thyme, parsley and onions — call for similar planting conditions and can be planted in the same patch of soil.
"'Pizza gardens' are great for kids because you can harvest the food together and enjoy everything for a meal or snack," Cunningham says.
If your family is looking for more variety, try planting carrots, pumpkins, peas, lettuce, radishes or potatoes, all of which are easy to grow. For a flower garden, try planting sunflowers, pansies, lavender and nasturtium.
Stowe resident Michelle Rauch and her 3-year-old daughter, Isabella, attended a recent Kids Club workshop about pollination and butterflies. Rauch, a longtime gardener, doubled the size of her plot this year and was looking for opportunities to include her daughter in the growing process. She ended up giving Isabella her own 4-by-4-foot raised bed, where the youngster planted strawberries, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce and flowers.
"I'm hoping to instill in Isabella a love of gardening and an understanding of where our food comes from," says Rauch.
"Gardening is fun, too," Cunningham points out. "It's a wonderful way to be creative."