A toddler makes magic in the garden

My son learned more first-hand than I could have imagined about plants and animals. His garden creation was inspected daily and watered with care. “It’s magic!” he exclaimed.

June 15, 2010 | | Headwaters Nest

I grew up with parents who relocated, renovated, redecorated and then… relocated. So when a “for sale” sign went up down the street, I just had to snoop. The house was not beautiful. Every room needed to be updated. The flat roof presented a problem. The once-modern cooktop could quickly meet with little fingers and cause burns unless children were whisked out of the area. Patterned wallpaper crawled up the walls.

But, oh, the gardens!

The back door slapped behind me as I walked out to look upon idyllic pools of shade, rippling waves of green, mountains of blooms, a trickling stream with a bridge – all in downtown Orangeville. The gardens were absolutely magnificent, a wonderland for raising a child.

Thirty days later we closed the deal.

That summer, with halting confidence, my two-and-a-half-year-old son and I poked and prodded the garden. It seemed straightforward, though the maps that the professional gardener presented to me held mysteries in Latin that would need to be decoded much later.

I lay on the bridge with my son until my ribs hurt, watching the water go by while he practised his numbers by counting tiny fish. We sprayed a simple soap solution on roses to keep the bugs off, watching for the “cat claws” on the stems.

We discovered two bunnies living under our mad lavender patch, and decided they were magical, based on the fact that they could disappear at will. Wheel-barrow rides to the compost pile covered my son in slick rotting leaves. I sighed and thought of the growing laundry pile. He delighted and squeezed and inspected.

Illustration by Shelagh Armstrong

Meanwhile, my internal perfectionist drive to maintain what had been created by the passionate gardeners who owned the property before had its own growth spurt. I had a babe on my hips and a business to run, but surely I could do some simple gardening.

I quickly found out that it wasn’t so simple. I felt panicky as the garden pulsed and grew. It grew wildly, madly, and out of control. Borders became undefined, groundcovers threatened to choke out prized blooms (names still unknown). I scolded my son when he hid among the giant heucheras and trampled the variegated hostas. Mornings brought fresh guilt as I looked out and saw weeds that had popped up overnight.

When my son decided he would create a magic garden himself, it seemed that it would be just one more thing to weed and care for. I felt exasperation as I looked on. He took soil from the garden and poured it into an ugly plastic pot. He planted stones in it, snail shells, and a half-burned wooden kabob stick.

“Nothing will grow!” I warned him sternly. (I told myself that it wasn’t because it was an eyesore; I just didn’t want him to be disappointed.)

“It will grow, Mom. The magic bunnies that live in the lavender will help it,” he said. He blessed it as his “Hippity-Hop Garden.” His blue eyes looked into mine with excitement and hope.

I sighed and we put the Hippity-Hop Garden in a place of honour.

Over the summer, I started to learn Latin names. I researched (somewhat successfully) which hydrangeas should be cut when. I learned that groundcovers can take a ruthless beating and still come back for more. More than once, my son hand-delivered posies of dandelions and grass, mixed in with prize velvety-black irises. I couldn’t be angry at the sweetness and joy that his creative picking brought him.

And while I learned about my little piece of land that first year, my son learned more first-hand than I could have imagined about plants and animals. His garden creation was inspected daily and watered with care. Tiny treasures were added by his little hands.

Little sprouts began to emerge from the soil. “It’s magic!” he exclaimed.

We talked about what it meant to tend to gardens and care for plants. Growing up mostly in rural Ontario, I had watched gardens of the floral and vegetable varieties come and go. Fields of hay and grain were toiled upon by groups of hard workers. I was pleased have the opportunity not only to explain the growth cycle to him, but to watch it happening before our eyes.

Fall burgeoned. Apples grew and fell. A dead bird presented a life (and death) lesson, and we buried the sweet lifeless body in the compost pile. Of course, the use of compost and manure for fertilization continued to be of particular interest for my son.

As he inspected his Hippity-Hop garden, the weedy grasses now dried out and brittle, he turned to me with a smile.

“Next year,” he said, “my garden will be even bigger.”

My son had learned that tending to the earth was good work, getting dirty was okay, and that there is a simple reward to watching your garden grow. For me, one immediate reward was that he was often so pooped from sunshine and fresh air that he went straight to bed!

The long-term rewards are that we have become more patient and forgiving as mother and son, and we know how to work together well. The haphazard garden my son created is a reminder that nothing is perfect and there is opportunity for growth all around us. Indeed, there is a touch of magic all around you when you are in your garden.

A special message from Bethany Lee

Thank you for a wonderful response to kidsinthehills.ca!

As soon as we launched this spring, we heard from you. Indeed, you have been looking for a centralized information resource for parents, grandparents and caregivers living in the hills.

We’re happy that we are able to fill that niche with fresh content, great blogs and contests.

Be sure to visit kidsinthehills.ca this summer to stay up to date on events for children and families. Check out our local “Camps” section for ways to keep your children engaged and active while out of school.

We will also be hosting an end-of-school giveaway for kids.

And finally, we will be introducing three new bloggers, Jennifer Jansen, Holly Haner-Lo and Jean Hayward. They’ll bring you interesting, insightful (and sometimes controversial) commentary on their parenting experiences.

As always, we welcome your feedback, so drop by and leave a comment!

About KIDSinthehills.ca: A new, comprehensive local resource for parents, KIDSinthehills.ca is devoted to both the serious concerns as well as the lighter side of raising a family in the Headwaters countryside.

About the Author More by Bethany Lee

Bethany Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Orangeville.

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