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Spring Matters

March 8, 2010
By Heidi Maness Hartwiger

Kids have mastered time management. No, not managing to stay up 30 minutes beyond bed time, not managing to lose a shoe when the family is preparing for an outing or not managing to get something yucky on a clean shirt on the way to school.

They do manage to know where in time and space they are. Their milestones are so simple that often many parents involved in day-to-day matters miss the markers. The kids know that when February arrives, so does Groundhog Day. Once they understand the folklore surrounding Groundhog Day, they speculate again and again over the matter of will the groundhog see his shadow, will winter last six more weeks until daybreak arrives on Feb. 2? Then the questions are answered and speculations are put to rest because it is time to move to the next milepost.

Just about the time we think Easter, we think spring. The Easter celebration dates certainly do fluctuate; however, the one constant the kids know is that on March 21, spring officially arrives. Their genuine excitement about the change of season is so innocent and can be contagious. If we can set aside our big worldly worries and watch with our children for signs of spring, we can return to that spontaneous innocence even if just for a few moments.

Article Photos

Illustration by Sharon Stackpole of Middlebourne, W.Va.

When will the first robin arrive? Who will be the first to find the new green shoots under the dry leaves and when will that happen? Has anyone seen a shy violet blooming close to the ground?

Spring matters. It matters to the heart and to the senses.

You and the kids can tend to spring matters, long before spring arrives and regardless of the groundhog report. In the weeks before spring is the opportune time to plan the family garden. If you plan to germinate the seeds inside, check the final frost date then count back six weeks for the planting date.

Consider portioning a small area of the garden as a theme garden. The entire garden could be dedicated to one particular theme, or designate different areas for a variety of themes.

There is the ever popular salsa garden with a bountiful variety of peppers, tomatoes and onions. Be sure to include several cilantro plants.

A pizza or pasta garden is a slight variation on the salsa theme when you add Italian flat leaf parsley and oregano plants. Do the kids know they can actually grow spaghetti? There is a variety of squash that when cooked and cut open, does look very much like spaghetti.

Before the family makes garden decisions and seed choices, plan a great Saturday marketing adventure with the budding gardeners.

At this time, without the pressure of grocery shopping, they can leisurely linger in the produce department to examine the very vegetables they are considering for their garden. An actual purchase on the marketing adventure is a spaghetti squash, not only for the sake of curiosity, but also as a sneaky way to taste test a new veggie.

In addition to menu gardens, there are myriad approaches to theme gardens that can be designed to fit any space. Look up. Think vertically. Not everything has to grow flat to the ground. Plant a trellis craft garden with a variety of climbing gourds which, when dried, can be painted and decorated. Read the seed packets to find a special variety of gourd, the birdhouse gourd, which when dried and drilled makes a good looking bird house. Consider the climbing gourds that produce the loofah sponges. Stake and train running lima beans in a way to create the ever popular bean tunnel. Bean picking this way is an easy chore because the ripe, dangling pods dangle are easy to see.

Bring Sunday school or Bible school lessons to life with a Bible garden. Plant veggies mentioned in the Bible like cucumbers, leeks, onions and fava beans. A family activity could be locating scripture passages related to ancient veggies. An interesting and informative Web site for ancient vegetable folklore is

Little girls with big imaginations might delight in a flower fairy garden with plants such as rose, lavender and candy tuft. British writer and illustrator Cicely Mary Baker (1895-1973) is famous for her flower fairy illustrations and books. Your library may have a copy of Baker's "Flower Fairies of the Spring" (Warne, 2008) In this delightful volume, you will find pictures of the spring fairies and their charming poetic songs.

Some families have space in the yard for a garden. However, some yards have really poor soil or are without enough space for a traditional garden. Instead, explore alternative gardening methods. Container gardening can be as simple a group of flower pots, window boxes or old kettles tucked in a sunny spot on a deck, a porch step or indoors in a sunny location.

Even folks who live year-round at beaches have gardens. Beach people are resourceful. They combat sandy soil by preparing a blend of topsoil, potting soil, peat and other nutrients. Sometimes their plants are in traditional containers. They recycle found containers and plant in old construction truck tires, sandboxes or outgrown wading pools.

If not too large, container gardens are mobile and can be moved about the yard to take advantage of the seasonal sun shifts or to seek shade.

So, on the next dreary Saturday when you begin to feel it in your bones that the stars are aligned such that your kids and your attitude are on a collision course, that nothing seems to matter and everyone gets on everyone else's last nerve, it is time for a diversionary tactic - get out of the house for a change of scene. Load the kids in the car and make the rounds of local thrift shops and consignment stores for nifty, thrifty containers for gardening.

Time passes, attitudes improve and best of all, everyone is engaged with spring matters.



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