Sitting on a bench at the far side of the Children's Garden at Cromwell Valley Park (CVP) on Saturday morning gave me a great vantage point from which to observe. With my back to the butterfly garden, the entirety of the Children's Garden spread before me and down the hill.
The sky was grey, but the garden was awash with color—every possible hue of green, yellow, pink, purple and white. A distant croaking frog joined the cacophony of sound as I sat alone. Chirps, tweets, buzzes, cheeps and the droning of cicadas against the background of the pond's waterfall filled the air.
I turned at the sound of a soft peeping and found a pair of young ruby-throated hummingbirds resting on a shrub a few feet from me. Their mother, as evidenced by her longer tail, joined them. Then suddenly they were off, playing a game of tag, darting all around the garden.
A cooling little breeze washed over and gently moved the taller flowers in the garden where I sat. Drifting along on the breeze were the aromas of lavender, chamomile and yarrow along with dozens of other fragrances.
As I watched butterflies of every size and color lazily floating from flower to flower, I heard a sound coming from the parking area. It stated as a distant din but grew to an excited chatter, as children started to arrive and run up the hill toward their garden.
Suddenly, the garden was awash with hustle and bustle as more children arrived, laughing in joyous peals that even the cicadas could not drown out. Younger children and their parents tended 3' x 3' plots of vegetables, fruit or flowers. Older children who had already been through the program once tended "tomato alley," the pumpkin patch or the three sisters garden.
They watered and weeded; they harvested and planted new seeds for fall vegetables. In bright green garden gloves and orange rubber shoes, they ran and danced between the garden rows. One little girl in a purple summer dress wrestled with a head of cabbage until she managed to peel away the large tough outer leaves and discard them into a compost bin. Other children counted butterflies or dragonfly larvae in the pond.
The element that keeps this contained chaos under control is just one energetic person. Anne Wedgeworth is a dynamic, charming, creative and engaged teacher, guide and den mother. As the mother of three, she has a lifelong love of gardening through her children's eyes.
She understands that children are far more likely to eat what they grow and that gardens are healthy for the soul as well as the appetite.
"Watching a devoted 'salad hater' devour two plates of salad that had been tossed together using greens picked from the garden" is how she described one of her favorite moments this season.
The lessons learned are ones that affect healthy choices, but they just might go beyond that to helping to build confidence and independence—Wedgeworth described "a little girl who triumphantly yanked a big turnip out of her plot, and held it aloft while everyone else cheered and clapped for her success."
Along with Master Gardener Trevor Suznick, Wedgewood has an easy comfort with her small charges. The Children's Garden Club program runs from April to October and meets every other Saturday. There are 54 single plots available, and most children have their own. Additionally, there are communal garden rows such as "squash heaven," "tomato alley" and the "pea tunnel."
Tending the gardens is only part of the fun. Each time the club meets, a game or activity is also planned, along with a project, recipe or garden enhancement, such as the salsa on the day I visited, or the mosaic bird bath from the previous club meet up.
Parents seem to enjoy the outing as much as their children. While they can drop their children off, most elect to stay and enjoy the garden, activities and outdoor fun right along with them.
When asked if the lessons learned stuck outside of the program, one parent replied, "Yes, absolutely. We have been eating the produce we grow. We've had more dishes with onions this year than ever before," she explained as she offered me the cherry tomatoes her daughter had picked.
This week's club meeting activity included a scavenger hunt of sorts. The children ran from place to place en masse, following clues and learning as they went, much like the young hummingbirds I had observed earlier.
These children will take home these lessons and hopefully begin a love of gardens, the earth and nature that will stay with them for their entire lives.