Bartlett on Gardening: Child's Play

​​When I was living in Nebraska, we master gardener volunteers maintained a demonstration garden. It was composed of four triangular plots. The triangles’ bases formed the outer boundary and the apexes met in the middle. Each year we would divide into teams to plant and tend these areas. The team members chose themes for the season. Typically there were a vegetable area, a ground cover garden and two flower gardens.

One year, we got the notion to create gardens for children to enjoy. Each team came up with a theme around the master plan. Though we always worked together, there was a friendly rivalry among the teams.

​​Universally seen as the most challenging was the alphabet garden. We all know that “Z” is for zinnia, but ​​try to come up with plants for the other 25 letters! But somehow they found plants to represent all the letters of the alphabet. The plants were labeled and set off with big alphabet blocks.

​​My team came up with the notion of having a meandering path through Dusty Miller’s farm. He and his wife, Brown-eyed Susan, were there with a host of plants with animal- and farm-related names such as strawflower, horsetail reed, cock’s comb and hens and chickens, to name just a few. I got my daughter, the artist, to make the plant labels which I have frequently used to illustrate articles in this paper.

The garden that we all agreed was the very best used Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit ​​as their theme. There was a low picket fence around Mr. McGregor’s garden which was planted with tidy squares of various vegetables and herbs. A colorful child-sized chair was placed on a path. On it hung Peter’s little blue jacket. So precious that one

could not resist going in to find Peter.

Because the ground cover guys were working with established plants, they just set some toys among the specimens for our open house. The purpose of this area was to test ornamental groundcover plants to see which ones could survive a Zone 5 winter (that’s 20 below for the uninitiated) as well as the triple-digit heat of a prairie summer.

​I honestly don’t know how many young visitors saw the demonstration garden over the summer or whether it inspired efforts to get the kids interested in gardening. I do know that we volunteers had a wonderful time putting it together.

Master gardener Ann Bartlett no longer lives in Nebraska but tends her flowerbeds, theme and otherwise, in a nice place here in the South.

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