The chill of autumn did not stop the young gardeners at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. They weeded, watered, and harvested produce in a flourishing botanical wonderland filled with lettuce, kale, radishes, and pumpkins. The kids learned from instructors and garden apprentices in a program that’s been a favorite for kids — and their parents.
My children enjoyed their days at the Garden, bringing home a bag of organic delights to feast on at lunchtime.
They would make salad dressing, and grow bean sprouts into plants. Every time they went, there was a new adventure. Cooking, crafts, nature study, stories and enjoying the beautiful surroundings enriched their spring, summer, fall, and winter. Tending to their garden plots in a small group was their favorite part of the day.
In its humble beginnings in 1914, Brooklyn Botanic Garden Director Stuart Gager thought it was an important mission of the garden to educate children in horticultural techniques and botany. So, he recruited a young woman who graduated from Cornell — Ellen Eddy Shaw — to create a program for city kids, ages 9 to 18, so they could tend their own plot of land and learn about nature and life cycles.
Today, kids as young as 2 years old, when accompanied by an adult caregiver, work in the children’s garden. Teen apprentices assist the instructors, creating lasting friendships.
“It’s a very powerful concept to study nature and realize that your food starts out from a tiny seed and, with care, it grows into a fruit or vegetable,” said Patricia Hulse, manager of the Children’s Garden and Family Programs. Her students had just finished making pesto out of freshly picked basil plants. Hulse has been working at the Garden for more than six years, and says she feels thrilled to work in an environment that values gardening and children, and to share this passion in the urban oasis.
You don’t need big spaces to start a garden at home, and you don’t have to wait until spring, says Hulse.
“You can grow basil on a sunny window sill and in the shade grow radishes, kale, and lettuce,” she said. “Watch what happens, and then let your children cook what they grow. They’ll be more excited to try new foods.
“Gardeners love to eat the produce, especially cherry tomatoes. They also love to experiment with recipes.”
Children from all over the borough enroll at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
This year’s program hosted more than 1,000 ambitious, young gardeners who will use their knowledge well into their adult years. The programs at the Garden tend to fill up very quickly, so contact it to find out when the next one will come along, and enroll early.
The Children’s Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden [1000 Washington Ave. at Montgomery Street in Crown Heights, (718) 623-7220]. For info, visit www.bbg.org.
A popular vegetable that’s harvested throughout the fall and winter is kale. Here’s a recipe Patricia Hulse of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden shared with us:
• Salt and pepper
DIRECTIONS: Tear kale into small pieces. Coat with olive oil, a little vinegar, and a dash of salt and pepper. Toss together. Place pieces on a cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Enjoy!