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  • Jennifer Jewell





The second best time to become a gardener and nature lover is right now. The first best time, is when you were quite young.

There is a natural and immediate symbiotic recognition, appreciation, reciprocity between mother nature – her plants, her foods, her soils, her flowers, her creatures - and young children. Anytime you add this relationship to your life is good, but it can’t start a minute too soon. This week we explore this very belief in action at the American Horticultural Society’s National Children & Youth Garden Symposium being held this July at Cornell University and in cooperation with Cornell's Garden-Based Learning professionals.

"The American Horticultural Society (AHS) is one of the oldest horticultural groups in the US. Founded in 1922, the non-profit group is member-based and includes nearly 20,000 avid gardeners and horticultural professionals. Through educational programs, awards and publications, the AHS connects people to gardening, raises awareness of earth-friendly gardening practices, introduces children to plants, brings together leaders to address important national issues, and showcases the art and science of horticulture. Their headquarters at River Farm in Alexandria, Virginia, is a national showcase for gardening and horticultural practices. Once part of George Washington's farmland, this 25-acre historic site overlooking the Potomac River features a blend of formal and naturalistic gardens, including a four-acre meadow, a vegetable demonstration garden, and an award-winning children’s garden.

For more than 20 years, The AHS has been hosting their National Children & Youth Garden Symposium annually at a different location each year. This year the gardening educators will gather at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in mid-July.

Both the American Horticultural Society and the Garden-Based Learning branch of Cornell University’s Horticulture Department join garden educators the world over – be they gardening parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles, neighbors or formal teachers – in believing that it’s never too late – and never too early - to learn to garden.

This week on Cultivating Place, I’m Joined via Skype by Nora McDonald and Katherine Somerville of the American Horticultural Society and Fiona Doherty of Cornell University's Garden and Horticulture educators to learn more about the plans for this year’s National Children & Youth Garden Symposium.

"“Gardening really is a pathway to forming that connection to the environment in a way that’s not doom and gloom. Nowadays it’s really easy to focus on the negative when we have so many pressing issues such as climate change and food security and so gardening is a way to intrigue the next generation of environmental stewards in a positive way and form that oh so important connection to nature in a positive way.””

Fiona Doherty, Garden-Based Education Cornell University

When were you first introduced to gardening and by whom?

Nora McDonald and Katherine Somerville of the American Horticultural Society and Fiona Doherty, a garden-based learning education specialist at Cornell University, are talking with us in this episode about their annual National Children & Youth Garden Symposium. While the event is held in a different location each year, this year it’s being held at Cornell University. The symposium is a gathering of garden educators, designers and other professionals looking to expand their own skills and knowledge needed to inspire and engage our youth about their own relationship to plants, land, soil and ecosystems. It’s life long learning no matter when you start.

You know that saying: It’s never too late to have a happy childhood? Well, I think it’s fair to say: it’s never to late to learn to garden no matter your age, feel free to bring your inner child along.

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I grew up gardening and nature loving from the start – not sure I had a choice, with a gardening floral designing mother and wildlife biologist father. I know that for some people the forced labor of working in their parents’ or grandparents’ gardens actually SQUASHED any joy of the activity and they enter adulthood swearing they will never pull another weed, water another pot or harvest another damn zucchini.

Still others who grew up around gardening, were not actually consciously shown how to garden or shown its great joys. It just happened, or it was sort of drudgery, and they enter their conscious years realizing that they kind of want to do this thing BUT THEY HAVE NO IDEA HOW even though it was around them their whole childhoods.

Finally, harkening back to our conversation from last week with native plant gardener Vince Bellino, there are those for whom gardening or other outdoor activities were just not part of life growing up.

With all that said, the number of people who enter adulthood actually wanting to garden or get out in nature is something of a minor miracle. But let’s keep increasing that number, shall we?

Our human impulse to garden is important, in it we find our similarities as well as our individuality – This impulse is our shared history and our future at its brightest. It makes a difference to our mindsets, to our families, to our communities, to our economies AND to our environment. Following your garden journeys – and we’re all garden educators for someone – is always an inspiration.

Thank you to those of you who left comments or sent notes about last week’s native plant week love fest: Debra wrote to me of dandelions, Solomon's seal and bloodroot; Carolyn described crawling under wild cucumber vines; and Louise wrote of wild roses in Glacier National Park.

Mary Vanclay subscribed to the monthly email and wrote in with this: "I love your podcast!! I read about it in Gardens Illustrated and then was doubly thrilled to realize you are based near me in California, so much of your subject matter resonates in locality as well as in spirit. I've been listening constantly to current and past podcasts for the last week, soaking them up as fast as I can and recommending the show to friends. What a treat. Nice job, and thanks for keeping them coming."

I will say to you what I wrote to Mary, THANK YOU for taking the time to write in. Whether you’re writing in with a compliment, a suggestion or just a hello, it means a lot to me. Being on the radio or podcast, it can sometimes seem like it's just three of us participating – me, Sarah on the other side of the glass, and this week’s guest (ok, I guess that makes 5 of us this week, but you see my point.) I love knowing there are thousands of you out there – listening and nodding and gardening or just supporting the idea of the garden as a cultural connector. Thank you for listening – and for those of you who are compelled to send a note, leave a comment, or put up a review on itunes – I’m sending you a double big thank you! THANK YOU - THANK YOU.

Some of the places that the attendees of the National Children & Youth Garden symposium get to go this year sound so fun to me: the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and GOURDLANDIA especially. You have to look up Gourdlandia’s website – it will make you too want to grow some larger gourds and fashion a lamp.

This got me thinking about how many places are right here in our own back yards (no matter where you are listening to this from) that can extend and refresh our own garden educations every day: our public parks, our public libraries, your closest public or botanic garden or farm tour or farmer’s markets. Your local universities gardens or horticulture facilities, your local garden clubs or plant societies. Summer time open garden tours and visiting schemes – nationally or locally organized. They’re all out there, waiting to improve and extend our own garden educations. Another of the notes from you all this past week came from Elizabeth Neubauer, who’s creating a bird garden for her local chapter of the National Audubon Society as part of their "Plants for Birds" programs. Now that will be fun, and interesting as well as informative, to see. I’m hoping Elizabeth will send photos of the final garden.

I’m also thinking – maybe we should all challenge ourselves to go out and see a few of the plant and nature offerings in our very own communities as if for the very first time this spring and summer. Hmmm. Whad’ya think? You in? If you are and you do make some new visits, maybe you’d send a photo and tag the name of the local plant resource and I could share them in an upcoming newsletter?

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