The schoolyard garden is such an immense source of amusement, joy, learning and contemplation that I barely notice I’ve created a part time job for myself for which I receive no payment.
And yet it’s full of riches.
Not to be cliché or corny, but, seriously, the hours I spend as the ‘Garden Lady’ at my kid’s school are some of the best of my entire week. This is my third year running the Garden Club, where we weed, water, grow food and play in the dirt after school. Starting a few weeks ago, we’ve added a ‘Farmer’s Market’ to the Friday mix, and now, on the verge of spring, we are very much in the flow of all this happy garden activity.
By Wednesday, the kids are asking me what we are selling for the Friday market, and I awoke yesterday excited to bake muffins and purchase some glassware from the thrift store around the corner to use as vases for our little garden bouquets. Two different families brought in huge bags of lemons from their trees for us to sell. You should have seen the kids beaming as they walked the brown paper bags full of fruit to our farm table, met by all the other kids oohing and aahing over the little gems. They quickly got to work arranging the fruit in pretty baskets and crates. These ten year olds run the entire stand by themselves for over an hour. Yesterday’s total: $33. Not shabby for some muffins, lemons and a few flower bouquets. I’m going to use the money to purchase plants today from a local high school plant sale – keeping the garden manna flowing.
I have learned so many interesting ‘little things’ along the way in this garden. There is an overzealous oregano plant in one of the raised beds that produces more potent little leaves than I’ve ever seen. During my garden tours I always have the kids pick a leaf and rub it between their fingers, explaining that this is the herb that’s used in Italian tomato sauce. It sounds so basic, but you can really see the lights go off in their heads as they make this tiny connection: “Oh, yes, this stuff grows in the ground, it doesn’t just magically appear in a can on a supermarket shelf.”
We have a very international school, and in the two years since I’ve planted that tiny oregano, a teacher from Romania explained to me that Romanians adore oregano and use it more than salt in their cuisine. Yesterday a mom from India asked to purchase an herb bundle with just oregano (I had mixed herb bouquets on the table). As I cut her a big bunch of just oregano, I asked what she was going to do with it. She explained that in India, you don’t cook with it, but that oregano is a sacred herb that’s used as an offering to the gods. This fascinates me! We had a little chat about Ganesha (she was shocked that not only do I know about this deity – the remover of obstacles, but have a little crystal statue of him by my bed – but that’s getting a little off topic for this garden post.)
This magic is always offset by the ‘practical parents’ who have to buzz kill all the delight going on before their very eyes. Yes, it takes all kinds, and becomes a practice of acceptance (at least that’s what I tell myself). Yesterday it was a parent grad student who visited the garden for the first time. After an hour of about 40 kids and parents digging, weeding, watering, harvesting, selling and (imagine that) relaxing, she came up to me and said: “So, Jill, what’s your ‘grand plan’ you know, your ‘vision’ for the garden club?”
I stood there sort of dumfounded and ever amazed at how the ‘smart’ grown-ups over think, over analyze and kill all that naturally wants to grow, and what is so obvious to the kids. We ARE LIVING our vision, this is it, I thought to myself. This is an elementary school garden in the middle of the city not a grad school botany class!
I collected myself, paused and smiled: “Our master plan is to grow food and have fun doing it.”
Never a dull moment.