Kids and gardening is a natural combination. Research has shown that kids who garden do better academically in subjects such as math and science, they develop better social skills, such as patience and self-esteem and they have a better appreciation for the environment.
Stephanie Blank introduces this show. She is a trustee of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and a portion of her families mission through the foundation is to create green space for children to play. They have long been supporters of the Atlanta Botanical Garden, particularly the Children's Garden. She thinks it's important to start kids at the grass roots level. Stephanie says she isn't much of a gardener but does appreciate beauty in the garden. She, her husband and children love looking at flowers. Her husband is a big nature buff and they enjoy spending time in their back yard. Gardening is something they appreciate, even on a small level. To introduce her son to gardening they planted a Basil plant and it actually grew. This has taught him about responsibility because he has to make sure it stays watered. He's also learning patience because it didn't grow right away and would stare at the dirt wondering when the little seeds would begin to sprout. He has also learned about science, that plants need air, water and sunlight. And he has learned about taking care of something which is actually living providing him with a deeper appreciation for the world outdoors. All this happened because of one little plant and one little jar sitting on the kitchen counter.
Living in the city presents challenges getting children into green spaces. That is why the Atlanta Botanical Garden (ABG) is a wonderful resource. Here kids can come and play in the gardens, they can learn about plants, they can feel the dirt under their feet and in their hands. They can actually be a part of the process at ABG because of all the wonderful childrens programming. They have wonderful resources that teach kids about the importance of plants and what they do for us not only in terms of beauty but in terms of foods and medicines. The Atlanta Botanical Garden is a magical place for kids, young and old alike.
Charlie first meets with Tracy McClendon, the director of education at ABG. The Children's Garden has two and a half acres devoted entirely to children and children's gardening. There are a lot of things both big kids and children like in a garden. Everybody likes water in a garden, everybody likes ornamentals but some things are different for kids. For example scale is important. There are things that can create a fun environment, things that will help get children involved and active in a garden. Structures are a good place to start in any garden. Tracy shows us a few in this garden. They have some great tunnels, some are fabricated like a caterpillar head but anyone could make tunnels and hideaways out of natural materials, an old refrigerator box for example. ABG has a Weeping Hackberry that has been trained across a pathway. Bamboo has been bent to form crawl spaces. They have some interesting fences, in particular a Peter Rabbit fence. It has a hole at the bottom that Peter Rabbit could crawl underneath. If you want something larger think about a tree house, they're always a hit. Winding paths are always fun, kids love to twist and turn their way through a garden, it's a discovery experience. Make a maze at home. In Tracy's back yard they let the grass grow, then strategically mow paths through it. Every time they mow it's a new maze for her toddler.
They next visit the vegetable garden. The first thing to consider when planting a garden is the width of the bed. One tip is have your child lay down, measure them and make sure the bed is as wide as your child is tall. That way they can always reach in from the other side. Tracy likes to plant a combination of seeds so kids can see the entire process from seed to harvest. She also likes to plant plants that are fairly large so kids can have instant results, it's important to keep them engaged throughout the season. She likes Bush Beans because they are almost fail proof and they yield something fairly quickly. They start planting a row. Radishes are also fun because they're underground, they can be planted them from seed and they grow quickly. Tracy also has some ornamental pepper plants. Kids get the pleasure of seeing peppers form and they then can be used on pizzas. That's a great tip, make your kids garden relevant to kids, plant things kids like to eat. Plant things that can be put on pizza, things like peppers, tomatoes (especially cherry tomatoes, they yield so much) maybe even Basil leaves, possibly even Broccoli. A nice tip is to use kid sized instruments. We see a trowel that is adult size but could be used as a shovel for a kid.
Kids love flowers too. Tracy likes to plant "cut and come again flowers," things like Zinnias, Marigolds, plants that like to be dead headed, since kids like to pick flowers. Sunflowers can grow to mammoth proportions and look like Jack and The Beanstalk. Teddy Bear is a cute little variety that is fun and close to the ground. With Snapdragons, when you squeeze them the mouth kind of moves and you can have little puppet shows.
Another interesting garden is a pond garden. It not only has interesting plants but some animals too. Tracy likes the idea of creating a space that is critter friendly. This pond has Goldfish, Bullfrogs and Bullfrog Tadpoles. At home a similar environment can be created with a birdbath or a wading pool, any water feature you put in your garden will attract some wildlife.
Plant plants that provide nectar for things like bees and butterflies. It creates a vibrant feel in the garden to have animals buzzing around and helps kids enjoy plants and animals.
We next view some Pitcher Plants. They are carnivorous plants, they trap and digest insects. Tracy likes to say "kids are interested in things they can eat and things that might eat them." We next visit the greenhouse, it is a conservation greenhouse and the plants are native Pitcher Plants. Always make sure these type plants are purchased from a reputable source, you don't want to buy plants collected in the wild. These plants are only dangerous if you're an insect. These Pitcher plants are native to the Southeast and trap insects by having a little nectar around the rim, insects come in, they slide down and there is a bit of digestive fluid at the bottom. Some plants have, what is called, a passive trap. They have little trigger hairs inside the leaf, hit the trigger twice (that way it doesn't close with a drop of rain, for example) and it closes. It requires the plant to expend energy to close. Charlie and Tracy dissect a Venus Fly Trap, it has trapped quite a few insects over the course of one summer and one fall. They don't like hamburger, just insect protein. There are quite a few flies, a wasp, etc. These are activities to do at home with children. It can teach them about nature, about plants and everyone can have a lot of fun.
Charlie next meets Mildred Pinnell Fockele, Director of Horticulture at ABG. Mildred shows Charlie their new outdoor train exhibit. This set up has trains, wood bridges, trellises, buildings, all in a stunning garden setting. This is a kids dream landscape, railroads in the backyard. Railway gardening combines gardening with a fun hobby, railroads. This set up was designed by Paul Bussey, a national designer. They have exhibits every summer at ABG to attract new audiences, families, people that have never been to a botanical garden and tourists new to town. Railway gardening is the fastest growing segment of the hobby railway industry. Not only is the landscape beautiful but the buildings are made of natural materials. They are exquisite in their attention to detail. If you look under the eaves of the houses there are acorns and seed pods, the railing of the house is made out of willow. There are cinnamon sticks that have been curled, the shutters are made of bark. Included in the many buildings are 10 Atlanta landmarks, some skyscrapers. It looks like the Atlanta skyline. They next focus on the garden aspect. It is important to keep the plants in scale with the buildings. There are a lot of Evergreens. The Dwarf Conifers in front of a house give it scale. A Japanese Maple, which would be considered a dwarf tree in the normal landscape, gives the buildings some height and appears to be a large tree over the house. And they have Annual color. Since Atlanta has a long growing season and it can be very hot, the Annual color gives it extra splash. There is a stream running through, providing the sound of a waterfall. A homeowner could do this on a much smaller scale, in a courtyard for example. It isn't necessary to have 7 trains and bridges. This is a fun exhibit.
Abraham Hernandez has faux painted a bench this week. He started with a pressure treated bench made out of plain wood. He wants to do something creative to bring out some of the natural surroundings.He will give the bench a crackled finish. Her starts by sanding the bench, then primes the surface. He uses an oil based primer, after priming he puts down a base coat. He uses neutral colors. He wants the bench to go with the home and it is in a natural setting, thus he uses neutral colors. Since he wants it to go with the home he brings in some browns, some greens and some creams. Once the primer dries, he applies a crackle glaze, that is a clear coat that can be brushed or rolled on. A foam roller or any type roller will work. After the glaze is finished it is ready for a sealer. The sealer protects the bench from UV rays and helps keep the color from fading. He could stop at this point but wants to take it to the next level, he wants to give the bench more charm. He adds leaves because of the natural surroundings, other ideas could be used. For example if you want a kids bench you could use animals, kids characters, anything to give it a personal touch. By the time you're done, it's a work of art and a great addition to this house.
Mildred has noticed that once children visit the train garden they are then more likely to visit other parts of ABG, the rock garden, for example. The rock garden is a great place to get ideas for a railway garden, whether Dwarf conifers, small shrubs or a number of trailing Perennials. Mildred has some really nice low-growing plants. Charlie likes the Dianthus. Many Dianthus are trailing and have a very flat habit that would work great in a railway garden. They are also fragrant. Charlie also notices an Ice Plant, often seen in California. It has pink flowers but also comes in yellow, salmon-pink and orange. It will open up on sunny days but will often close if cloudy. It too has a trailing habit and is very drought tolerant. It is good for a rock or railway garden. Genista, Yellow Broom is a wonderful plant. It is a little taller that the other plants and has more of a cascading shape. It has wiry stems that are actually evergreen but has a profusion of yellow flowers in the Spring. And it looks great next to the Iris. It is a Pacific Coast Iris and has surprised Mildred in its' ability to grow here. It likes the drainage, it has a nice habit and again would give nice scale to a railway garden.
Thank you Mildred for showing us this railway garden and so many of the plants that would fit into a railway garden or any miniature landscape. We appreciate your hospitality and expertise.
Atlanta Botanical Garden
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