When I was a girl growing up in a small town in Nebraska during The Great Depression, my family had a large vegetable garden, as did all of my aunts and uncles. In the summer we harvested those vegetables by canning and freezing them. My sisters and I enjoyed helping with these tasks. The garden vegetables supplied the major portion of our vegetables for the year and my relatives who still lived on farms often shared butchered animals with us. We knew where our food came from, how to produce it and how to preserve it.
Many adults and children now do not know these things and it is not easy to learn them unless one takes the time and makes the effort to grow a vegetable garden and/or make contact with local farmers. We are fortunate in this area that there are still farmers here and more and more with time. There are farms between the houses that grow very large crops and there are farmers that grow several smaller crops of many different things making it possible for us to learn where our food comes from and how it is produced. We have great farm stands and regular farmers markets. Most of the local schools are beginning, or are well on the way, to having a gardening program.
This weekend I went to a “class” for children at the Bridgehampton Gardens, a lovely garden belonging to the Peconic Land Trust. The class was led by Jeff Negron, a gardener/farmer directly involved with the schools in the development of their gardening programs and a part-time gardener at the Bridgehampton garden. The intention of the class was to help the children to experience five senses in the garden: listening, touch, taste, seeing, and smell. Negron began the session by handing each child a bouquet of fragrant herbs and telling them to brush their skin with the herbs explaining that this would help discourage flying insects.
Next we went to the knot garden and touched, looked, smelled and tasted our way through the four quarters of the garden each planted with a different collection of plants: culinary, dying, medicinal and ornamental. There was even a lemon tree with lemons – so young that they were green. And next, to the vegetable garden where we experienced the color of beets and rainbow swiss chard. The children were surprised to see how green beans grow and that they taste pretty good raw. We then moved on to the carrots that were, I think, the biggest attraction. They loved pulling them and the variety known as Hercules lived up to its name! One carrot was so big that it was the same size as the forearm of one of the boys, which had the children speechless.
Next they all went into the cool dark bamboo room and experienced the gentle sway of the very tall bamboo and listened to the rustle of the leaves high in the canopy. Jeff gave each child a piece of bamboo so they could see how it is formed. After tasting cumquats picked from the tree (which the children experienced with mixed responses) we went on a walk to the lavender garden. The children all liked the smell. Finally, Jeff led us to a table where he had laid out a selection of flowers and plants and showed them how to make a bouquet to be dried. The children left the wiser I think, the shy ones finally having a good time, and all of them carrying a special carrot home.
Two of these children had been to the garden several times with school classes but I think their time with Jeff was an enriching experience. The garden is a great destination for any one and has learning possibilities for all ages. Rick Bogush, a great gardener and plants man, keeps it very ably. It sponsors lectures, music, art and lectures throughout the year. These are all listed on the Peconic Land Trust’s website: Peconic Land Trust.org
This garden is a wonderful place to begin or continue your gardening experience.
Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener and consultant, for gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067.