This summer two community gardens in London were not only abuzz with bees and butterflies but with children connecting to nature and learning about growing healthy food. The Children’s Garden program was initiated in the summer of 2014 to allow children in our community a hands on and fun experience growing organic vegetables, herbs, and flowers.
At the Thames Park and the Church of the Ascension community gardens, two plots were turned into vibrant Children’s Gardens full of a wide variety of vegetables, herbs, and pollinator-attracting flowers. The plots were designed to be child-friendly and included pizza garden beds, sip and snack garden beds, and bamboo teepees filled with morning glories, peas, and cucumbers. The gardens appealed to all senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing and throughout the program children were encouraged to use all their senses in exploring the garden.
The program began in July with four drop-in sessions a week. Weekly themes included play in the dirt, wiggly worms, and bees & butterflies. At every session, children made a craft related to the theme such as rock bugs and toad houses, explored the community garden, and tended to the Children’s Garden plot. One of the highlights of the program was the exploration of the community garden as a whole. Children loved to see the amazing amount of diversity both in the types of plants gardeners planted and in the insects and other animals who make their home in the garden. We watched in awe as bumblebees collected pollen, corn grew bigger each week, and flowers of every colour blossomed making the gardens look beautiful and smell amazing. Another highlight of the program was, of course, eating the food. Every week children were encouraged to smell and taste the food in the garden: they loved the scent of lemon balm, the taste of chocolate mint, and the fresh crispiness of cucumber. Throughout the program we celebrated biodiversity and the interconnectedness of the natural world. Instead of focusing on what we didn’t want in the garden (slugs, for example) we focused on what we did want (more toads!).
The Church of the Ascension Children’s Garden had the added bonus of being able to access the Church’s kitchen. We picked food in our garden plot and took it straight to the kitchen making zucchini muffins, potato salad, potato soup, and even a zucchini-blueberry birthday cake.
The Children’s Garden program was visited by an average of 40 children and parents every week as well as the Wortley Playground Program and Riverside Church camp. With the success of the program, we have extended it into the fall. We will be planting cool weather crops such as kale, swiss chard, and carrots and learning about insect migration, the Three Sisters, and our feathered (and sometimes sneaky) friends. Children of all ages are welcome to join us on Mondays at 4 p.m. at Thames Park (25 Ridout St S) and Saturdays at 11:00 am at Church of the Ascension (2060 Dundas St E). We also welcome scheduled visits from community groups at other times of the week. In addition, the Children’s Garden facilitator is available for community visits to teach children and youth about biodiversity, connecting to nature and growing healthy food.