For years, when I saw a houseplant in someone’s home, or watched someone digging in the dirt, amongst the worms and creepy crawlies, I was kind of disgusted. Why would someone voluntarily bring dirt into her home? Worse, why would someone enjoy digging into the ground, getting dirt and other living things all over her hands and clothes? What could possibly be the point?
However, a few years ago, as I started getting into the DIY (do it yourself) craze, I became interested in planting vegetables. Once I saw how beautiful my tomato plants were growing, with very little effort, and the bountiful harvest we were picking on a weekly basis, all grown from a concrete box in my backyard in Brooklyn, I was hooked. I put plants in every room in my house, including the bathroom (the plant grows surprisingly well there, thanks to the humidity) and my husband no longer bothers buying fresh cut flowers for me. Instead, he buys a flower plant, for about $20 or so, and we enjoy the beautiful hydrangeas or orchids for months. Oftentimes, the plants grow back the following year, earning even more bang for the buck. My children have also become enamored of green living things, and when a present is coming to them, say for a birthday, or completing a chart, they will often ask for a new plant in their room. They are careful with the plants too, reminding their friends not to touch them or pull the leaves off.
This is a good thing. The benefits of having plants around are well-documented. Plants calm you, help you concentrate, help you breathe better, they even help with the creative process. The benefits for children are even more valuable. Plants help children cultivate patience and delayed gratification – they have to water them and then wait for the plants to grow new leaves and buds; they also teach responsibility as they need to remember to water and clean the plants regularly. In addition, gardening has shown to increase the executive function, the area that helps with responsible decision-making, as they are physically involved in cause and effect, i.e. because we dig and place the plant in the dirt, water it regularly, and get rid of pests and leaves, eventually the vegetable will grow.
If all that doesn’t convince you to give plants a try, don’t forget that plants are beautiful and gardening is a fun and cheap activity.
The other day, we made a family trip to the local home goods store and came home with as many plants as we could carry. It was a great family activity and I encourage you to give it a try. Here’s how:
- Go as early as possible, before the weather completely warms up. Plants can last outside in up to 30°F overnight, so there is no need to wait until the end of spring to plant. The sooner you go to your nearest plant store, either a proper green nursery, or a home improvement store, the better selection you will find. In the past, I’ve gone around Shavous or Memorial Day, and the selections were pretty basic. This time, we went earlier, when there was still a nip in the air and the shelves were full.
- I like to use a started plant, not seeds or bulbs, as I find they take the smallest amount of effort to keep growing and are more likely to actually develop into a fruit-bearing plant. However, plants are also more expensive, approximately $3-$12 each. Seeds and bulbs are also good options, and are much cheaper. Many people are successful in planting seeds and bulbs and are able to grow flowers and vegetables from them, but it requires more of an investment in time and learning.
- My kids helped me decide which plants to buy. This kept them involved and cut down on the “Can we go yet?” whining. We chose blueberries plants, basil, two types of zucchini, cucumber, watermelon and tomato plants (a very hardy plant that will guarantee satisfaction. You want to make sure your kids will have a least one plant that will harvest; otherwise, they might get discouraged from the whole growing-their-own-vegetables). We also got two azalea plants and a few other plants for our window boxes.
- We got home and went right to work on planting all our plants in the proper containers. The whole family got involved, happily shelpping the dirt and eagerly watering the containers. With everyone’s help, we planted all 17 plants in just under an hour.
There was a lot of dirt tracked around the house, but with a vacuum and a quick wipe, the dirt came off more easily than I expected.
In the morning, my kids excitedly shared with their friends all the plants we bought. Here’s hoping they will grow! But if not, at least we all had fun.