As a young girl born and raised in Southern Orange County, most of my childhood memories were made outdoors, in the garden.  I can still remember the first red, ripe, strawberry harvested from the small pot that sat on our front porch.  I remember collecting cedar greens and Pyracantha berries to decorate holiday wreaths for the doors, and making centerpieces for the dining room table.

I can remember hot summer days with nothing better to do than throw a blanket down on the lawn, pick and string flowers into halos to rest on my head.   I am reluctant to remember but cannot seem to forget the tedious chore of raking fallen pine needles from the seven trees on our property. What I do not remember and did not know at the time, was these simple backyard activities would later make a direct impact on my personal views of the environment and the natural world around me, beyond my own backyard.   Those moments created memories that will last a lifetime.

To a child, the backyard serves as a discovery zone.  No matter how large or small the space, the backyard is a place to watch “life” happen.  A child at any age can recognize seasons changing by the damaging effects of hot summer sun or the rebirth of spring on a cool rainy day.  They learn about success by watching the first seed become a sprout.  They learn about devastation from seeing their first crop of lettuce eaten by a fat and happy rabbit.  They curiously watch a hummingbird return to the same flower on a daily basis or follow a trail of ants back to their nest.  Lessons learned in the garden cannot be taught.  They are gained through experience.

The garden stimulates a child’s senses and creates thought.  To a child, the garden can be a welcome escape.  Shade under a tree provides a safe place to read a book or take a quick nap.  Dense shrubs on a hillside provide the perfect landscape for a game of “hide and seek.”  Colorful fallen tree leaves can be collected and brought to school for art projects or “show and tell”.  Picking fruits and harvesting vegetables establish the groundwork for healthy eating habits later in life.

These days, I am entering my garden with a purpose.  I am drawn to the yard as a retreat.  I am there to entertain and relax with family and friends.  I enjoy experimenting with new plantings and tending to my ever growing collection of plants.  More importantly, these days I am entering the garden to plant the seed for my own two children. A garden offers valuable lessons provided by nature, far greater than one could imagine.  I allow my children to actively participate in the daily watering and garden maintenance.  I encourage them to search for rock, leaves and insects to start collections of their own.  I remain confident the benefits of caring and nurturing their own garden will foster respect and interest for the global garden.  Most of all, I am excited for them to make their own garden memories.

By: Cathy McEntire