Friday, 12 February 2010

Nature and Nurture: Like a Garden

Come forth into the light of things,
Let nature be your teacher.
- William Wordsworth

An oft-used metaphor compares children to sensitive plants in a garden. Each plant has its own specific requirements for its optimal growth, and it’s a wise gardener’s forte to ensure that the plants flourish.

My aim is not to elaborate on the above, but to point out how children’s participation in gardening can instill a deeper appreciation for nature and the environment (activities which can be followed by anyone!).

Perhaps a few readers might roll their eyes considering it to be unfeasible, given that they reside in a 500 sq ft apartment. Of course, although we might be more than happy to visualise a garden of some acres (complete with lawns, mazes, hedges, ponds, gazebos, and greenhouses), a miniature garden can be created in your own apartment, or even inside your own room! A particularly industrious acquaintance at Keble College once maintained a miniature garden of herbs on the small round table in his college room! Thus, the possibilities are many: the balcony/porch, the loo, or even the kitchen’s window sill. In fact, perhaps it is more sensible to grow plants indoors in temperate countries, such as UK, given the harshness of autumn and winter seasons!

Now that we have identified sites to have a (miniature) garden, children could be encouraged to take part in cultivating flowering plants, as well as vegetables. The latter might provide more perceptible utility, given that it could end up on the dining table!

Another activity would be to identify plants, and, if possible, to maintain a herbarium or scrap book with all the information. Apart from providing practical experience, supplementary to the theoretical coursework at school, gardening can instill a love for nature and environment and proactive attitude towards its preservation. Needless to say, it is tough to quantify the aesthetic utility and happiness which one derives from enjoying the garden and when participating in gardening.

Beth Shalom, as Ruth mentioned, is a true hotchpotch of all kinds of trees, shrubs, and herbs, a cumulative result of our father’s background in Botany. Not only are our neighbours very less enthusiastic about this (citing that the leaves from our trees litter their grounds and that our vegetation harbour dangerous animals which are determined to dispatch them off), many a ‘well-wisher’ have advised clearing away all plants and fit concrete/tiles around the house (as is the norm). Houses with a profusion of plants are tagged as ‘haunted’ and ‘cursed’, since the inevitable shade is associated with evil. There are also the practical problems of clogging up the drainpipes and the creepy crawlies which seek either to nestle under fallen leaves or to pay a personal visit to your room. Inevitably, our mother often succumbed to these ‘practical wisdom’, and thus a few plants were hewn down.

Yet, there were so many instances in which we were encouraged to appreciate plants. Our father would demonstrate how to make sections of plants and would show us the cross-sections of leaves, roots, and stems under our microscope. Mitosis was another interesting demonstration. Existing mature trees supplied tamarind, varieties of jackfruits and mangoes, not to mention coconuts (the Kera of Kerala)! There were also other shrubs such as mulberry, cherries, and gooseberry. We (the kids) also used to harvest arecanut, pepper, and coffee. Often we attempted to cultivate organic vegetables: whilst some efforts were successful, it would be a tad disappointing when the so-labelled tomato seed germinated into chilli plants!

If you indeed have a few sq ft, or cents, or acres, why not grow plants and increase the biodiversity of the area? For where flora is, fauna will follow.

2 comments:

David said...

Beth Shalom really does sound a lovely place for children (and adults!) to enjoy.
I well remember being given a small portion of our garden by my father, to do with as I wished. Although the results were often not what I expected, it did introduce me to the gentle pleasures of planning a garden, tending to the plants and appreciating a harvest of flowers that you, yourself, established.

R said...

'For where flora is, fauna will follow'. So true

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