Giving Garden Tours to a One-Year Old

Gardening is a lot different now that I have a kid. I used to spend so much time anticipating the unfurling of each new leaf and flower petal on my balcony, viewing the little miracles of nature through the eyes of a child, as if I was experiencing it for the very first time. Now I'm watching my kid grow before my very eyes, and he's the one looking at each little miracle for the first time. Instead of getting lost in the moment, I'm just trying to keep him from eating the bugs.

Now I view those miracles through the wary eyes of a parent, guiding my child around the garden so that he can bat at the bamboo palms and gently feel the delicate starburst blooms of the Simpson stopper bushes (loaded with pollinators), with my hand poised to intercept a flower or lovebug in the split second it takes for him to snatch it and bring it to his mouth.

When my son starts frantically pointing at another plant that gets his attention, we gallop across the patio so I can rattle the branches of a bottlebrush tree or tickle his toes with a maidenhair fern. If he's really lucky, I'll let him stand up to walk around and explore some container combinations or a tall bucket of water and bath toys. The main event of any garden stroll though, is when I let him pick up the nozzle and water the plants, spraying water back and forth and up and down in a crazy undulating arc while he shouts and squeals with laughter. I still have a lot of fun activities in the works for him. Before long I'll make a water table and a sandbox for his entertainment, and I've just planted some sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica) for him to play with; when the tiny leaflets are touched, they fold up!

Sometimes I'll hold his nose up to a fragrant Dendrobium or gardenia to watch him sniff with delight, and other times he'll sample the different herbs as I rub them against his nose for his approval. So far his favorites are Mexican Tarragon and pineapple sage. We rarely linger for long since his attention span seems to be proportionate to his size, but he has yet to grow weary of our garden tours.  The kid demands to be taken outside several times a day by cackling like a dolphin and standing up to grab the door handle. If I merely mention 'outside' or 'garden' in passing, he scrambles across the house like a puppy with a swollen bladder and anxiously waits for my to put on my flip-flops.

At least then I'm watering the plants in the process. Most of my garden chores are just too boring now that he wants to get up and interact with the world, so I've learned to get things done while he sleeps. I have to do a lot of things while he sleeps, come to think of it.

For now, safety is my priority. Until he's old enough to safely entertain himself outside with me, I'll be replacing overgrown weeds with fruits, herbs and veggies; and lining his lawn with a low hedge of clipped dwarf yaupon hollies to serve as a soft fence. Spiky and thorny plants are all going to the center of my beds and away from walkways, and dangerously poisonous plants like the gloriosa lily that I originally planted for my mom won't even make an appearance in this garden. 

I can't help but wonder if my son will get so used to the garden that he'll take it for granted later in life, but it doesn't really matter if he does. For the time being, every bright red Vriesea flower is an opportunity for him to see and feel something new, and for me to tell him about the 'smooth and shiny red flower'. The kid loves his picture books, but how could they ever compare to real deal? His favorite photos are of cats, babies, flowers, trucks, and other things that he recognizes from his real and tangible life. I can imagine that a board book with photos of plants from our garden would be a pretty thrilling read for this little guy.

This Mojave 'Tangerine' Portulaca (will be released 2016) from Proven Winners makes my son giggle.

One day I let him hold an orange at the grocery store to see how it felt in his hands; how it smelled when his teeth grazed the surface. Now he practically jumps for joy every time he points to the photo of an orange in his book. No longer just an abstract orange circle, that picture now represents a heavy ball in his hands, yielding a burst of fragrance and sweet juice when its dimpled and leathery orange skin is pierced by his sharp teeth. When he excitedly points at that orange in the book, he's recalling one of his first happy memories.

Or maybe I'm overthinking it. However, even if he is indifferent to the allure of nature when he grows up, here's hoping that he'll be reminded of happiness whenever he catches the scent of gardenias from some nearby bush breaking into bloom.

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