It wasn’t that long ago that in the absence of personal technology and social media, parents and kids had no choice but to actually talk and interact with one another. These days, however, it’s not uncommon to find entire families staring at their screens without exchanging a single word.
And while that just might be the new normal, it doesn’t have to be. Taking time out from activities, jobs and other obligations to simply spend time together is an important way for families to connect, and one way to do that is by starting a family garden.
“A family garden gives us an opportunity to put our phones down and engage with each other, face to face,” said Dr. Barbara Tarkin, a licensed psychologist in Bloomfield. “And that’s a really nice thing.”
Tarkin said that although many families are involved in sports or other school-related activities, it’s not necessarily focused time together, as parents are often on the sidelines while their children are participating.
She also said that although some families spend time together watching television, it is a more passive activity. “It isn’t always interactive. Doing something like a family garden requires active participation, and that’s always valuable.”
Putting in a garden might seem like a big undertaking, but it can be as simple as grouping a few pots together on a windowsill or as elaborate as clearing a small area of land. What matters is working together as a family to create something.
Jena Barretta, co-owner of Barretta Companies, a garden and landscaping center in Derby, offers a few suggestions on how to get started. She recommends making a list of needed items and then taking a shopping trip.
“It’s important for children of various ages to pick out their own gardening tools. It creates excitement and teaches your children to be involved. They need to be a part of the garden because they learn responsibility and structure; it’s a good process to go through.”
For gardens more involved than a few deck pots, Barretta said it’s important to have the soil tested, and after receiving the results, make any adjustments to ensure that it has the proper nutrients and balance to grow plants. “You need to figure out what you need to be successful. Take the time to do it right and you’ll get what you want out of your garden.”
Once the soil has been tested and treated, and an area has been designated for the garden, the fun part is choosing what goes in it.
Everyone in the family can participate, but picking the right plants will make a difference in the outcome.
“You want to choose plants or seeds that are easy to grow and trouble-free,” Barretta said. “You don’t want to pick out difficult things to grow; it might be discouraging.”
For flower gardens she recommends marigolds, pansies, tulip bulbs, sunflowers and poppies, which are all fairly easy to grow and hard to kill. Trouble-free vegetable seeds include radish, squash, peas, beans and lettuce.
For planting later in the season, most nurseries and garden centers sell six-packs of flowers and vegetables, which can be put in the ground and enjoyed almost immediately instead of waiting for seeds to grow.
Even if the garden doesn’t turn out perfectly, it can be a great learning lesson, according to Tarkin. “We can say it’s an interesting thing we tried and we learned from it. A garden is a safe way to let people try some things, make some mistakes, because what’s the worst that can happen — nothing will grow?”
Tarkin also said parents should allow for where their children are developmentally and not sweat the small stuff, like rows planted crooked and other minor imperfections. “It can take away from the sheer joy of the activity and the pleasure that families can get from being in one another’s company.”
And finally, putting in a garden can also foster an important life skill — patience. “It teaches delay of gratification. Everything is immediately at our fingertips; if we don’t know something, we Google it and find the answer. With a garden, we plant today and don’t harvest tomorrow. We have to wait until it grows and learn to wait for the fruits of our labor.”
Most of all, what matters is spending quality time together as a family, and Tarkin said that can be a lot of things, not just gardening. “It can be family game night, bowling night, pizza night; some activity or time that helps cement a family as a family.”