Thursday, July 9, 2009

Gardening creatively -- when inclement weather and urban dwelling conspire to keep you fruitless

My mom and dad spent most of their weekend -- in sunny southern California, the lucky ducks -- converting a previously unexciting part of my childhood yard to a garden where they'll grow both flowers and yummy veggies. I am green with garden envy; between my apartment living situation (which means, like no honest-to-goodness puppy, no rows of sunflowers, pumpkins, and corn like those my parents will soon sprout) and the abysmal weather, I doubt a full-fledged garden is in my near future. What's an urban-dwelling, plant-loving, herbivore to do?

CG merch buyer Ellen comes to the rescue with her excellent taste in all things veggie -- so now I can have an adorable garden patch right on my desk! We have a plethora of different styles of the too-trendy collectible erasers by Japanese company Iwako, but the fruits and veggies are my favorites.

Not only will these little sprouts make an awesome addition to my own office supplies, but when I send my parents a garden-warming giftie, these erasers will be wicked cute tied onto the veggie-print wrapped present! (Herb the Vegetarian Dragon gift wrap courtesy Barefoot Books)

Another desk-supply favorite of mine: color-saturated reusable photographic stickers by playBac. Whether you choose Colors, Letters, or one of the many other options in the series, these sticker books are chock full of fruits and veggies of all kinds, shapes, shapes, and colors that will make your mouth water. How can you resist a life-sized, ridiculously red strawberry or tomato sticker that can stick, de-stick, and re-stick anywhere?

I can have a bite-sized real garden in my kitchen with one of the gardening kits we carry. Michelle mentioned Curious George's Outrageous Farm in her spring vacation round-up, saying, "The folks at DuneCraft have combined two of our great loves: Curious George and green, growing things. Curious George's Outrageous Farm is a self-contained terrarium in which you can grow wheat grass, tomatoes, and catnip. It is, of course, decorated with Curious George and the man in the yellow hat, and has farm animal figurines to 'graze' in your garden."

Personally, I'm deeply tempted by Chronicle Books' Sprout Your Own Sweet Scents garden kit, which contains biodegradable see-through planters, seeds, and potting peat to grow Cinnamon Basil, Lemon Balm, and Spearmint. The kit also comes with a book brim-full of growing instructions, plant history and lore, experiments and recipes, and drying hints. That way, once you have plants, you actually know what to do with them, which has been my conundrum the few times I have managed to grow something! (The Sprout Your Own Leafy Wonders kit is, if possible, even cooler -- if sadly not edible -- but so very cool that we sold out of those before you could say "touch-sensitive leaves." We're hoping those will be back in stock soon!)

My best-loved picture book about gardening is Old MacDonald Had an Apartment House by Judi and Ron Barrett (of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs fame). Mr. and Mrs. MacDonald superintend an NYC apartment building, but decide carrots, taters, and cows make better neighbors than their grumpy human tenants -- so they turn the building into an organic farm. They actually do have rows of corn and sunflowers growing in their apartment! Sadly, this subtly hilarious picture book classic is long out of print -- and really, what was the publisher thinking? How brilliant is the scene of Superintendent MacDonald responding to an angry tenant's complaint, only to discover carrots growing through the ceiling from the apartment above? Happily, two brand-new pictures book about creative urban gardening has picked up the Old MacDonald torch just in time to prevent me from getting really worked up and writing Atheneum a nasty letter. (I still might, because Old MacDonald is brilliant.)

In The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larsen, Theo and her grandfather miss having a real garden when he moves into an apartment with only a cramped, windy balcony instead of a yard. Then Theo comes up with a solution: they can recreate the garden on a large canvas on the apartment's walls. The pair bring a stone wall, climbing vines, flowering plants, and even birds into the apartment using ink, a little elbow grease, and a lot of imagination. When Poppa goes on vacation, Theo and the garden bloom together. This picture book in the tradition of Peter Reynolds's Dot and Ish celebrates the power of creativity to brighten even the most seemingly drab environments.

Peter Brown's The Curious Garden follows spunky red-haired Liam on a ramble through his smoky, grey city. He stumbles upon a some growing things struggling to survive and appoints himself their gardener, knowing that what is needed more than expertise or fancy equipment are attention and love. Before long the little patch of ground is healthy and ready to explore, and as new plants appear, so do new gardeners! The garden spreads throughout the city, turning the grey and drab to green and vibrant. The Curious Garden is a great reminder that all of us have what it takes to help the world be a little greener and happier.

Paul Fleischman's Seedfolks is the story of a community urban garden told from the many perspectives of its participants. Beginning with the act of a single young Vietnamese American girl, Seedfolks shows how a group of strangers become partners and then friends in the creation of a thriving garden from an abandonded lot. Multiple narrators give readers the backstories of the people working in the garden and into the biography of the rundown Cleveland neighborhood itself. The transformation of the physical neighborhood parallels the transformation of the individual gardeners and their community.

Whether you're a lucky kiddo with access to more conventional means of gardening (check out the front of the Hut for how-to books and tools) or somebody who needs to think outside the planter to bring some growing things into your life, come in and talk to us about it! I'd love to hear about your community garden or your extensive collection of squash erasers.


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Katie said...

Thanks so much for your kind comment! It's great to hear from someone who knows their gardening on this post. Thanks for reading - hope to see you again!