Plants, Food, and Beyond

The Children's Garden
The Children's Garden.

BBG communications manager Kate Blumm has a new column in Brooklyn Bread, a monthly magazine dedicated to Brooklyn foodie culture. In the most recent issue she wrote about BBG's Children's Garden and got Children's Garden curator Dave Daly to list some of his favorite edibles to grow in the ground or in containers with kids. You can read the article below, or check it out in the online version of the magazine here.

Flour/Flower: Plants, Food, and Beyond

by Kate Blumm

There is one area at Brooklyn Botanic Garden that you, reader, will find strictly off-limits: a spot where you will be hurried away lest you attempt to place a pinky toe within its white wood gates: the Children’s Garden, which since 1914 has been a haven for the exclusive use of Brooklyn’s young ones as they scratch the ground, get their hands (and everything else) dirty, and learn about the natural world through year-round cultivation of plants and flowers.

Jealous? You should be, if only because ever since the Children’s Garden founding almost a century ago scrumptious edible plants have been a key part of the kids’ work. Just three years after our fledging botanic garden opened its gates, the 1914 Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record, which detailed annually the affairs of the institution, noted: “On May second was started the outdoor work for children at the Garden. One hundred and eighty applied for gardens and 150 received them, leaving a waiting list of 30 names.... The individual garden beds, 5 x 7 feet in size, are planted to vegetables, including beans, kohlrabi, onion seed, onion sets, carrots, beets, radishes, and lettuce. Flower beds were planted by the children about the boundaries of these sections. Then there are some larger sections planted to grains, peanuts, melons, corn, and other things unsuited to planting in small areas.”

When the Children's Garden program was created in 1914, our nation was in the throes of a profound transition from a rural to an industrial society. Its founder perceived the program as “a living opportunity for a child to learn lessons of nurture and observe how nature looks out for herself.” This idea—once revolutionary—is now, particularly in New York and other urban areas, being recognized as a near-essential component to a healthy childhood. Participants ages 2¬–17 still tend their own plots, planting crops and flowers, harvesting them, preparing them on site in salads, salsas, veggie breads, and more, and proudly toting them home under the guidance of garden instructors (the only adults allowed in the space).

Each season, children nurture and harvest some of what they plant as well as something planted the season before. Tomatoes and peppers, planted in spring, produce for the summer gardeners. Summer's seeding of cool-season greens is harvested in autumn. The garlic that fall gardeners plant is harvested by a new crop of youngsters in the spring. Below, Children’s Garden manager David Daly shares some of his favorite edibles in the 2011 Children’s Garden spring to summer plant roster, selections that would work well planted this month in a container or in your backyard, too!

-For a colorful edible green, choose the Swiss chard ‘Bright Lights’ cultivar (Beta vulgaris var. cicla 'Bright Lights'); it can be grown from seed in a container or started there and then transplanted outside and harvested continuously throughout the growing season.

-Lacinato (or dinosaur) kale (Brassica oleracea var. sabellica), in green and purple varieties, has beautifully veined leaves with an ancient look to them. It can grow in both warm and cool months, looks great, and tastes even better. Perfect for kale chips (a favorite of the kids in the Children’s Garden)!

-Gold Nugget cherry tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum 'Gold Nugget’) are bright yellow, deliciously sweet, and full of flavor. This cultivar produces prolific harvests once the plants reach maturity in late July or early August.

-Genovese basil (Ocinum basilicum ‘Genovese’) is popular for a good reason: It’s perfect for summer pesto and grows maniacally when properly cared for. At this point in the season, starting with a young seedling from the farmer’s market or BBG’s Garden Shop is a good idea here—it’ll do better than starting from seed.


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