Water, Weed, and Wait – Edith Hope Fine and Angela Demos Halpin (illustrated by Colleen Madden), 2010, Tricycle Press, Berkeley.
There’s an encouraging and inspiring trend going on in North America: getting children to dig in the dirt and learn about food and horticultural plants through community and school gardens. Whether parents or teachers are leading the projects, the emphasis is always on fostering community involvement: entire families or neighbourhoods may help out with the gardening duties in fun social events that take the shape of work-bees. I even came across a project online at City Farmer where students of an elementary school and the retirement home next door joined forces, in North Vancouver. If the growers don’t consume the produce themselves, it may be donated to those in need, or used in restaurants or cafeterias, or sold as part of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares. And, from start to finish, the growing season is full of lessons for both adults and children – there’s simply nothing better than an outdoor classroom!
Books like Weed, Water, and Wait celebrate the “school garden” movement in a big way. Full of bold, bright, and extremely colourful illustrations, this children’s picture book is ideal for introducing the idea of a school garden, to get the ball rolling before actually doing the work. In it, a master gardener appropriately named Miss Marigold leads her student charges – and a whole host of adult helpers – in building a school garden, literally from the ground up. Along the way, a curmudgeonly neighbour named Mr. Barkley lends comic relief with his grumpy “hmmmmphs,” while Miss Marigold teaches valuable lessons about “worm poop” (her words, not mine) and beneficial insects. Great, snappy writing and catchy repetition of key phrases and concepts (as well as a silly song about veggies and fruits, sung by a certain character in a carrot costume) make the book ideal for reading aloud. The lessons in the book can be taken out of the context of “school gardens” and can be applied to any gardening venture, even a tiny container garden or raised bed at home, so don’t be afraid to try the book out on the little ones in your life. (Maybe wait until spring, though, or you’ll have a whole lot of “How many more sleeps until I can plant the peas and carrots??!!”).