I was looking forward to picking up Cheryl a few days ago to work in the Children’s Garden at Green Chimneys. There was much to do as the broccoli had started to bolt and the spinach was perfect for harvest. When I picked her up, however, something wasn’t right. Cheryl was looking at one of the classroom computers intently and when told that it was time for her job replied, “I don’t want to go! I hate being in the garden.” Oh boy.
Upon walking with Cheryl to the garden I asked her how her week had gone and how she feels. “It has been horrible and things suck,” was the reply she made as she choked back a few tears. “Is there anything you want to do in the garden?,” I asked.
“No,” she said.
“Would you like to sit down and talk or walk?”
A similar problem occurred with Cheryl a month ago and I decided to take her back to class rather than risk her having a breakdown in the garden. Unfortunately that decision may not have been the best as her return turned into a power struggle, which just made her more upset and agitated. I decided to take a different tack.
“Today Cheryl we will be harvesting spinach and broccoli. Would you like to see the peas we planted last month before we begin?”
So we walked to the barn to get kneeling pads and pruning shears. With few words exchanged we sat down in front of the broccoli bed and I showed her how to harvest it using pruners. Cheryl nodded in understanding and worked quietly with a far away look on her face as she cut the heads and placed them in a bin. I didn’t try any conversation as I worked next to her weeding an adjacent patch. She remained emotionless as she worked though it appears that she was beginning to relax. Within five minutes her attitude started to change visibly. Her facial expressions softened and she noticed a butterfly that floated nearby.
In another five minutes she became more animated and content; by the end of the harvest, she was smiling and working intently. “I’m done,” she said with pride in her voice.
“No you aren’t,” I replied. “You missed one.”
In the middle of the broccoli patch was a tiny, uncut floret. I snipped it with my shears and gave it to her. "This is your reward. Try it.”
As she bit into it her eyes went wide and she said,” That’s awesome! It’s so delicious!” Cheryl had never had fresh broccoli before.
I smiled and asked her to pick up our harvest so we could weigh it in. As we walked toward where the scale was hanging I reflected upon how just being in the garden had changed Cheryl’s view. She went from a near meltdown to being extremely happy.
As we weighed the broccoli I grabbed a group of heads and stuck them in her face. The fresh smell of the cut heads was powerful and slightly sweet. Cheryl loved the smell and was amazed. “I never smelled anything like that,” she said.
“So what does it smell like?” I asked.
She thought about it for a while and replied that she didn’t know.
“It smells like broccoli, you silly goose,” I said. She laughed and smiled.
She had better attention and focus as we cut the spinach. She ate a leaf and was also amazed by the freshness and the taste. But mostly she was shocked by their size.” These are humungous,” she said. We then had a contest as to whom could find the most humungous spinach leaf. She won but not before she accidently ripped a large leaf. Cheryl wanted to try to fix it using scotch tape but I told her that most people would not like it as part of their dinner. “They could always take it off. It would look pretty.”
As we were finishing I noticed that there was a lone head of romaine lettuce that hadn’t been cut from the last time we were in the garden due to the fact that a large brown spider had taken up residence inside. “Do you think the spider is still there,” asked Cheryl remembering why we had left it. I pulled up a bunch of leaves and couldn’t see anything so we clipped it and added it to our pile. For the morning, we had harvested nearly 10 pounds of food.
As it turned out I had not been that good an inspector and as I was carrying the tote filled with produce, I noticed that our brown spider was climbing out of the cut lettuce carrying a large fluffy white ball. “What’s that?” asked Cheryl.
“That is the spider’s egg nest. She is getting ready to have babies.”
Because the spider was a mother, Cheryl was not as fast to ask me to kill it as is often the case when we come across spiders. So I placed the spider on a fence post and continued on our way.
“Cheryl, have you ever read the story ‘Charlotte’s Web’?”
“Yes it is one of my favorites.”
“Mine too,” I replied as we spent the remainder of our time talking about spiders, rats, barns and humongous spinach leaves.