Phytoph-Tora: the plant destroyer – Lessons in early childhood gardening for a non-parent

Ever ready to take up the challenge of getting someone excited about gardening and growing food, I offered to look after my neighbour’s sweet little one-year-old, Tora while I was planting my green garden the other day. The kid was hanging out, looking for a good time while all her mum really wanted to do was the dishes. I thought it would be a great chance to play in the dirt, instill that garden-love early sorta thing. Plant some celery and some spinach – it’ll be fun. And it was. Just not very productive.

Sunscreened up, hat on, escaping mum, Tora was ready for action. Dirt was fun, playing with worms was fun, pulling plants out of the ground was fun. She picked up the seedlings and popped them in the holes for me, but when all pressed down wanted to pull them back out and plant them again. That was fine, I thought my celery could cope with it.

When she was bored with that, that little girl moved. Fast. It was actually quite nice just following her around, checking out the garden, making sure she didn’t fall into anything prickly, fall off anything, all while pulling out the occasional weed. I made sure she got good whiffs of the peppermint, chamomile and rosemary. Not a bad way to spend a sunny afternoon.

Then she discovered the pot plants by the front door, the ones that are in holding because I simply don’t know where to put them. Tora finally discovered her love for plants. Not so much in the nice gentle, innocent child-like way I had imagined. More in the “I shall destroy your world and smite thee down” armageddon-style fun to play with kinda way. Mint was more the handle for swinging the pot like a weapon, than aromatic flavour-bringer. Pots were swept from the path of the giant as she waded through decimating herbs to the left, flowers to the right. Lemon grasses were cut down in their prime.

I shall now call her Phytoph-Tora (from Greek phytón, “plant” and phthorá, “destruction”; “the plant-destroyer”) after phytophthora, the soil-borne pathogen that causes root rot.

So, lessons I’ve learned from this experience. One is too young to learn about plants. I should have stuck with soil, it’s dirtier but less stressful. And then I’d be working literally from the ground up. Sunscreen lotion on the kid is good, sunscreen lotion on you is also very good. Yellow flowers are nothing, white flowers get ripped up like paper, red flowers are where it’s at when you’re one.  And strawberries are the only plants that really matter.

I also realised that when I’m in my garden I’m easily distracted just like a child – watching bees intently, swayed by pretty things, pretty smells,  dropping tools and forgetting where they are. Everything takes longer because of it – but I wouldn’t change it for the world.


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January 2010
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