Just a few weeks ago, after I had come inside after a long day of working in the garden, my seven-year-old son proclaimed, "I hate gardening."
My heart sunk when I heard these words come out of his mouth, so I asked him why.
"It takes too much time," he said.
Right then, I realized that my passion for gardening and botanical photography wasn't serving as an inspiration for my son. Rather, it was making him resent the garden because it took up so much of my time, time that might otherwise be spent with him. I knew that I had to somehow reverse this trend, because it would kill me to think that I was the reason my son grew up with a negative attitude towards growing.
I could just accept that he's not interested in the garden, but I believe that would be a great disservice to him. Even if he never gardens as an adult, I want him to have a basic understanding and appreciation for plants and their role in our own existence.
I thought back to my own childhood, and what events and activities had fostered that understanding and appreciation in me. I remembered helping my grandmother pull Japanese beetles off her roses. I remembered checking my grandfather's cantaloupe patch by sniffing the end of each fruit for the sweet smell of ripeness. No one ever said to me, "You will love gardening or else." They gave me opportunities to love gardening in my own way.
Soon after my son's "I hate gardening" statement, he visited a local nature center with his first grade class. During the visit, he had the opportunity to feed a Venus flytrap a piece of raw meat. The look in his eyes as he was describing this reminded me of my own excitement as I picked those Japanese beetles for my grandmother. It made me think that perhaps the way to my son's horticultural heart was through plants that were off the beaten path. Maybe the cool and unusual plants would foster that understanding and appreciation.
Luckily, we live near a university with a large plant science department, so one day over lunch I brought my son to see the collection of carnivorous plants -- pitcher plants, Venus flytraps, and sundew -- that are growing in the outdoor gardens at the U of I Plant Sciences Laboratory. My son's inner scientist went into full-on mode as he looked closely at the plants and hypothesized how each captured its prey. At one point, a blue wasp landed on the top of one of the pitcher plants and we eagerly waited for it to slip and fall down the plant's throat. At my son's urging, I tried to take a photo of the wasp on the slippery precipice, but it flew off to a safer location before I could get it in focus.
Eager to build on my son's excitement, we walked over to the conservatory to see the plant collections. If "cool" plants were what stoked my son's excitement, then the desert room was the place to go. I wasn't disappointed when we opened the door, and he exclaimed "Look at those plants! Cool!" and immediately ran to feel the spiky foliage of an Agave. I soon realized what a poor job I had done in exposing him to the plant kingdom when he looked up at a ten-foot cactus in the center of the room and said, "I didn't know cactus could get that big!"
As we left the conservatory and plant collections, I could see my son's mind working overtime, processing all the new information about plants he had just consumed. I could also see the happiness in his step, a direct result of a lunch hour of discovery that we spent together. It wasn't the plants (or the gardening/photography) that he hated. It was his lack of involvement in my passions.
A couple of weeks ago, a new addition was brought into our home -- a Venus flytrap that my son has named Chompy. Each day, we check on Chompy and even go around catching flies and bugs in the house for him to consume. After talking with a local gardener that grows carnivorous plants, we're even looking forward to planting a carnivorous bog in a sunny spot in the garden this summer.
My son and I may finally have found our botanical connection point in Chompy, the Venus flytrap. Perhaps this is the first stepping stone to ensure that he is growing up growing.