One of my fondest memories of childhood was cooking with the old metal kitchen set that was nestled under the trees in my family’s backyard. It was the center of hours of outdoor fun for me and my neighborhood friends. Collecting rich dirt from my mother’s garden, mixed together with clippings of onion grass, a few tiny pebbles then rounding it all off with a sprinkling of water from the garden hose, made for a wonderful batter of mud pies that would bake in the afternoon sun. Looking back on that experience, I realize, playing in the dirt was more than just getting dirty in the backyard it was a foundation for healthy childhood discovery. A discovery that permeates my soul as I hike, garden or play in my own backyard.
Childhood memories contribute to the formation of our personalities. Sun-filled days spent outdoors, filled with laughter and adventure are things that even as an adult, I cherish. Those early days spent in the garden, digging and pretend cooking are the very things that bring me complete satisfaction as an adult.
My love of the outdoors has been a constant in my life and I’m always looking for new ways to discover all it has to teach me. One of my favorite places, to spend my free time over the years, has been the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx. This beautiful New York landmark has provided education, play, relaxation and exploration through the many phases of my life. It was the romantic day trip for my husband and I as we began our married life together and a source of education for us when we embarked upon home ownership. After our children came along, it provided a bucketful of memories made on our trips with our children as they discovered the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden where larger than life flowers, mazes and microscopes turned them into little explorers.
I recall one of my favorite visits, where nearly the entire day was spent in the Ruth Rea Howell Family garden. As we moved through the garden gate, alive with flowers beckoning us to enter, we saw neatly sculpted rows of garden plots where local urban kids were planting seeds and learning from expert volunteers how to plant, tend, and harvest healthy food for themselves and their families.
My own children didn’t waste a second in joining in the fun. My oldest, selected seeds to plant, while the youngest eyed the dirt boxes (like sand boxes, only with dirt) where she scooped up dirt with the pint-sized garden trowel, dumped it into a toy truck as her own imagination began to soar. There were craft tables with nature projects and eclectic, colorful, structures, like the multicolored row-boat in the sea of daisies, that lured the kids to discover the hidden spaces within.
The fun wasn’t just for the kids, either. While they explored at their own pace, my husband and I enjoyed kicking back in the Adirondack chairs that were, amazingly empty, and beckoning us to fill their cool, shady space under the grapevine arbor. We sat, watching the kids having a great time and gazed upon the creative garden structures, that doubled as art pieces, scattered throughout the garden.
Before we knew it, hours had passed and it was time to leave. We brought home many memories and ideas that were planted in our mind and in our backyard. On days such as this, as I stare into my backyard, I can’t help but smile as I recall the fun I had over the years, playing in the dirt.
As the winter whites hide the colors of spring, we can dream of the warmer months ahead of us and all the fun we’ll have digging in the dirt and discovering all that can grow ~ inside and out.