May 20, 2009

Incredible Edibles

The Secret Garden + Edible Gardens

Springtime: the skies have cleared, and the world is in bloom.  What better time to rediscover our connection to the natural world.  We turned to a perennial classic, The Secret Garden, to inspire our kids to see their own backyards with new eyes.  In this beautiful adaptation of Francis Hodgson Burnett's classic book, dour Mary is shipped off to a lonely mansion on the English moor to be raised by her uncle. Disliked by her Uncle's strict staff, she is virtually abandoned and forced to raise herself with nary a friend. Even our squirmy boys were captivated when Mary discovers two secrets: a hidden garden, overgrown with weeds and her sickly cousin Colin, locked away in a secret part of the vast estate. Mary instinctively knows that both her cousin and the garden need sunlight and love to return to health; in the timeless twist of the story, Mary thrives on the same prescription.

Like Mary, we recognize the healing powers of nature.  Our favorite springtime getaway, a public garden on the grounds of a magestic old estate, entices us every spring with its idyllic grounds. It’s hard to know which part of the gardens has the most appeal.  Mom loves the rose gardens and rich forests of camellias, while Dad enjoys the spacious oak grove for an informal tai chi session.  Our twelve year old still likes to ride a miniature railroad through the blooms, and we never tire of locating a real Secret Garden, inspired by the beloved novel.  Much to our delight, we discovered a nascent Edible Garden that immediately reminded the kids of the White House's new organic kitchen garden. We decided we should plant our own version so stopped by a nursery and chose easy to grow tomato, basil and lettuce plants to grow in backyard containers. Though we yearn for a plot as large as Michelle Obama's, our plants have grown a few inches already and everyone in the family is waiting for that magical moment when we can harvest our own crop for a fresh-off-the-vine tomato salad. Summer is coming!

The Film

Film Title: The Secret Garden
Directed By: Agnieszka Holland
93, Rated G, 103

KOTC Kernels

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Film:

  • Why It's Worth It:  A beautiful adaptation of a classic childhood novel. Surprisingly, this is not a movie just for girls; our athletic boys were as captivated with Mary's mischief as our daughters. Her two companions in the story are boys, which helped keep their attention. Like many classics, the story itself is empowering to children. Mary is an orphan and her ability to flourish and help her crippled cousin is achieved all through her own work, without the help of adults. Of course, the best thing in the world is to also read the novel  - our daughters loved it in third grade.
  • Red Flags: None
  • Further Viewing:  Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Ware Rabbit is about gardening, as are the classic Beatrix Potter tales.
Cinema Savvy

Our Tips for Talking with your Kids About this Film:

  • Film Studies 101 teaches that a good movie shows, rather than tells. See if your kids can connect the natural cycle of a garden to Mary's emotional state. Does her personality become warmer as the flowers bloom?  See if they notice the difference between the somber tones at the movie's start and the expressive palate of the second half.

The Adventure

Planting an Edible Garden

Time Allotment: All summer

Age Recommendation: All Ages

KOTC Kernels

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Adventure:

  • What Worked for Us: Check with your local public gardens or call the Horticultural Association, since 'kitchen gardens' are all the rage this year. Our local Flower Show commissioned ten edible gardens from local landscape designers and we loved seeing the creative ways they arranged vegetables in beds and pots.
  • Before You Go: Before you visit a local public garden, have the kids check the garden's website. Perhaps they have an edible section. Often, they'll include a Bloom Report, alerting you to what is best to see. Bring a sketch pad and colored pencils so the kids can draw blooms (don't forget a pencil sharpener!)
City Savvy

Our Tips for Your Edible Garden:

  • What Is an Edible Garden? Click here for some cool photos from Los Angeles based Heart Beet that will help you see what we're talking about!
  • Classes in organic gardening are offered in many cities and towns this summer.
  • Need Help? If you still feel uncertain about getting your hands in the soil, local landscape designers are available to help you get started. They're likely to be expensive, so shop around. Here is a good book on the subject: Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn.
  • Find a Greener Thumb: Not quite up for planting a garden yourself?   Don’t have the room in your backyard?   Check out your local community supported agricultural association.  Local Harvest, a national umbrella organization matches local farms, with locally grown produce, with clients who are interested in supporting them—and getting fresh veggies delivered once a week through the summer.
  • Help Your School Grow a Garden: Click here to learn about Alice Waters' vision for the Edible Schoolyard, and click here to learn how you can help bring a garden to your school.
Tips for Growing an edible garden:
  • Learn from a pro: We met the grand doyen of edible gardening, Rosalind Creasy, at the LA Garden show recently, and adore her. Click here to see her books, which are must-haves for kitchen gardeners.
  • Tomatoes in containers need extra room for the roots -- we were surprised that each heirloom should be planted in it's own container! 
  • Baby lettuces are a great container option if space is at a minimum.  
  • Fresh herbs can be grown in a space as small as an apartment balcony.  The best part of container gardening is that you can situate your pots in the right sun or shade for the plant you’re growing.  
  • Soil: For in ground gardens, remember to turn the soil with compost before planting, and leave enough room between rows for weeding between plants.   In either container or the ground, homegrown compost is a great option.
  • Protection: If you live in an area where wildlife is an issue, you might also want to build a simple fence around the plot.   
  • Plan ahead:  if you go on a long vacation, be sure to make arrangements with a neighbor for daily watering.   With careful springtime tending, an edible garden can be part of your meals well into fall.

Cultural Connections

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

Film Festival Click here and visit the Kids Off the Couch store at Books Click here to visit the Kids Off the Couch store at