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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Something Green

July 13, 2012

OK, we’ve gotten to Part 3 of my 4-part Bing Summer of Doing blog series. As you’ve probably heard, I’m this week’s Bing Summer of Doing expert which means I blogged Monday about Giving and Wednesday about Unplugging. Today’s word is urban gardening. I’m going on record to say that a bit of green is welcome everywhere, expect inside that container of cottage cheese I’ve been ignoring in the fridge – which I’ll ignore a while longer as I write this post.

Bing Summer of Doing - Plant it, grow it, eat it

Before you adopt a goldfish, or a cat, and certainly before you attempt to raise a kid, test drive a plant. If you start with something green and indestructible, like a pothos or a geranium, success is virtually guaranteed. A live plant in a container doesn’t qualify you for parenthood, but it does certify you as an urban gardener.

I’ve been into plants since the day my best friend, Suzy B. and I “swam” through the bushes between our backyards. Before that I’d never paid much notice to greenery. But when I side-swiped my mom’s forsythia bush, accidentally breaking a branch, the snapping sound stopped me in my tracks. If I’d been 13 I’d have stashed the evidence in a heartbeat, but my 8-year-old brain secreted magical thoughts. I heard the plant’s cry of pain and I needed absolution. So I rushed into the house carrying the severed branch. My mom glanced at the twig and told me to toss it in the trash. This was surprising considering how often she’d remind me that the forsythia’s yellow flowers were the first sign of spring.

“What if I stick it back in the ground?” I asked hopefully. “Will it grow?”

Mom laughed, not unkindly. Her message was clear: “Silly, Annie.”

The kitchen curtains parted and I had an epiphany: “When someone mocks your idea, don’t pass up a chance to show that they’re the silly ones.”

Suzy and I dug a hole in another part of the yard, stuck in the branch, packed in the dirt and turned on the hose. Then we went back to playing Mermaids in the Storm.

Every Saturday, through April and May, I watered that twig, never telling my mom what I was up to. Then one day I noticed the stick had sprouted a couple of new leaves. WOW! Because of me, something was growing where nothing had grown before. What magical power was this?!

I’ve got my own garden now with all kinds of things growing in metal tubs, wooden boxes, tea cups, hanging baskets. No forsythia, but lots of other goodies, mostly of the edible variety. Along with eating chocolate, gardening is one of my 10 Most Favorite Things to Do.  So, if you’re looking to get your hands dirty this summer, how about planting something of your own? You don’t need land, just a container with some holes in the bottom, good organic potting soil and a bunch of veggie or herb seeds. Actually, you can skip the seeds and get some plant starts (baby plants). The best part of urban gardening is that there are no rules. It’s all about doing it your way wherever you find some space. There’s also the cool factor of growing your own food. What should you grow? Stuff you like to eat!

Most veggies are ridiculously easy to grow. Visit your local nursery for advice on what does best in your area. Little known fact: Most nurseries have a dumpster into which they toss plants that aren’t up to “retail quality” standards. I know a place with a high-end clientele. People who shop there expect perfection. If a plant has a single yellow leaf, it gets trashed. Seriously! Provided the discarded plants are still in their plastic containers and are not obviously dead or infested with bugs, go for it. I do it all the time. Just dive in and take what you want. If you feel uncomfortable, ask permission. Truth is, most people who work at nurseries would much prefer a droopy zucchini plant be “adopted” and cared for, than die from neglect in the trash and end up in landfill. Currently in my garden I’ve got several thriving tomato, squash, pea and bean plants, plus arugula, swiss chard, beets, chocolate mint, lemon balm, and oregano — all of which would have lost their chance to feed me and my family  if I hadn’t rescued them from the garbage.

The only thing better than an urban garden is an urban garden that didn’t cost you a whole lot which you can putter around in while eating chocolate.

UPDATE: We want our kids to eat more fresh fruits and veggies. Best way I know is to get them involved in urban gardening. When they grow some of the food they eat… instant connection!  I just harvested these beauties from my yard. Didn’t take a whole lot of effort on my part.

Plant a dwarf apple tree, water and wait 2-3 years.

Great for munching or for apple sauce


Fill a large old container with soil (make sure it’s got drainage holes). Throw in some potatoes that have begun to sprout.

Cover with more soil. Water and wait 6 months.

Who doesn't love potatoes?


Buy some onion sets, throw ’em in the ground (or in a large outdoor container) Give ’em room! Water and wait 3 months.

Sweet red Italian onions


Filed under: Bing Summer of Doing,Parenting — Tags: , , , — Annie @ 3:00 am
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