The Many Gifts of the City Garden

There are many wonderful things about raising city kids. My children enjoy daily exposure to cultural diversity, art of all sorts, and, most importantly to them, elevators. But I’ve had a few “uh-oh” moments. There was the time my preschooler daughter’s friend wanted to go see the ducks in the pond but noted sadly that we hadn’t brought any quarters to make the ducks go. There was the moment I asked my toddler son what grew in gardens and he said, “trains.”

Thank goodness for the city garden. We live in an apartment and don’t have a yard or outdoor space to block neighbors view of our kitchen (unless you count the fire escape) (which of course we do). But New York City hosts a system of community gardens, and we are lucky to have one just around the corner. I volunteer a totally reasonable 9,000,000 hours a season so that we can have the thing that makes city life with kids manageable: the key to the garden. In return, my kids have a vastly more nuanced relationship with nature than they might otherwise.

Here is a place where my daughter, on a recent sunny weekend, spent a few hours absorbed in the task of sewing seeds in neat rows in our shared garden plot. We go often to water and check on the seedlings, and she usually sings to them as well. My son, who tends toward the destructive, very much enjoys being given the task of weeding the raspberry hedge—plants you are allowed, nay supposed, to pull from the earth?! Heaven. They have become quite knowledgable about the life cycles of plants, from seed to yummy edible green thing. They know the garden worms and snails by name (so they think). A caterpillar we took home from our garden CSA and promptly killed turned into our first lesson about death. RIP Lollipop the Caterpillar, RIP.

And on an even simpler level, here is a place where they can run around without parental stress, unlike the vast reaches of Prospect Park where mommies get nervous if the kids stray too close to the “nature paths” where you can conveniently also purchase drugs. Here is a place where they can get dirty, and it’s a weird symptom of urban parenting that I feel proud of the accomplishment when they end the day smudged with actual dirt that did not come from a subway pole. Here is a place where kids can experience tastes of freedom and independence, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from growing things, and digging in the dirt.

If you live in New York City, you can locate a community garden near you here. I recommend you do. Even though the rumble of the subway running under our plot means my son still thinks that trains grow in gardens. What can you do with these city kids?

Ready to get going in the garden? Check out these easy-to-manage herbs that you can grow in the tiniest of spaces!