Small green thumbs

Children learn gardening skills in weekly club

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Olivia Requist sat chomping watermelon during morning snack. Next to her, a pile of plump young radishes sat uneaten.

"I don't like the radishes," she said with a scowl.

For some children, digging in the dirt, planting seeds and plucking weeds might be more enjoyable than the fruits -- or vegetables -- of their labors. But whether 4 or 10 years old, each child in the Kid's Garden Club at the Yampa River Botanical Park finds a special niche in the gardening process.

"The fun thing I think is when I get to see the plants grow," 8-year-old Lacey Lewis said.

For almost a month, Lacey and other children have met twice a week under the arches of the Children's Garden, where bright green lettuce gleams against dark soil, onions reach for the sky and bean plants climb a teepee of poles.

"Our goals are to help them learn about the plants and gardening and understand how it helps the earth," said Elaine Sturges, who leads the club and coordinates children's activities at the botanic park.

Sturges helped start the Children's Garden about five years ago after seeing a similar project in California. Study Buddies -- teams of high school and elementary students from throughout Routt County -- planted bulbs, lilac bushes and other seasonal plants in the garden.

At the north end of the botanic park, it is the perfect atmosphere for puppet shows, concerts and other children's activities at the park.

Sturges initiated the Kid's Garden Club as a pilot project several years ago to give children an opportunity to maintain the garden. Children called her as early as January this year to see whether she would be leading the club, which is sponsored by the botanic park and operates on a donation basis.

Sturges, who is head teacher at Steamboat Springs Montessori Charter School, includes a mix of activities to keep the club busy. In addition to weeding the plots and trimming flowers, the students take walks throughout the park, identifying birds and plants and hiding among the bushes and trees.

On Thursday, they flattened perfect blooms in a flower press. They'll make cards with the pressed flowers at the end of the session in mid-July.

"It's something they ask to come to, not something you have to make them do," said Kristy Ragan, whose children Nathan and Shannon have participated all three years.

Tracy Zuschlag, a master gardener, said her daughter Thyme, 5, is learning more about gardening in the club, with other children, than if she was just with her mother.

"They are just so much more focused and motivated," Zuschlag said.

To add your child's name to a list for next summer, call Sturges at 879-3521.

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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