This year's rising sixth and seventh graders at Monticello's Summer Adventures Camp were in for a special treat. They were given the opportunity to pilot the new Garden Explorers Program that will be offered to families beginning in July. Working with this truly enthusiastic group, I began our day with a bird's eye view of Thomas Jefferson's restored vegetable garden. We brainstormed how we would organize such a large garden if given the chance. We shared clever ideas like sorting plants by size, color, alphabet, and even months they'd be planted or harvested. We learned how Jefferson documented dividing his garden into twenty-four squares which were arranged according to which part of the plant was being harvested: fruits, roots, or leaves. Then we split up into teams and embarked on a scavenger hunt to draw, collect, measure, and observe some of Thomas Jefferson's most interesting fruits, roots, and leaves. We planted cowpeas and a thimbleful of Tennis Ball Lettuce seeds, just as Jefferson sowed lettuce every Monday morning from February 1 to September 1. The highlight of our garden experience was definitely pulling purple and yellow carrots and digging for potatoes. It was hard to stop once we had started!
Another favorite activity of our day was the watering can relay race. I had thought for sure that no one would volunteer to run a race on a really hot day and the relay would be a bust. Much to my surprise, it was a unanimous decision to go ahead with the competition despite the blazing heat. It seems that a cold splash from the watering can was just what the doctor ordered! Once we returned to the comfort of our air conditioned classroom, many of us feasted on the fruits of our labor, along with fresh cucumbers and sorrel still warm from the hot sun.
The Garden Explorers Program proved a resounding hit for these young history buffs. At the end of the day, when I asked the campers what they thought about the program, the only thing more that they wished for was more time in the garden. Sounds good to me!
Garden Explorers Family Workshiops are offered from 9-10:30am on the second Saturday of every month, April-October.