Conversations With Plants

When I was about seven years old my best friend and I did an experiment where we planted two cuttings from a geranium in my garden. We spoke kindly to one – gave it compliments and told it we loved it, and meanly to the other saying it was weedy and didn’t deserve to grow. We watched and recorded the plants’ growth to see if the way we spoke to them influenced how fast they grew, and secretly we hoped that the one we were mean to would die, while the other would grow and blossom.

To be honest I don’t totally remember the outcome of this experiment, and I’m sure that scientifically this concept is more than slightly dodgy, but what I do remember is how this experiment fascinated me. I was reminded of it when a four year old boy at the preschool where I teach recently told me that “you should talk nicely to plants so they grow”.  I had just read them “The Curious Garden by Peter Brown, a beautiful picture book based on the High Line in New York, where the main character, a boy gardener, had sung to his plants. The children thought this was funny, but a good idea. It also got us talking about hugging trees – we have great conversations!

I wonder if power has something to do with this fascination? How tantalising to have the power to influence life and death, to know that what you say or do really matters and so, in turn, you matter. Young children live in a world where their power and ability to control outcomes is limited. The impact of power, both theirs and others, is, however, always evident in their lives. Power is held, shared, granted, taken and desired, and the social interactions that surround power between pre-schoolers are complex.

This has me thinking … how could this awareness of the power and impact we have on the natural world be used to help teach children about their role in caring for and protecting it? I often talk with children about how what they do impacts others. I believe that what really matters is that children learn how to be kind and compassionate – and this directly flows on to the natural world.

Creating and providing spaces, time, and opportunities for children to connect to the natural environment is crucial, particularly for those of us who live in the city. How can we use our power as adults – educators, parents and friends to help grow connection with the natural world? How can we work to strip away the restrictions that society places on children so that they can truly play and explore the natural world without fear (or our fear)? How can we show children that they have the power to change the world, to show kindness to each other and to the planet? How can we ensure that power or the lack of it doesn’t restrict engagement with the environment by making spaces and opportunities accessible and equitable?

I often talk to my own children, who are both teenagers now, about power and pull out the old saying that ‘with power comes great responsibility’, adding that what matters is that they use their power for good, not evil. And so when I see the children I work with engrossed in play, hiding under a shrub, using it as a cubby; gently moving leaves from the frog pond to search for tadpoles; squealing with delight if they see a skink skitter through the garden or enjoying the softness of the plume of a native grass as it tickles their cheek, I hope that the connections they are creating with the natural environment will help them to see and appreciate the power they have to protect and nurture it.

As Richard Louv, who coined the term ‘nature deficit disorder’ states in his book The Last Child in the Woods:

I imagine a world … Where every child and every adult has a human right to a connection to the natural world and shares the responsibility for caring for it.

A worthy and powerful goal to strive towards.