As winter’s harsh and stark, white barrenness starts to ease back and spring’s promise of green pushes to the forefront, the garden comes back to life with flowers, as well as children.

Under the blooming redbuds that provide a squirrel “super highway” overhead, and overseen by the nodding yellow daffodils on the hill, lies the Vegetable Soup Garden in the Highfield Discovery Garden at Glenwood Gardens. Nineteen 4-feet-by-4-feet raised beds, plus one coldframe, make up this kid friendly garden. I must freely admit it is by far my favorite of the seven themed gardens on display.

Red bud trees and daffodils begin to bloom.
The daffodils and redbuds stand watch over the Vegetable Soup Garden in spring.

Now don’t get me wrong. There is something whimsical about the fairy garden as the resident fairies return from their overwintering, and I love the butterfly garden with the graceful milkweeds, tall verbena and coneflowers as they happily sway waiting for the pollinators to make their appearance. But give me a beet any day.

Most people don’t think of a vegetable garden as beautiful.

Utilitarian? OK.

Practical? Sure.

Needed? Depends … but beautiful? No. Those people obviously have never pulled a Carrot before.

Raised garden beds sit outside the Highfield Discovery Garden Workshop.
They may look empty now, but in a few days’ time, they will be full of the promise of a year of Garden fun!

If you have children and a vegetable garden, there is one vegetable you must always be growing and that is the humble Carrot. Carrots come in all different shapes, sizes and colors. They can range from red and yellow to white and dark purple! They love this cool, “not quite winter, not quite spring” time of the year. Plus, if you grow a bunch of different varieties together, it creates a natural guessing game for children when they pick them.

But while they are a real garden beauty, they can be a beast to germinate. At Highfield Discovery Garden, we place the tiny seeds on the surface of pre-moistened, loose soil (or find a variety suited to heavier soils) and then cover them with a board, fabric or cardboard. We remove the covering when the seeds have sprouted (usually after a week or so). The reason for the boards is to keep the seeds in place and to help keep the surface of the soil moist. Trust me, I’ve lost more carrots because they’ve dried out than any other reason.

Another sure-fire kid pleaser and garden beauty is the Pea Plant. Peas, like Carrots, enjoy this “in-between season” and languish in the heat, so give them a try while you have time. Try a Sugar Snap Pea for the sweet snack factor, or the classic Garden Pea for shelling, which helps develop fine motor skills in your “little sweet pea.” It can also be fun for your little engineer to design a simple trellis for the plants to wrap their tendrils on. Consider using sticks and twine or other found materials. Plus, when the plant is done producing, you can eat the tender tips of the plants in salads or stir-fries. We don’t let anything go to waste at Highfield Discovery Garden and healthy snacking is encouraged by our staff!

The last plant I want to highlight is the versatile Potato. Yes, you heard that right! Potatoes are beautiful, and here’s why.

Potatoes are the plant that kind of gets pushed to the side. They’re not flashy, the rarely produces flowers, but potatoes gets the job done. No garden space at home? A five-gallon bucket would do nicely. Then, when the plant dies, and is all crunchy and brown, the magic starts.

Potato day is my favorite day at Highfield Discovery Garden. Buckets are found, and a small army of visiting potato hunters is summoned. Hands, arms and faces get messy, as the dirt flies and a chorus of “I found one!” fills the air. Just a few seed potatoes in March can produce fun that is weighed in pounds in late spring.

A hand holds a clump of soil.
The beautiful potential found in a handful of soil.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and yes, that’s correct. I see the beauty in the mysterious Carrot, the grace of the Pea Plant delicately clinging to a handmade trellis, and the fun created by discovering the treasure buried beneath the long dead, crunchy Potato. Perhaps whether in your own backyard or in the Vegetable Soup Garden, you and your children will see the beauty too.

Allyson Ernst
Nature Interpreter, Glenwood Gardens