Providing Support While Letting Growth Happen
“We can think of ourselves not as teachers but as gardeners. A gardener does not ‘grow’ flowers; he tries to give them what he thinks they need and they grow by themselves.” ~John Holt
Our backyard is small but we grow a relative abundance of food each summer. That includes four kinds of squash and cucumbers. Where possible, I select bush varieties, but some of the squash we love the most, as well as the pickling cukes, grow densely on sprawling vines. In order to maximize our limited space, I grow spaghetti squash and cucumbers vertically on trellises securely attached to a wooden fence. In addition, growing vertically provides these plants with enough air circulation to avoid powdery mildew and sufficient sunlight to maximize yields, increases pollination, limits places where bugs can hide, keeps the fruits off the ground where they could rot, and allows me to see when the soil needs watering.
In past summers, I’ve spent considerable time training the vines up the trellises, even manually curling the tendrils onto specific strings in the direction I wanted them to grow. This year, I planted the seeds, then got busy with other things. When I finally got around to paying attention to the squash and cucumber vines, I realized they had started to grow up the trellises quite effectively all by themselves.
All I had to do was provide them with sufficient water through our long drought and prune a few leaves here and there in order to ensure enough sunlight reached the developing fruits, so that I didn’t lose sight of them lest they’d turn into monsters, and to remove insect-attracting decaying matter. And, just now, with a hurricane approaching, I’ve removed some new growth on the squash plants so their energy focuses on ripening the fruits that are there rather than creating new ones that won’t have time to develop. That was a bit of a struggle in a few instances, because the tendrils had affixed themselves to the trellis quite firmly. Growing vertically, by the way, also makes pruning and harvesting much easier on my back than if the plants were sprawled on the ground.
Why Am I Telling You This?
Now, I am definitely not a garden writer or even a very well informed gardener. However, I have 50 years experience as a parent and almost that much writing about and advocating for children’s self-directed learning. And I recognize metaphors and analogies when I see them.
I know that children can be trusted to grow in their own direction and under their own strength, and I believe that we should respect their ability – and, indeed, their right – to do so. The best learning happens when the adults in their lives refrain from controlling their natural development. By that, I mean helping them to make choices that work for them, based upon their knowledge of their own needs and interests, rather than on our interests, opinions, wishes, or what is convenient for us. Our role is to observe what the children need, notice when they can’t provide it for themselves, listen when they ask for help, and provide the appropriate amount of support and nurture.
You may be surprised at how much children will learn and how they will flourish when you have the confidence to create the environment that will help them thrive, then get out of the way while they grow and learn, while still providing support when required. They will honour your trust and respect by developing into confident, well-rounded, self-reliant adults who are able and eager to optimize their own potential.
This was a banner year for my pickling cucumbers and the spaghetti squash looks magnificent! (P.S. My kids are pretty awesome too!)
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I love this metaphor, Wendy! I had a similar experience with a kiwi plant that I was trying to train on a trellis and then I gave up and let it go where it wanted to. Interestingly, it grew much faster when I left it alone to do so instinctively! Much like my children on their learning path.
What a great analogy. I think it applies to ourselves too. I'm particularly drawn to what you wrote about cutting back new growth to let older plants focus their energy on ripening the fruits they're nearly finishing growing. Thank you Wendy.