Monthly Archives: April 2017

Gardening with Children

GS Children's Garden 2I held my first garden party 55 years ago when I was 12. We were celebrating the start of a new school year. Nine of my girlfriends and a cousin my mother made me include were invited. We felt very grown up. My grandfather and parents were an integral part of the event. Earlier in the spring, months before thoughts of a garden party, my grandfather and I scattered flower seeds that I helped him harvest in the fall. I don’t recall what kind, but I suspect zinnias. I had my own special area of the garden that was my responsibility, and on party day I proudly showed off the flowers. I’m sure I exaggerated how hard I worked all summer tending plants, but I remember being happy and, I’m sure, boastful.

For the party, my father built a long table on the lawn, and my mother planned a magical afternoon. We each picked flowers, and my grandfather kept repeating, “Altenzione i fiori preziosi. Non passo su di loro.” (Be careful of the precious flowers. Do not step on them.) My mother showed us how to arrange flowers for table decorations, and we made flower crowns to wear. My grandfather took us to the vegetable garden to harvest tomatoes, basil and oregano. Each of us made our own pizza, and the adults supervised as we cooked on the grill.

I often wonder if that afternoon cemented my love of gardening and entertaining. The cousin I didn’t want included is now one of my dearest friends. She is an extraordinary gardener and, like me, she credits my mother and our grandfather for instilling her passion for gardening. I’ve become a Green Spring Master Gardener, and my cousin is probing the North Carolina Extension Service for a Master Gardener program near her.

1 Fort CarsonIt’s never too early to garden with children. Know what your children like, work in your garden, and engage the children in activities. Do they like to get muddy? Can they tolerate dirty hands? Teach them the science of good soil and why plants need sun and water. Don’t fear teaching terms like photosynthesis, even to your preschooler. Exposure, exposure, exposure. I won a schoolwide science fair in fourth grade on the topic photosynthesis. The judges were wowed!

2 Woodley WonderworksHelp young gardeners experience success by selecting easy-to-grow plants like zucchini, radishes, and sunflowers. Growing their own veggies will encourage them to eat healthy. A child’s self-esteem will grow when he harvests a cucumber from his own garden. You don’t need a lot of space. Lean a dollar store trellis against an outside wall and grow beans or other edible vines. Grow sweet, cherry tomatoes or herbs in a container.

Supplement the hands-on experience of gardening with books and field trips. Green Spring Gardens has a library of gardening books for children to read and explore on site. It also has a fabulous children’s garden with activity sheets. Whitney Cohen and John Fisher wrote “The Book of Gardening Projects for Kids.” It’s filled with great advice and activities, even if the parent is not an enthusiastic gardener. It has suggestions on how to enhance the gardening experience.

Gardening with your children will give them a lifetime of love and respect for nature. So get your hands dirty. Experience, and make memories with your kids.

Author Gioia Caiola Forman is a Green Spring Gardens Master Gardener.


Getting Down to Earth at Springfest

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“The earth is what we all have in common.” Wendell Berry, American novelist and environmental activist

On the first Arbor Day in 1872, an estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska as pioneers realized that trees and shrubs were needed as windbreaks and fuel, for building materials and shade, and to keep soil in place. Nearly 100 years later, 20 million people turned out from coast to coast in celebration of the first Earth Day in 1970 to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment.

On April 29, 2017, the Clean Fairfax Council and the Fairfax County Park Authority join forces to carry on the traditions of both of these historic movements with a day of environmental activities at Springfest, which will take place for the first time at the Sully Historic Site.

Both Clean Fairfax and the Park Authority have a mission to preserve and protect the environment while spreading a message of good stewardship. They will do just that through activities for children and adults that combine fun with a dose of education and show how easy good stewardship is.

Clean Fairfax Executive Director Jen Cole says one of her goals with Springfest is to “put the earth back in Earth Day.” That will literally happen this year with the help of the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES). The agency will bring a contractor to Springfest for the first time to offer a food composting service on site. Yellow barrels will be provided for food waste, and visitors can learn about the benefits of composting – from reducing waste to helping to grow food.

How does that food grow? Springfest visitors will have a chance to learn first-hand from local growers and producers as the event helps kick off the Park Authority’s 2017 Farmers Markets. It’s a chance to chat with some of the folks who will be providing fresh fruits, vegetables and other farm products throughout the growing season.

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“You can eat healthy and it doesn’t have to be expensive,” says Cole, who adds that it’s good for children to see that “everything doesn’t come wrapped in plastic.” Kids can learn where their food comes from and how easy it is to grow your own, even if that means just a couple of planters on the balcony for peppers or tomatoes.

All of the non-food vendors who attend Springfest are required to get in the Arbor Day/Earth Day spirit by including some kind of environmental component to their display. Kids can get an Environmental Passport at the Clean Fairfax booth and make the rounds at Springfest, collecting stickers or stamps as they visit each vendor and pick up some tidbit about the environment. They can return to Clean Fairfax at the end of the day with their passports and collect a small prize, usually a packet of seeds.

Since things tend to slow down a bit later in the day, Cole says she enjoys taking some time with the kids to ask about the “most awesome” things they did. Inevitably, Cole says the children don’t talk about their pony rides or time in the bounce house. They share stories about “how they made a bird feeder out of a Coke bottle, or how they made a grocery bag, or what they learned about bees and how honey is made.”

Budding naturalists will be able to put themselves to the test this year with a tree scavenger hunt among the beautiful tree specimens on the Sully property. Armed with a poster filled with information about trees, leaves and bark, kids can play detective and try to identify the trees they see.

Pollution on both the land and in our waters threatens plant and animal life, so another component of the environmental message is a reduction in waste. Don’t look for any bottled water at Sully. Fairfax Water will be on site with a “water bar” to keep everyone fully hydrated. Don’t expect to see any polystyrene or Styrofoam either. Vendors are banned from using those polluters.

Springfest 2017 hopes to bring home the point that naturalist John Muir once made, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

Find common ground and learn about your place in the environment at Sully Historic Site on April 29 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free!

Find out more information at the following link:

Natural Resource Management – Accomplishments and Plans

vernalpoolSetting environmental goals and reaching them was behind the Fairfax County Park Authority Board’s adoption of a new Natural Resource Management Plan (NRMP) on January 29, 2014. The NRMP established priorities for managing natural resources in county parks over coming years.

Here’s a glance at the NRMP, what was accomplished during its third year, and what is being done during 2017. 

NRMP Accomplishments 

The NRMP sets goals, and staff accomplished several of those by starting to classify the county’s natural vegetation communities. We improved the way the agency collects data on natural resources and started putting all that information into a single, cloud-based database. Behind the scenes, the Natural Resource Branch (NRB) of the Fairfax County Park Authority established standard operating procedures for reviewing encroachment onto parkland and for reviewing the natural resource impact of developments that are not on county parkland.

Those are organizational steps behind the scenes that will make future managing of your resources easier and more efficient. Efficiency is responsible use of taxpayer dollars.

Saving you time is another result of the NRMP. The NRB web page has been revised so that things you seek are easier to find, and that process continues. 

naturalvegRBendAlso in 2016, ecosystem restoration began at Margaret K. White Horticultural Park and continued at Old Colchester Park and Preserve under a program called Helping Our Land Heal (HOLH). Another HOLH project kicked off at Poplar Ford Park following 2015’s restoration of an ecosystem at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park under HOLH.

A reorganization of the Natural Resources Branch led to the creation of new programs involving inventory and planning, protection of natural capital, management and restoration of ecosystems, and control of invasive species. Two ecologists were hired to develop and manage the ecosystems and natural capital programs, and a third was hired to recruit and coordinate volunteers for the Invasive Management Area Program. 

Staff surveyed about 4,440 acres for non-native plants, bringing the total acreage surveyed for them to 21,440. The agency now has a complete inventory of invasive plant life in those areas. About 800 acres of natural vegetation communities were mapped, and use of GIS for invasives was expanded to include data collection for rare species. In addition, 18 parks were reviewed for deer browse impact, and 13 parks were studied for deer density. That information will help manage white-tailed deer.

The Park Authority is responsible for reviewing development plans throughout the county to assure no adverse effects on natural resources, and 159 of those plans were reviewed over the year. Natural resource staff also provided technical assistance on encroachment, easements, and programs of other county agencies that affect parkland.

presrcibedfireBy the numbers, 1,254 acres were treated for non-native invasive vegetation, 940 white-tailed deer were removed from 77 parks, 100 Canada geese nests were treated at lakefront parks and golf courses, and six acres of land were cleared by prescribed fires, all using best management practices.

Volunteers donated 6,289 hours removing non-native invasive vegetation at 41 sites. That’s 43,689 total volunteer hours since the Invasive Management Area program started. That’s a value of an estimated $145,087 in Fiscal Year 2016 and more than one million dollars since program inception. Another 37,071 hours were donated through the Fairfax County Police Department to the deer management program, which raises the total value of volunteer time in that effort to more than two and a-half million dollars.

Over the year, the agency forged partnerships with organizations such as the Fairfax County Environmental Quality Advisory Council, the Virginia Departments of Forestry, Game and Inland Fisheries, and Conservation and Recreation, Earth Sangha, the Fairfax County Park Foundation, park friends groups, REI, the Northern Virginia Audubon Society, Fort Belvoir and Quantico Marine Corps Base.

Now and Future

Looking ahead, natural resource staff will continue developing best practice solutions for parkland issues, improving data collection, and developing standard operating procedures for master planning and ecosystem restoration. HOLH projects will continue at Poplar Ford Park and Old Colchester Park, and the major installation phase of the meadow restoration will get underway at John C. and Margaret K. White Gardens. 

Staff has begun resurveying parkland where non-native invasive vegetation species have been located, and the parks will continue to be surveyed every five or six years. This will ensure that treatments are effective and that goals are achieved. Deer surveys also will continue.

Staff will continue to review development plans and to support projects involving encroachments, easements and trails. They’ll keep an eye on non-native invasive vegetation and Canada geese. And they’ll make it easier for you to know what they are doing. The NRB is refocusing its stewardship education efforts away from hard-copy printed materials to updated digital information. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr and Twitter, check our website, and subscribe to our free magazine, Parktakes, and free newsletter, ResOURces, to stay in touch with your park agency.